You don’t do this job without getting to know coaches, and I have a Rolodex full of them.
I will now pause while those of you of a certain age explain to the young folks just what a Rolodex is.
I should point out that I do not take that word, “coach,” lightly. I have a deep-seeded respect for the men and women who take on the responsibility of teaching the life lessons that go along with teaching a sport. Done well, coaching a sport is more about teaching young men and women about how to approach life and the ups and downs they will encounter along the way.
Truth be told, my respect for the role keeps me referring to anyone who tackles the job by the name “coach.” Anything less just feels disrespectful.
When I got to West Valley, back in the dark ages, Al Snyder was the boys basketball coach. He spent 10 years as an assistant coach to the legendary Jud Heathcote and was in his 10th and final season as head coach of the Eagles.
I did not play basketball for him, but I got to know him as the P.E. teacher and truly enjoyed listening to basketball stories. I must have left an impression on him as an enthusiastic audience because he always called me by name whenever we ran into each other over the years.
I bumped into him at Westlake Mall in Seattle when I was working over there. We sat down and had a nice lunch together.
He got a grin on his face every single time I called him Mr. Snyder.
Finally, he said “Steve, you can call me Al. We’re not in school anymore.”
“No, sir,” I said. “I can’t. But how about I just call you coach.”
There are very few of the coaches that I have worked with over the years that I have been able to call by their first name. Most of the time it just feels like a sign of disrespect to not simply call them “coach.”
I have known Jim McLachlan, the long-time track and cross country coach, for almost five decades now. Still can’t call him by his first name, but I come closer with him than most. Everyone just calls him by his nickname: Otis.
I found it easy to call former East Valley football coach Adam Fisher by his first name, which surprised me until I realized it was because I had covered him in a playoff game as a player at South Kitsap High.
And I always called the long-time gymnastics coach at Central Valley, Kim Brunelle, by her first name. But we were high school classmates.
Some of the men I respect most have been coaches I worked with.
Mariner High School near Everett was coached by a man I liked a great deal and admired even more. Frank Goddard had a way with football and teaching young men that was special. His teams were competitive and covering them was fun.
I still remember him telling me after his team had been eliminated in the first-round of the state playoffs that he was stepping down and that he had an advanced cancer. Not long after that I had to write about how he had lost that battle, and how he had addressed it with the same courage and conviction.
Not long after that Mariner High renamed its football field. It’s now Frank Goddard Memorial Stadium.
Terry Ennis was a young coach at Renton High when I first met him. He became the coach at Cascade High in Everett and led them to a state championship. He started the football program at Archbishop Murphy and turned it into a powerhouse before passing away from cancer. The team is now coached by Jerry Jensen, the fullback and middle linebacker on Ennis’ state title team at Cascade.
My affection for the sport of wrestling did not come naturally. I had a respect for it, growing up in a high school where the ever-colorful Charlie Miller was the head coach, but it turned into a joy to cover because of a handful of Snohomish County legends. Rick Iverson was the coach at Marysville-Pilchuck at the time and there is no more enthusiastic coach on any sideline. Unless you count his son, Craig, who is now the Marysville-Pilchuck coach.
I still remember the absolute glee Iverson had at the prospect of state championships being housed under one roof at the Tacoma Dome – an experiment they were calling “Mat Classic.”
Mike Hess was a world-class referee when he wasn’t coaching Edmonds High and identical twin brothers Bruce and Bryce Cook were rival head coaches at Meadowdale and Woodway high schools until Edmonds and Woodway combined and Bryce Cook and Hess co-coached the program. All three are Hall of Fame coaches.
It was always a delight to run into Cash Stone, the former Mead wrestling coach, who I got to know after his retirement.
There is an extra level of esteem I have come to hold some of the coaches I have known over the years, and it’s come along since I became a grandfather.
There are a few I would go out of my way to steer one of my grandkids toward.
Kim Brunelle was in that category should one of the granddaughters choose gymnastics. West Valley legend Jack Spring was the head baseball coach when I was on the sophomore team and I would have steered anyone and everyone to play for the man.
The retired-but-not-forgotten Central Valley coach Rick Giampietri is in that arena for football.
I had secretly held out hope that my grandson would be able to wrestle for a coach I hold in the highest regard. Now, sadly, that’s not going to happen.
Don Owen announced his retirement after 40 years of coaching, most of it as University’s incredibly successful coach.
Owen won state titles in 2005, 2010 and 2013 and has a long, long list of state champions and state placers on the wall of the U-Hi wrestling room – some of them covering two generations of Titan wrestlers.
I never went into his practice room without learning something new about the sport – usually something to do with applied leverage. And there were few conversations I shared with him that did not include his approach to teaching leadership to his athletes.
He taught his wrestlers that being a leader is much more than being out in front or being loud. Leaders serve their teammates and work to make them all better. He calls it “servant leadership.”
I hope, in retirement, he will write the book on that approach so that more of us can learn that lesson.
That’s what I would have liked my grandson to learn from a master teacher.
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