There’s a new metric for measuring your long-term success.
East Valley’s Dave McCarty has retired after 36 years as a cross country and boys track and field coach at his alma mater. When it came time to plan today’s Newman Lake celebration party (“I’m telling people that it’s less of a retirement party than it is a reunion,” he insists), the coach and his wife, Judy, were told they would need to make a few added accommodations for the expected crowd.
Turns out the event is a three port-a-potty party.
“One of them is supposed to be handicap accessible,” the coach laughs. “We’re putting out balloons, but I think you can find the place by all the cars.”
There is much to celebrate at 24709 E. San Carlos Ave. in Newman Lake.
To start with, there’s McCarty’s career as an EV athlete. A standout in both cross country and track for coach Howard Dolphin, he won the state Class 4A state championship in the mile, turning in a time of 4 minutes, 16.5 seconds – almost three full seconds ahead of his nearest challenger.
Then there’s his collegiate career. At Spokane Falls Community College, McCarty won both the mile (4:14.7) and two-mile (9:17.0) at the Washington Athletic Association of Community Colleges (the precursor to the current NWAACC) track and field championships, helping Spokane to a second-place.
McCarty’s 14:24.5 time in the 5,000 meters ranks fourth all-time in Community Colleges of Spokane history after 41 years, and his 3:52.7 time in the 1,500 ranks 11th – knocked out of the Top 10 in 1999.
But it was an unexpected time in a 3-mile event that earned McCarty a scholarship at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“It was one of those twilight meets at the Falls and we’d all lined up to run the 2-mile,” he recalled. “But there was a guy from Washington State there that needed to run a qualifying time in the 3-mile. So when we got to the starting line, the starter said ‘Oh, by the way, this is now a 3-mile race.’ ”
There were immediate protests – making the race 50 percent longer at the last minute will do that.
“I had my 2-mile all planned out,” McCarty laughed. “I had all of my splits mapped out in my mind and I knew I could break personal best time. I hadn’t run a 3-mile.”
He took up the challenge.
“The WSU guy was right behind me the whole way and he kept saying ‘faster – we gotta go faster,’ ” McCarty recalled. “I kept thinking ‘If you want to go faster, come up here and take the lead.’ ”
He never did. McCarty turned in a time of 13:56. The Cougar ran 13:59.7.
The NCAA track and field championships were held in Seattle that summer, and the SMU coach asked friends from the Northwest about distance runners. McCarty’s name came up and he got a call and was offered a two-year scholarship to become a Mustang.
Running in the Texas heat proved to be a major challenge.
“Southern Methodist was the smallest school in the Southwest Conference,” McCarty said. “I think the University of Texas had more milers on their roster than we had on our whole team.
“While I was there I never did get the chance to really concentrate on one event like the mile or 2-mile, so I never did improve on what I did at the Falls.”
McCarty’s mom kept her eye out for openings for teachers and coaches back home, and he interviewed.
“They were looking for a math teacher and a baseball coach and they were going to go with another guy,” McCarty said. “Howard was on the interview committee and he surprised everyone by saying that he was going to step down as boys cross country coach. So all of a sudden they needed a cross country coach and a math teacher and I got the job.”
For all of his 36 years at East Valley, McCarty was both a teacher and a head coach. First as the boys cross country coach, then as head girls coach when he started that program. When Dolphin, who started the program when the school opened in 1962, retired as head boys track in 1985, he took over.
“I remember something Howard said the day I was hired,” McCarty said. “He wasn’t talking to me, but he wondered out loud whatever happened to the guys who took over a program and stayed there for 25 years. I decided then that I was going to be one of those guys.”
Over the years there have been incredible highs. A state boys track championship in 2006 with a team that won the Mooberry Relays and the Greater Spokane League title along the way.
“One of my favorite memories is the year I had my son running for me, Dennis McGuire at CV had his son running distance for him, Bob Barbero at University had his son, Mike, running for him and Jim McLachlan at West Valley had his son running for him,” he said. “It’s not that uncommon for guys to coach their son, for all of us to do it at the same time was pretty special.”
There are a few lows as well.
McCarty calls his 1981 boys cross country team the best he ever had and an odds-on favorite to win a state title.
“Three weeks before the state meet, we found out that they weren’t going to hold a Class 2A state meet,” he said. “We had the rug pulled out from under us. That’s the only year they didn’t hold our state meet and we had to run with the big schools that year.”
The reminiscing starts today at 1 p.m. and will probably continue the rest of the day, with lots of colleagues and former athletes dropping by to share memories.
“I’m expecting there will be a lot of laughter and maybe a few tears,” McCarty said.
And that’s how it should be.