BY PATRICIA KELLER WEST MILFORD - For the past 30 years, the name of Coach John Finke has been synonymous with Highlanders Basketball.The long time Coach of the West Milford High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team announced last week that he is retiring from coaching the high school team.Finke will continue to teach Physical Education and Health classes at Macopin Middle School, and will also remain in his position as Coach of the WMHS Varsity Golf Team.Finke graduated from West Milford High School in 1982. He returned to his alma mater two years later as a teacher and new coach for the Junior Varsity Boys Basketball Team. He took over at the helm of the WMHS Varsity Boys Basketball Team in 1988. “I always knew that I wanted to be a coach,” Finke said in a previous interview. “It’s my calling. I had that knack for guiding and leading younger student-athletes. It’s been very rewarding and I’ve been blessed to serve in this role.”Two years ago, in his 28th year of coaching, Finke’s renewal appointment for the position came up one vote shy of approval by the Board of Education, with two trustees absent at the time of the vote.Following an outpouring of community support: a circulated petition, approximately 20 supporters- including former and current players, parents, and even a rival coach- spoke on his behalf and filled the seats in the audience at the subsequent school board meeting (which had to be relocated from the Westbrook School Media Center to the school's gymnasium due to audience attendance numbers), plus the two formerly absent Trustees being present for the re-vote; Finke was reinstated as Coach for a 29th season. Following the reinstatement, Finke said, “I was overwhelmed by the support, not only of my former players, but of the entire community of West Milford.”Finishing on a positive note“Coach” Finke, now 54, completes his high school basketball coaching career with 384 career wins; and one of the best seasons West Milford has seen over the past 10 years. The Highlanders finished this year's season with a 19-8 record, and reached the NJSIAA Group 3 quarterfinal round last month. Finke surprised those in attendance at the team’s end of the season Awards Ceremony last Thursday with the announcement of his retirement from the coaching position.“Retiring from something that I have poured my heart and soul into for 30 years was one the most difficult decisions I have had to make in my coaching career," Finke said. "The only thing that compares with this was when I left girls soccer in 2002 after 11 years and 5 Championships. WMHS Basketball has been a family endeavor and leaving feels like I am leaving a part of family.”Finke commented in published interviews that he’d like to play a key role in the search for his replacement, and feels that someone close to the program would be a key candidate. “My biggest fear in stepping down is that the program doesn’t continue to move forward,” he said.Finke said he knows of “...five or six former West Milford players that would be perfect for the position - they have coaching experience and they understand and know the community and feeder programs in town. Finke stated, “If I’m fortunate enough to help with the transition and serve as a consultant, I’m all in.” Finke also stated, “This team has been all I’ve known since I was a kid and I’d like to be as much involved with its future.”“I will miss all the friendships I have made over the years; the other coaches, the parents, my staff, and of course most importantly the players! It’s very hard to put into words how I am feeling right now, there are so many mixed emotions and feelings. I feel like I still have so much to offer but I also feel like this is the best time since my daughter is still at WMHS it gives me a chance to spend more time with her and my wife.” Finke’s daughter, Amanda, is a two-time All-Passaic bowler and member of the WMHS Field Hockey Team in her Sophomore year at the school. He said, “I would like to spend more time watching Amanda compete.”Finke said he will continue to run his popular “Fast Break Basketball Camp” program. He commented, “Fast Break Camp will keep me connected to the youth basketball community and I will still use the coaches and players to help out."