These are the golden years for Fred Trenkle, 71, of Shoshone, who started his legendary basketball coaching career 50 years ago in the old Hailey junior high school gym.
“It’s been a great life,” said Trenkle, named in 1994 to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Hall of Fame for his coaching and in 1999 to the College of Southern Idaho Hall of Fame.
More recently, Trenkle has joined the first class of the Wood River High School Athletic Hall of Fame, along with coach Bob Shay, athletes Lisa Bernhagen Ramos, Brad Jaques and Picabo Street, and the 1977-78 Wood River state champion volleyball teams.
What a journey it’s been for Trenkle, whose fierce loyalty to friends and acquaintances is well known throughout all of southern Idaho!
Even today, eight years after retiring, when he walks into a crowded gym the word circulates quickly that Trenkle is in the house.
Trenkle launched his career coaching for nine years in Hailey, furthered his training in Arkansas, rose to prominence with a record-setting stint in Twin Falls, learned the pitfalls of big-time hoops in San Diego, and returned to Hailey to earn his retirement security.
It has meant miles and miles of bus rides enabling outdoorsman Trenkle to crank up his talent for conversation and his penchant for spotting wildlife on the horizon.
Along the road, Trenkle has been notorious for negotiating with officials about how to call a close game, and also well known for scrappy, underdog teams that have played relentless defense to the limit.
Trenkle has had more ups than downs. He has a deep appreciation for hard work. He is proud of the players he has coached who have graduated.
“You do the best you can with what you have,” Trenkle has said. “Sports and life are so alike, it’s unbelievable. Almost without exception, the hard workers have been successful later in life.”
His sons have carried on in his footsteps as college basketball coaches—many times using their father’s plays and tactics to successful results, and holding dear to his priorities of basketball being a means to educational ends.
Trenkle came to Hailey as a 21-year-old after graduating from Pocatello’s Idaho State University in 1970.
He taught government and history in Wood River High School, plus three junior high classes, and was the assistant boys’ high school basketball coach for two years.
Trenkle has been married for 50 years to wife Juanita, his biggest fan and supporter. They came together in 1970 to Hailey, where Juanita took the job of drill team teacher.
Since Trenkle retired from teaching and active coaching in 2012, the Trenkles have been busy chasing the activities and exploits of their sons Swede, Eddie and Brady, and daughter Freda. They have 12 grandchildren.
All three Trenkle sons have become high-achieving men’s basketball coaches.
Between them, they have amassed over 60 years of head or assistant basketball coaching, at junior colleges in Texas, Kansas and Colorado.
Eldest son Swede Trenkle has coached 25 years, including a current 16-year head coaching tenure at Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas.
The father of four, Eddie Trenkle has been head coach since 2006 for the Northwestern Junior College Plainsmen in Sterling, Co.
Brady Trenkle spent nine years as head coach for Dodge City and Garden City Community Colleges, before returning to Idaho a year ago and coaching the Minico Spartans to third place in the Idaho State 4A prep basketball tourney.
They’ve all enjoyed success on and off the court.
Several years after he left Wood River to start his own college coaching career, Fred Trenkle returned to the Hailey junior high school and gave a banquet talk to the impressionable youngsters.
He delivered four John Wooden-like messages: Remember your roots; work on improving communication within your family; set goals and figure out how to accomplish them; and make a commitment to excellence.
Success along the way
He is a teacher of young men whose own father died when he was six.
Trenkle was raised in small-town Shoshone. His mother encouraged hard work. Playing basketball, along with hunting and fishing were his releases as a boy.
He grew fast. As a freshman in high school, Trenkle was 5-2 and 130 pounds. As a junior, he was 6-3 and 185. As a 17-year-old senior, his Shoshone basketball team won its conference championship.
Trenkle ventured 20 miles south and was a member of the College of Southern Idaho’s first basketball team that went 33-4 for Kansas-born coach Eddie Sutton in 1967.
He attended Idaho State University in Pocatello on a basketball scholarship and earned a degree in history and physical education.
Trenkle amassed a 121-106 record in 10 seasons and two separate stints as Wood River’s boys’ varsity coach. He and took Wolverine teams to three state tournaments, in 1974 and 1975, and in 2004.
His 1974 team was state runner-up, still the highest-ever state finish for a Wood River boys’ hoops team, one etched in Wolverine lore for playing defense that devoured opponents “like a moth.”
In 1976, Trenkle took a one-year leave of absence and worked as a graduate assistant for coach Murray Satterfield at Caldwell’s College of Idaho.
He started developing his considerable talent for game analysis and scouting while on sabbatical. Trenkle was a scout for CSI coach Boyd Grant’s 34-1 national championship team of 1976—CSI’s first title squad.
On two occasions in the late 1970s, Indiana University coach Bobby Knight promised Trenkle a one-year assistant stipend at the four-year school. Twice Knight reneged.
