Jim Orcutt wasn’t sure why he was being congratulated.
On May 22 at Elks Country Club in Columbus, the North Platte boys golf team was on a mission to accomplish a goal a long time in the making. However, another team — Adams Central — led most of the afternoon in what had been turned into a one-day state tournament after rain washed out the first round.
Orcutt — who retired at the end of the school year — left the clubhouse and set out onto the course to see how the final Adams Central golfers were finishing when his phone rang. The familiar voice on the other end of the line was 2017 North Platte grad and golf standout Kort Steele. The two were chatting about the round when Nebraska Golf Association Executive Director Craig Ames approached.
"He came up to me and said congrats, and I said on what?" Orcutt said. "‘I think you won, but I’ve been off a couple strokes before.’"
Then another call, this time from Orcutt’s daughter.
"Dad do you know what just happened?’" she said.
"I said, no. I hadn’t been looking at my phone (for score updates) because I was almost out of data for the month," Orcutt said. "She said, ‘you won by two strokes.’"
"Dad are you still there?"
"I just went silent and felt myself welling up and couldn’t speak," Orcutt said. "I talked to her for a few seconds, then handed the phone to my wife."
Quite the retirement gift.
After 40 years of teaching — 35 in North Platte — and all 35 as North Platte’s golf coach, Orcutt and the 2019 Bulldogs delivered the school its first team state title since a girls cross country championship in 1982.
"It’s definitely a very special event and an accomplishment for me and the kids. I can’t be any more proud of them, that’s for sure," Orcutt said.
The group of sophomore alternate Bake Barner, sophomore Kasch Morrison, juniors Jayden Jones, Tanner Ruda and Finn Lucas, and senior leader Drew Phillips fired a 326, edging out Adams Central by two strokes for the Class B crown.
The realization of the accomplishment is still fresh.
"I saw a couple of kids at league on Wednesday and said to (Morrison), do you find that you’re just brushing your teeth and look in mirror and smile? He said, ‘me too!" Orcutt said. "I think it’s still sinking in for all of us. (Assistant coach Matt Kaminski) and I have had so many supportive people that helped this happen. From the kids to parents to the golf courses in town and even people not associated with the program, the support has been outstanding."
State titles don’t happen by accident and this was no exception.
This group formed a bond, largely through golf, organizing times and places to play during the offseason. Sometimes that meant tying an old comforter around a golf cart during one of the first snows of the season to get out on the course as was the case one afternoon for Phillips. Sometimes it meant playing in leagues or getting together to play 36, or even 54 holes in a day.
Not surprisingly, this year’s team motto was grit. Instead of just slapping it on a t-shirt or repeating it at practice, the Bulldogs lived it.
"They are very close and it’s not just coincidence that they kept running into each other at the golf course. They’re always practicing, and they did what it takes," Orcutt said. "Drew in particular. He was a good leader and good at keeping everyone on task and focused."
Part of that leadership meant not mincing words when it came to laying out exactly what the goal was.
"I didn’t learn this until recently, but any text message back and forth between the team started with, ‘2019 state champs.’ It’s still a little hard to talk about," an emotional and proud Orcutt said.
As meaningful as the state championship is, Orcutt’s time as a teacher and coach are about much more than trophies, and he likes it that way. As he reflected on his long tenure in both roles, he hopes to have made an impact in a multitude of ways.
"My ultimate goal has always been to turn out a group of gentleman and young ladies who are respected and respectful of others," Orcutt said. "I want kids to leave and be able to function on their own as respected members of society, and be knowledgeable of the rules and etiquette of golf. If they learn how to hit a golf shot along the way, so be it."