Head coach first African-American to win Idaho state title

Ryan Collingwood, The Spokesman-Review | 3/22/2018, 6:51 a.m.
A FedEx employee in 1997, Marsell Colbert wasn't surprised to learn he was Coeur d'Alene's first African-American courier.
Genesis Prep boys basketball coach Marsell Colbert poses at the school in Post Falls, Idaho. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review via AP)

SPOKANE, Wash. — A FedEx employee in 1997, Marsell Colbert wasn't surprised to learn he was Coeur d'Alene's first African-American courier.

Colbert was eight years removed from leaving a rough Maryland neighborhood for a basketball scholarship at North Idaho College, in one of the more racially homogeneous areas of the country.

But Colbert, then in the infancy of his coaching career with local youth leagues, was proud of that distinction.

"It's always special to be the first to accomplish something," said Colbert, now a history teacher and head coach at Idaho small-school basketball power Genesis Prep Academy in Post Falls.

Twenty years later, it appears Colbert has marked another first and etched his name in Idaho high school sports history.

When Genesis Prep cruised to a 1A Division II championship in 2017, some wondered if Colbert was the first African-American head coach to win an IHSAA state title in any sport.

After the Jaguars convincingly defended their crown earlier this month at the Idaho Center in Nampa, the prospect of Colbert being the first resurfaced.

The Spokesman-Review reached out to a wide-ranging group of current and former longtime sports journalists across the state of Idaho, as well as state officials. He is widely believed to be the first.

"In my entire coaching career, I have only seen two other black coaches in Idaho, period, in (former Falls Christian head boys basketball coach) Tim Mitchell and an assistant coach at Borah in Boise," Colbert said. "So this is really important to me. It's important for us to have success."

Colbert coached at now-defunct Falls Christian in Post Falls alongside Mitchell for two seasons before he was an assistant at North Idaho College. In 2008, Colbert began his stint as an assistant at Post Falls High School, where his standout sons, Marcus and Malcolm Colbert, helped the Trojans win a 5A state title in 2010.

After both of his sons went on to play collegiately, Marcus at Montana State and Malcolm at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Colbert took a coaching hiatus before accepting the head gig at Genesis Prep in 2014.

Colbert has posted an 83-13 record in four seasons. About a dozen of those wins have come against schools over five times Genesis Prep's size, including Mt. Spokane High School.

"I didn't think I would coach again, to be honest," Colbert said. "I needed the right coaches and administration around me, which I have. We're doing things differently. We're God-centered and want our players to grow up to be great men and great husbands."

Mitchell, who moved to Coeur d'Alene from Compton, California, in the 1990s, was the rare African-American Idaho head coach from 2004-2006. He led Falls Christian to a pair of state tournaments, a North Star League title and top five ranking during his tenure.

Now Mitchell watches his son play at Post Falls High School and keeps tabs on his close friend Colbert.

"To see him to step up and go and win state, it's a huge accomplishment. I am proud of him," Mitchell said. "Things have changed a lot in North Idaho since the first time I moved up here. The diversity is getting a lot better. There are more African-American kids who are playing."