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Editor’s note: Staff photographer Dan Pelle won a first-place award in the Best of the West competition in the photo slideshow category for “Going Long,” a story about a retiring Gonzaga Preparatory School football coach. Judges said the slideshow “was probably the only entry that told the full tale of a retiring coach in a concise way. From beginning to end, the photos and audio worked in tandem to tell the story.” (5/4/2009)
This one is personal. I have known Ron Long since 1971. He was my 7th grade teacher in Catholic grade school and my freshman football coach in high school. Long was the subject of a yearlong story I shot for The Spokesman-Review back in 1993. He was again on my mind two week ago when I heard he was retiring from coaching after 37 years. We had heard that line from him before. He told me he was leaving the coaching ranks back in 1993. And again in 1994 and 1995. “Just one more year,” he would say. “Just one more year.”
This time I think he means it. After calling Gonzaga Prep to verify the facts, I knew I had to record his last game, not just for the newspaper, or for him, but for all the players and families and students who have crossed paths with the coach. Long is more than just a coach. He is a teacher. Beyond his history classes at school, he has changed lives on and off the field.
On the day of his last game at Hart Field, Long preferred not to talk about himself. He always brought the conversation back to the kids. So I let members of the team speak for him. Long and Bullpups defeated Lewis and Clark by a score of 22-20. But, even if they would have lost the game, there would be no doubt who the real winner would be. A winner for that past 37 years.