After one particularly challenging Watterson girls basketball game late in the regular season, coach Tom Woodford could sense it was time to lighten the mood.

He took a dodgeball and threw it at his daughter, senior Paige Woodford, and an impromptu game began.

“I’m going to miss those kinds of things,” Tom Woodford said. “I remember taking the kids over to the Bo Jackson (Elite Sports in Hilliard) in the preseason. The postgame times of being in the locker room, there’s nothing better than being a part of it.”

On March 17, the 51-year-old Woodford, who had guided the Eagles for 19 seasons, spent time video chatting and messaging the members of the program to let them know he had decided to step down.

One of the factors in his resignation is he hopes to attend many of his daughter’s games next season when she begins her college career at Mercyhurst.

Paige Woodford was a four-year regular for the Eagles, helping them to three Division I district runner-up finishes.

The Eagles went 23-3 each of the last two seasons. This winter, they were the second seed for the district tournament and lost to fifth-seeded Pickerington Central 43-40 in a district final March 3.

Tom Woodford earned his 400th career victory Dec. 9 when Watterson won 50-35 at Hilliard Davidson. He won 417 games over a 25-year coaching career that also included six seasons at London.

He will remain as the college counselor for Hilliard City Schools and is a Hilliard resident.

“Obviously, we knew this might be coming with his daughter, Paige, graduating and heading off to play in college,” Watterson athletics director Doug Etgen said. “He’s evolved into one of the best overall coaches I’ve had the privilege to be around. He’s developed our girls basketball program into one of the best in central Ohio over his 19 seasons here. His record speaks for itself, but he genuinely cares for these young ladies in ways far greater than basketball. Also, as a credit to him, he departs at a time when our future has seldom been brighter.”

Watterson won a district championship in 2004 and was a district runner-up five times under Woodford: in 2003, 2009, 2017, 2019 and 2020.

The Eagles went 6-0 to win the CCL this winter and made it to a district final despite having just one other senior in backup guard Emily Dixon.

Junior guard Kilyn McGuff, who was first-team all-district, leads the expected returnees.

“There’s multiple factors, but the biggest (reason I stepped down) is that I’m tired,” Woodford said. “If you look at the top 15 teams in the Central District every year, for the most part it’s the same 15 teams. If you look at the coaches that coach those 15 teams, those are the ones that go to summer league every year. They go to team camps. June is just as busy as January. When it comes time for the season, it’s not just my team and my practices, but it’s also scouting.

“To do it the right way, at 51 years old and with 25 years of coaching, you’ve got to have the energy to do that. At the same time, Paige is going to college and I want to be dad. These parents, I love them and tell them that all the time. I’m close to these kids and I love them. That was the (tough part) for me.”

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek