The Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) track and field team didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Barry Sartz before his life ended suddenly last fall.
This weekend will provide Lakeside an opportunity to thank him, however, even if that means the athletes must settle for keeping him in their thoughts.
Lakeside’s girls are vying for a third straight team championship, and the boys also expect to be in the mix for a team title at the State 1A track and field championships, which began Thursday and run through Saturday at Eastern Washington University.
Sartz, formerly a head track coach at Newport, was an assistant coach at Lakeside tutoring the team’s sprinters and hurdlers. His impact on the runners clearly extended far beyond the track. The respect and admiration Sartz garnered from his pupils – and still does – is remarkable.
“Everyone should have someone like that in their life,” said Micah Holmes, an Eagles senior who is defending his state title in the 100-meter dash.
“We had this connection like no other, and he truly was my best friend,” added Faith Kennedy, another senior who captured first place at state in the girls 400 last year.
“He always made you feel like … you were the best person out there and you did the best you could,” said senior Rachel Garrity, who is undefeated in the 100 hurdles this year and is seeking her first state crown. “He always called me ‘sweetheart,’ and that always put a smile on my face. It was really cute.”
Kennedy, who will run the 400 for EWU beginning next year, said Sartz instilled self-confidence in his runners that propelled them to run faster.
“He just believed in you,” she said. “He made it 10 times easier for you to run your race. He gave you this extra bit of confidence while you were running, knowing your coach believes in you and knows you can do this.”
Garrity said Sartz’s instruction was vital in transforming her from a sophomore new to the sport into a threat to win a state championship in the hurdles just two years later. She said he fine-tuned her running form, keeping her arms tucked tightly and her hands motioning hip to cheek.
Garrity recalled the day she learned of Sartz’s death last September.
“I got a phone call from my best friend, and she said, ‘Rachel, Barry just died,’ ” Garrity said. “I said, ‘Who told you this?’ I thought it was some big joke. I thought, ‘It’s no big deal. It’s just someone playing a stupid joke.’ Then my mom called, and she works at the high school. As soon as her name popped up on there, I knew it was true, but I didn’t believe it.
“After I got off the phone I broke down. I wanted him to be there for my senior year. He wasn’t going to watch the (400 relay team) succeed, which he put a lot of effort into. He wasn’t going to be there to watch the hurdles. It was a really hard realization.”
Lakeside coach Jim Pettet said Sartz “was track and field.” Aside from his love of classic hydroplanes, Sartz was all-in on the sport.
“You couldn’t ask for a better team player,” Pettet said.
Pettet had a gigantic hole to fill on his coaching staff when Sartz died, but it didn’t take long to find a suitable replacement. Jeremy VanAssche, who recently capped his track career running the sprints and hurdles at EWU, has stepped in to continue what Sartz started.
“It was shocking to all of us. Devastating,” Pettet said of Sartz’s death. “In a short amount of time, he built relationships that were pretty phenomenal. Jeremy has had his hands full, but Barry knew Jeremy. He’s looking down going, ‘If anybody had to take my spot, it would be him.’
“(Sartz) had a system how to train sprinters and hurdlers. He could get them to buy in. The kids were making huge results. Jeremy runs the same stuff. For the kids, it was so tough. And poor Jeremy, but he’s taken the ball and run with it. He’s the youngest coach we’ve ever had, but he knows his stuff.”
Kennedy considered Sartz a part of her family and even took her senior pictures with him by her side. She said VanAssche stepped into a difficult situation but has connected with the athletes still coping with Sartz’s death.
“When (VanAssche) came into the program – I was thinking about it a little bit – that had to be tough on him, right?” Kennedy said. “From his shoes, it’s like, ‘Oh shoot, they just lost one of their favorite coaches.’ But he has been a huge asset to us coming straight out of college. … He can relate to us because he’s not that much older than us. It’s more of an ease of the tension kind of thing with him.”
Pettet said all of his other assistant coaches have been head coaches elsewhere. That has provided the athletes with an embarrassment of riches and experience on which to lean.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have the coaches we have currently and in the past,” Garrity said. “I don’t think any of us would be where we are now without Barry and coach Pettet.”
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