As Jon Knight built the North Central boys cross country program into a regional power, one of Spokane’s iconic distance- running figures, Tracy Walters, hung around to offer his tutelage.
Walters, who first coached multiple NCAA champion Gerry Lindgren at Rogers, coached the U.S. national team in the 1970s, helped shape the Lilac City’s rich running culture and continues to carry the moniker of “Grandpa Coach” at NC, his alma mater.
After nearly 30 years leading NC – a tenure that includes a dynasty of 11 consecutive state championships from 2006-16 – Knight is ready to take on a similar role.
“(Walters) has been the emeritus coach,” said Knight, a history and political science teacher who recently announced his retirement from coaching. “Now I’m ready to be a ‘Grandpa coach’ – I won’t go away completely.”
Knight, 57, recently stepped down to spend more time with his family and pointed to “heath issues that necessitated me to step away.”
“COVID-19 added to the decision a little bit,” Knight said. “It gave me the experience what it’s like to not coach. So many hours in a day go into this.”
The former Ferris, University of Montana and Washington State runner spent his entire coaching career at NC, taking over a program in 1992 that won just a single dual meet in his first year.
But NC became a force in the talent-heavy Greater Spokane League, pumping out state champions, medalists and collegiate runners.
The Indians won a national title in 2008 and two of Knight’s runners, Tanner Anderson and Kai Wilmot, won individual national titles in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Knight’s daughter, Katie Knight, was one of the top runners in the country before graduating from NC in 2013 and continued her career at Washington.
“We had a great coaching staff that worked really hard,” said Knight, who was quick credit longtime assistants Len Long and Dick Baker. “We had good kids and a great parent community group.”
NC graduate Justin Janke – the 2015 Gatorade Washington Cross Country Runner of the Year – learned a lot from Knight before continuing his career at WSU, namely the coach’s three golden rules: Be kind, work hard and don’t do anything stupid.
“Knight was a good coach because he really pushed us in ways that weren’t just physical,” Janke said.
“He was always looking for the next thing. Always doing research and asking everything every chance he got.”
Janke and Knight’s son, Hank Knight, were teammates on NC’s 2015 team that won a record-breaking 10th consecutive title.
“The program always advanced and adapted,” Janke said. “He really helped instill the practice of striving for greatness. He was a great coach and a better man.”
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