Getting the itch to do some coaching. Again.

On a recent Wednesday during the holidays, I had the opportunity to watch the Gold Beach High boys’ basketball team in a non-league match-up with Santiam Christian at Adair Village north of Corvallis. I coached with the current head coach, Glen Litterell, and the junior varsity coach, Mark Becker, during the 1998-2001 seasons, so I was looking forward to seeing the two former colleagues and good friends again.

During the game, I visited with a number of former students, who now have children on the team, and several former GBHS teachers, who have moved on to other jobs. One of the former student-athletes was Bob Schroeder, whose son Grant is an all-state football player and three-sport athlete at Santiam Christian. Unfortunately, he chose not to play basketball this year, his senior season, and to concentrate on the upcoming baseball season, a sport at which he also excels. I was looking forward to seeing him play.

In any event, my old high school, which peaked in enrollment at around 410 in the late ’70s and early ’80s, is down to fewer than 200 students, with only seven full-time teachers on staff. When I retired in 1997, the staff was at 17, and a number of electives were still offered. Now, according to Glen Litterell’s wife, Jodi, who Molly and I sat with in the stands, son Garrett has a difficult time getting the required classes to graduate. This is a far cry from the days when the school had three full-time English teachers and a dozen electives in the department and all coaches were all on the payroll. Now, many assistant, and some varsity coaches, volunteer their time because they love both the sport and working with kids — and there’s no money in the budget to pay them.

But the school is still funding most sports, although some coaches have to raise their own monies to operate, and the days of three paid meals per day for athletes and coaches on road trips are only a distant memory. Schools, including sports’ programs, have fallen on hard times in many districts around the state, and furlough days are required in most districts.

As I talked to Glen and Mark, I thought about the “good old days” and wondered just what I’d do if I had taught and coached under the current conditions. Would I have worked for peanuts or no pay at all? Would I have found another venue for my desire to coach — club sports, for example? Or would I have walked away knowing that the public wouldn’t or couldn’t support schools and programs sufficiently for them to not only survive but thrive?

The answer to those questions came flooding back quickly as I recalled those three years in the late ’90s and early 2000s when I indeed volunteered as a varsity boys’ basketball assistant, working with Glen and Mark. From 1998-2001 during basketball season, I walked out the door of my weekly newspaper, the Curry County Reporter, to make the half-mile drive to the high school gym and coach hoops for a couple of hours. And, of course, miss work for games, which were generally played on Tuesday and Friday evenings and occasionally on Saturdays.

One year, I even bought the coaching staff gear including two shirts, one a polo and another a dress top, slacks and a light pullover. Glen always teased me that I had to buy my way back into the coaching ranks after I retired. After all, not all head coaches will take on an old retread. But I enjoyed being an assistant after a long career as a head baseball and girls’ basketball coach. I developed relationships with players that were a little more relaxed since I wasn’t the go-to guy any longer. One of those players is a manager at the Toyota dealership in Wilsonville and another works in the fire suppression business and lives in Salem. I still see them, although infrequently.

So, yes, I would do it all over again, even with no pay, and work the long hours and ride the yellow bus once again. Coaching is a rewarding job, and there’s nothing better in my mind than helping young players develop their skills, both athletic and life.

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