September 10, 2011
Head Track and Field Coach/Assistant Cross Country Coach
Years of Service:
What brought you to Lewis & Clark? It was, in a real sense, a “coming home” for me. All but 11 years of my life have been spent on Palatine Hill; as a faculty kid, a L&C student-athlete, and finally as a coach for 30 years. My professional experiences after college also directed me back to Lewis & Clark. After working at Eastern Illinois University, Eastern Oregon University, the University of Oregon, and San Francisco State University, it became apparent that the place I would feel most comfortable teaching and coaching was at a small private college. I was fortunate to be able to make that college Lewis & Clark.
What track event have you enjoyed coaching most and why? Even though I had enjoyed success as a distance runner, with a father as a track coach, I had literally tried every event. My early coaching positions also had me working with every event at some point. I have a great love for distance running because I can so personally relate to the athletes’ experiences, but I have really enjoyed coaching the field events more because of the technical aspects they possess and the challenge to help each athlete discover the best way for them to learn and perfect that technique. It can be a very creative and engaging process with each day being different.
What is the most significant change you’ve seen at L&C during your time here? When I first came to Lewis & Clark, I was a professor in the physical education department as well as the only full-time cross country and track coach. Teaching lecture classes in kinesiology and perceptual motor learning, serving on faculty committees, and publishing professional articles were balanced with recruiting and coaching of the teams. When the PE major was eliminated, my role at Lewis & Clark became more narrow, but would even evolve more narrowly as the recruiting increased dramatically in the amount of time and energy it demanded. I had earned my Ph.D. so I could teach in a small college, and I had come to Lewis & Clark so I could both teach and coach. In the end, less time was spent in the teaching and coaching of students and athletes and more time was spent marketing and selling Lewis & Clark to recruits.
Can you describe an experience with a student that affirmed your love of teaching or coaching? Coaching is teaching, so the affirmation comes from challenging the student-athlete to obtain a goal, helping and motivating them to gain what is necessary to accomplish that goal, and witnessing the moment of change when they achieve the goal and the lesson is learned. Randy Coombs was a sprinter/long jumper who decided to become a decathlete. Of the 10 events involved in his first decathlon competition, he struggled the most in the pole vault. He was the only vaulter to start at the low height of 8 feet, and he failed all three times to clear it. Sitting down next to me to watch the other competitors clear much higher heights, Randy expressed deep frustration and embarrassment with his performance. No amount of encouragement from me seemed to help. A year later, at another decathlon competition, Randy and I watched another novice fail at his opening height. When I asked Randy what he thought, he said that the other athlete had made good attempts, had some sound techniques, and would get it next time. Randy went on to win the vault at 14 feet that day, but I was equally proud of the perspective and understanding he showed in recognizing that even competition is a journey that each proceeds at their own pace. Our society values winning, but how we encourage and value the process to success is at least of equal importance.
Describe the most memorable moment of your time at Lewis & Clark. Certainly in athletics, memorable moments are linked with success, but success doesn’t always mean winning. I have had memorable moments as a coach that involved great success and equally memorable ones that did not. Success: Leslie Johnson was Lewis & Clark’s first national track champion—she won the javelin throw at the NCAA championships. She hadn’t won the Conference or District championships, but on that Saturday at Nationals she was the best. It was a culmination of a great competition for the Pioneers as all four of my athletes at the meet were All-Americans: Paige Daugherty in the shot put, Nicole Perry in the 400-meter dash, and Kari Larsen, also in the 400 meters. Disappointment: During the 1999 cross country season, Chris Mayer was runner-up to the eventual national champion in both the Conference and Regional races. The next year, as a senior and the best returning runner in the Conference, Chris lead the Pioneers to their highest ranking ever in the national polls when the team was ranked 13th at mid-season. Then Chris injured his leg. The team was the favorite to win the Conference after having defeated every team during the season. Chris knew he was not healthy and was not the runner who had dominated during the season, but he went to the starting line with his teammates with the goal of winning as a team. As the championship race developed, Chris raced with the leaders, but his leg begin to fail him and he slowly dropped off the pace. He battled each runner who subsequently passed him and crossed the line in 8th place. Standing alone with his disappointment, I could only offer a hug and say that that was truly one of the most competitive and selfless efforts I had ever witnessed.
What is something that others would find surprising about you? I started as an art major at Lewis & Clark. Despite my allergies, I love gardening. I love to dance—I met my wife dancing, and I look forward to doing more dancing in retirement. A perfect day would include several hours browsing and buying books at Powell’s, sipping an Oregon Pinot Noir over a fine dinner at Andina’s, then listening to music from around the world on the back deck while watching the sun go down on a warm night, and seeing the bats fly at dusk.
What is your favorite place on campus and why? Growing up on campus, my favorite place to play was lower campus, and although it is more beautiful than ever, my favorite place since childhood has been Griswold Stadium. Driving by from any direction, I always slow down and look. I will walk out of my office and look. I’ve even stopped climbing the stairs at the end of the day to sit for a moment in the grandstands to just look down at the track. Favorite places involve memories, and I’ve accumulated a lifetime of those at the track.
What will you miss most about coming here each day? Being part of the daily life of a place I love; trying to make it a great college and the experiences of the students positive ones.
What accomplishments are you most proud of? Win or lose, my teams have always conducted themselves with class. Our competitors are not the enemy. We need them to bring out our best, and so, when the race is over, we congratulate them for their part—win or lose.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to doing? I will continue to host the BorderDuel Track Classic in June, a high school all-star track meet with athletes from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Lewis & Clark has a tradition of hosting great track competitions, and I want that tradition to continue. I plan on working with Archives to catalog the materials I have accumulated over the last 30 years. I will continue to explore the world through my photography. And I want to shoot under 90 in golf.