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Sports >  High school sports

Into the sunset: Mead boys track coach John Mires retires with Hall of Fame credentials

June 23, 2021 Updated Wed., June 23, 2021 at 9:53 p.m.

By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

After 21 Hall of Fame-worthy years, Mead’s John Mires is hanging up his track shoes as he steps away from the Panthers’ navy-blue oval and focuses on the next phase of his positive, energy-fueled life.

Before Mires rides off into the sunset on one of his new horses, Mead athletic director John Barrington asked him to sit down and put together a list of achievements.

Mires, just the fourth head track coach at Mead, earned four state team titles, four second-place finishes, 12 top-eight finishes and 12 Greater Spokane League titles. His teams went 180-17 in GSL meets.

The GSL voted him coach of the year 11 times – matching his predecessor and mentor Gary Baskett – and the National Federation of State High School Associations voted him a national coach of the year twice.

The winding road

Mires graduated from Mead in 1985 and Eastern Washington in the late 1980s. At EWU, Mires met Chuck Bowden, the head boys track coach at Central Valley.

The two competed and lived together in a house that became home for countless track athletes at Eastern.

“He’s my track-house brother for life,” Bowden said.

Mires was a 400-meter hurdler and a high jumper, an odd combo in the track world.

“I think ultimately, he probably should have been a middle-distance runner, and he would have been a pro middle-distance runner, because he was very, very talented,” daughter Baylee Mires said.

His first teaching gig was in Kahlotus, Washington, where he coached basketball and started the track team. He strongly encouraged his basketball players to run hurdles.

After two years, Mires left for a bigger challenge at Yelm, Washington. He taught and coached there for five years. That’s where Mires met Mike Strong, one of his first mentors.

“Mike was a phenomenal track guy,” Mires said. “Did some graduate work at Cal Berkeley and just had a really, really good understanding of track. So that was a good little kick-start.”

Back to the beginning

That kick-start inspired Mires to come back to Spokane, thanks to an opportunity from Baskett, who hired Mires as his assistant coach in 1998.

Bowden tried to persuade his friend to join his staff at CV, but Mires received a call from Dick Cullen, Mead’s athletic director at the time, who offered him the head coaching spot upon Baskett’s retirement.

Bowden told Mires, “Man, you don’t have any choice. This is, it’s like a calling to be able to come home.”

It was a tumultuous time at Mead. In 1997, the school district opened Mt. Spokane, splitting Mead – then the second-largest high school in the state – into two. Then Baskett stepped down in 1999 after four state titles – three straight from 1994-96.

“There is some pressure to keep it rolling,” Barrington said. “And people who look at a list of (his) records don’t understand that there’s a whole lot more that goes into it.”

It wasn’t an easy transition, but it didn’t take long for Mires to get things back on track. In 2002, Mead won its fifth state title and followed that up with back-to-back second-place finishes.

“John did one of what I believe is one of the hardest things to do,” Bowden said. “And that’s to follow a Hall of Fame coach. When you’re following somebody who’s a Hall of Fame coach, sometimes it can be impossible to get out of their shadow.”

It wasn’t just Baskett’s shadow at Mead. Former Mead coach Tom Buckner (1978-87) was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998, and another ex-Panthers coach, Duane Hartman (1967-77), was honored in 2002.

“To try and think that you could do it like the legends of the past, you’re pretty foolish, and you’re going to set yourself up for failure,” Mires said.

Mires continued that tradition while making his own. His teams earned back-to-back state titles in 2009 and ’10 – breaking a state record for most team points in a State 4A title in 2010 (82.5). He followed that up with consecutive second-place finishes in 2011 and ’12. His final state title came in 2017.

A legacy

It wasn’t about the accolades for Mires – it was the bonds he created with his athletes and students, creating a legacy that other teams in the GSL and across the state respected.

“His teams were absolutely the hardest to go up against,” Bowden said. “First, because no matter what, they were always in a constant state of getting better, regardless of whether they were loaded with talent, or whether it was a year where others might have felt they were down.”

Mires helped develop roughly 80 future collegiate athletes, with nearly 20 returning to Mead as an assistant with Mires.

“He has put together a really strong coaching staff over the years,” Barrington said. “He’s a grinder when it comes to getting the best people in front of our kids.”

Mires is going to miss the fostering of future relationships with athletes and students.

“Hopefully, I put my own stamp (on their lives),” Mires said. “The best reward is when you’re invited to a wedding, they send you a picture of their brand new baby. We’re shaping men, and I’ve loved doing it.

“The thing to remember is that the kid in your program sends you a little something along the way to keep you connected with their family. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what I’ll miss.”

Family ties

Throughout those years, and at separate times, all three of Mires’ children ran track at Mead, giving them a special relationship with their dad.

Baylee broke three school records. Son John had the second-longest hammer throw in Mead history. And Baylee said older sister Jessica was an impressive thrower, too.

“I think if you talk to any high school girl, she’s not going be too stoked about going to high school with her dad,” Baylee said. “But I think for all of us, we loved having our dad there. I can’t speak more highly of my high school experience with my dad. It was pretty cool to share that. He’s an incredible person and I think we’re all very, very grateful as his kids and as his athletes to have spent time with him.”

Baylee Mires is a professional runner for Under Armour in Flagstaff, Arizona.

“Looking back on it, Mead track and field for us kids, it was like our day care. That’s where we spent all of our time,” she said. “I can look back at those memories, like, ‘Wow, that was really, really cool that we got to spend so much time around a great program and a great coach.’ ”

Baylee is excited for her dad to have more time on his hands to watch her races on a more consistent basis, but she also wants to put him to work.

“Yeah, I hope he comes and helps me hurdle a little bit better,” she said. “So, I’m hoping to hire him as a personal coach.”

Next steps

Mires plans to spend more time with wife Amy on their farm property on Long Lake.

“I’ve been married for 34 years, so it’s time that I think I need to kind of come back to where I started this whole thing,” Mires said. “She has been with me every step of the way. It has been a heck of a family commitment.”

After 35 years at the track, Mires will have the picturesque sunsets that reflect off Long Lake blazing behind him.

“I think in sports, we often are left so unsatisfied,” Baylee said. “And it’s just cool for him to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m satisfied with what I did and the people I gave my life to, and now it’s time to return it to myself.’ ”

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