Trenkle, who played a lot of Rec League basketball at the tiny Ketchum gym back then, left Wood River in 1980 and took a three-year assistant coaching job under his former CSI coach Sutton at the Division 1 Univ. of Arkansas.
One of his responsibilities for Basketball Hall of Fame coach Sutton was recruiting, so Trenkle spent a lot of time on the road. But he wanted first and foremost to be a family man, and he didn’t like being away from home a lot.
He and Juanita and their growing family of four hardly made enough money to live on in those years. When he returned to Idaho, Trenkle made extra money by hunting coyotes and cashing in on prices of $50 to $80 per coyote pelt.
Trenkle wasn’t jobless long.
Returning to his roots, he became the most successful coach in CSI history, with an astounding 329-36 record in 10 Golden Eagle seasons from 1984-93. Trenkle insisted on victory. His players delivered.
Fred and Juanita treated their players like family. They were teachers and confidants.
He had eight 30-win seasons and a record 137-game home win streak ending in 1992. He won eight regional championships and one national NJCAA title, in 1987, when his 37-1 CSI team led by 6-4 Joey Johnson beat Midland, Texas 69-68. He graduated 70 of 71 players.
Trenkle still had the NCAA Division 1 itch to scratch.
In May 1994, he signed a multi-year contract at San Diego State University for $72,000 a year. Trenkle ended up coaching the Aztecs for five years, and Brady played on the basketball team and graduated from SDSU in 1999.
It was bittersweet for the coach. The competition was fierce in the Western Athletic Conference, and Trenkle’s operating budget was small. His salary as head coach was comparable with assistant coach salaries paid by other highly-competitive WAC teams.
He was asked to resign during the 1998-99 season, when the Aztecs were 2-20—after a 48-point loss at Utah. “I found out loyalty doesn’t run two ways,” Trenkle was quoted as saying at the time.
For the first time in his life, he hadn’t won. His Aztecs had only one winning season, 15-14 in 1996. It was the team’s first winning season in 15 years, and Trenkle took pride in his graduation rate. But his coaching record was 53-81.
He came back to Idaho, applied for the open CSI head coaching job and didn’t get it.
Trenkle swallowed his pride and took substitute teaching jobs in Kimberly and Twin Falls. He continued to work during the summers hauling fuel for helicopters. He and Juanita kept their cabin north of Ketchum.
He eventually returned to teach at Wood River Middle School and focus on his retirement. He worked his way into a full-time teaching and counseling job. When the Wood River head coaching job opened up in 2003, Trenkle was hired for the job.
Trenkle, assisted by Jim Boatwright and John Radford, coached the 2003-04 Wolverines to the school’s first state berth in 13 years.
He retired as head coach in 2006, and spent more and more time with Juanita traveling to his son’s out-of-state games.
During the 2011-12 season, Trenkle ended his coaching career doing double duty for two Wood River teams.
He helped Kevin Stilling coach the Wood River girls’ varsity basketball team that earned its second straight state tournament trip. At the same time he also coached the Wood River Middle School eighth-grade boys.
It was a demanding task for a 63-year-old coach—40 games of coaching and 172 practices over four months.
But he did it willingly and helped each team elevate its game. He would grab a hot dog in Bellevue on the dark drive back to home in Shoshone. They were long days at work.
Working hard for victory
Before the 2003-04 season that resulted in Wood River’s eighth state tournament berth, and third for Trenkle, the Mountain Express visited the coach as he greeted his new team and prepared for games.
The boys were starting to come to terms with Trenkle and his demands. The results were positive—a Wood River program without much success in the previous few seasons ended up 11-14 in all.
He said, “Work ethic is a big thing. I wonder how many of the kids have had to work hard before they get to the basketball court. I’ve had a lot of great teams that haven’t known how to work hard. But we’ll work hard. I want them getting after somebody.”
No matter what level of basketball, Trenkle said, “I never coached any of my teams any differently than I coached at CSI and San Diego State.”
Watching his 2003-04 recruits, Trenkle said, “I’d like to think that we’re not going to have a lot of long nights. I’d like to think we’re not going to quit. Hopefully we can play close to the bone and get to where we can make our free throws.
“Somewhere you’ve got to make a stand.”
As always Fred Trenkle is talking about basketball, but he’s also talking about life.
“Play basketball!” he yelled to his players when they were doing things too mechanically. “This is basketball, it isn’t TV. Let’s get some flow to this!”
After storming around a bit and substituting himself into the action, for proper effect, he reluctantly came back and sat briefly on a bench. With Trenkle, the banter never stops.
“You always want to be the underdog. We’re going to get better and better.
“We might have 10 wins.
“We might have four.
“But I can tell you one thing—we’re going to be well coached!”