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ENCINITAS, Calif. – A 78-year-old grandfather of four not only saved his grandson’s basketball season, but led them to the state tournament.

Mike Carrico is a retiree who plays tennis as often as he can and ranks 10th in the nation in the 75-79 age group in men’s doubles.

One day last fall, the Encinitas resident’s 16-year-old grandson Walker, disrupted that rhythm with a call for help.

“He said, ‘grandpa, could you come out and coach us?’” Carrico said. “I said, ‘I don’t know, let me talk to my wife.’ Because you have to get a note from your mother when you are gone five months.”

Walker’s high school basketball team needed a basketball coach, or else might not have a team.

Walker lives in Dubois, Wyoming, a small town with one paved road, in between two mountain ranges, and a thousand miles away from Encinitas. Not to mention…

“I had never coached before,” Carrico said. “I played basketball in college at Montana State, but I’d never coached. They liked my resume’ and I said, ‘You don’t have to pay me anything. I don’t need any benefits, I’m retired.’”

Carrico put down his tennis racket, and became a high school basketball coach.

“I was out a partner. He left me high and dry.” joked Carrico’s doubles partner David Inman. “I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Not many people would have done what he’s done. I think it was a marvelous thing.”

After taking online classes and getting a coaching certification, Carrico moved in with his son’s family at the end of October and took over a team with only eight players, at a high school with only 38 students.

“They knew I was older,” Carrico said. “I tried to scrimmage with them and they would say, ‘Sit on the side coach, we got it covered. Don’t want you to get hurt.’”

Carrico stayed on the sidelines and earned the Fremont County Coach of the year award while leading the Rams to the state tournament for the first time since 2005 and taking fourth place in Class 1A.

“It’s awesome,” said Walker Carrico.” I thanked him almost every day throughout the season for making it possible.”

Mike Carrico said he will return next fall to coach his grandson in his final season of high school basketball.

“It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done and I’m really proud I did it and it was a fantastic experience,” he said.