The story begins, as it so often does, with how it almost wasn’t a story at all.
Larry Beatty had a job interview to become the track and cross country coach at the Community Colleges of Spokane, and he was ready to blow it off. It meant missing a day of work at 24 Hour Fitness, and he was already “living hand to mouth.” It meant footing the cost of finding someone to cover the weight training class he taught at Clark College in Vancouver. And he’d been tipped to the candidate pool he was in – NCAA Division I coaches, another with an NAIA national championship in his resume.
“It was going to put me in the red,” he said, “and I wasn’t going to get it.”
Someone knew better. Maybe several someones. Among them was Dick McClain, executive director of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges, who offered to fly Beatty to Spokane on a Horizon Air ticket. Then the gym gave him a paid day off, and someone took his class – and sometime later Maury Ray, then the CCS athletic director, was telling Beatty he’d been the No. 1 choice all along.
“You’re in our conference, you have no track at Clark and you beat us twice,” Ray reasoned. “How can I go wrong?”
He couldn’t, even if that was only as far as it went. But the scoreboard reveals merely a sliver of what Larry Beatty has achieved in his 15 years at CCS in restoring a program as necessary as it is successful.
That run, however, comes to an end come with the last relay Tuesday at the NWAACC championships at Spokane Falls as Beatty funnels his unflagging energy and uncommon spirit toward a group even closer to his heart.
“Team Beatty,” he said.
That would be his wife, Brenda, and children Hunter, Jaedyn and Micah, who have had to share him with upwards of 100 athletes who put on the Sasquatch uniform each spring – and hundreds more he seems to be actively recruiting at any given time.
He will turn the wheel over to assistant Jason Cash, and the core of his longtime staff – Claude DeFour, Linda Lanker, Ryan Weidman – will remain, as well. So not a lot will change – but, of course, everything will.
Except maybe the setting of the bar. Between track and cross country – he gave up that job in 2004 – Beatty’s CCS teams have won 33 conference championships, not counting five “combined” men’s and women’s cross country trophies the NWAACC awards. Two other men’s track titles went on his record at Clark, and it’s likely two more will be added this week.
Only Steve Sauers, who won 35 tennis titles at Green River before his death in 2004, rivals that total in the NWAACC – and he was on the job for 34 years, almost twice as long as Beatty.
That underscores a pretty obvious driver in the man’s makeup.
“I like to keep score,” he admitted. “Let’s learn how to compete, not just run fast. It doesn’t matter this week if there’s a kid in the 1,500 (meters) who’s run 3:52, because it’ll be won in a low 4 – and I’ll bet we have a kid we’ve taught how to win.”
Or maybe just convinced him of it.
“He has a unique ability to motivate people,” said Curtis Parrish, who hurdled for Beatty at CCS and now coaches at Shorter University in Georgia. “I’ve been coaching now for three years and I’m still trying to learn that Larry Beatty moment when you’ve got the whole room of kids on fire.”
But there are other moments that count every bit as much – the training adjustment that finds a jumper an extra inch or two, the firm nudge toward the library, the empathetic ear. And the one that counts most of all: finding them in the first place, or letting them find him.
Few programs have been so fascinating for personal reclamations or retoolings. Beatty has made champions out of Sudanese refugees, time-marking waitresses, moonlighters from the basketball team and even the homeless – hurdler Keith Gill “was living in a cardboard box his senior year (of high school)” before twice winning the NWAACCs. Parrish did a hitch with the Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom between his two years here. Weidman was a baseball player who wanted to give “that spear” a try.
“He giggled at me,” recalled Weidman, who went on to become an NCAA Division II champ in the javelin, “but now he actually calls it ‘the Weidman Rule’ – everybody gets a chance.”
But there are also what Beatty calls the kids “from ‘Leave It to Beaver’ families” who just need some work in math or to run a couple seconds faster in the 400 to get to a four-year school. Somewhere in between was Beatty himself, a hurdles champ at Green River who eventually ran a 1:50 in the half mile, then took a computer science degree at Portland but abandoned a job at Hewlett-Packard “that I hated” in order to become a coach.
“I found a niche at this level,” he acknowledged. “You don’t like to admit it, but there’s a lot of failure – I’m just not a guy who focuses on failure. But we’ve had a lot more who really blossom here.”
Many who almost weren’t stories at all. But with Larry Beatty in their corner, how could they go wrong?