It was the first day of spring. A time for the sun to peak out from behind the clouds. A time for old friends and old competing coaches to catch up with each other on the track at Everett Memorial Stadium.
There was Ernie Goshorn, one of the coaching icons of Snohomish County, who now is helping out one of his former runners from his days when he coached at Lynnwood High School back in the 1980s, Eric Hrushka.
There was my old classmate, Chris Crockett, who has been the head boys’ track coach at Cascade High School for a handful of years and is proud to see all the “hard work paying off” with a big, talented group of athletes.
There was Jeff Leary, the jumps coach at Kamiak, who actually was a baseball player back in the early 80s when he was one of the best all-round athletes in Snohomish County.
And then there was Steve Bertrand, the truly renaissance guy who has been a leading force at Cascade High School over the course of 30 years. As he caught up with me in the far corner of the stadium on Thursday, we reminisced and reflected on a wide range of topics during a too-short half-hour talk.
While the sun hung on the edge of the western stadium roof and the young runners ran heats of the 400 for the first time all season, Steve and I just talked.
We talked about his remaining years at Cascade, his latest adventures, his recollection of lining up for his first cross country race 43 years ago in the very corner where we were talking.
We talked about the struggles of keeping young athletes committed to track and pushing their physical limits.
We talked about our own young, unbridled enthusiasm for running back in the 1970s when the March of Dimes 20-mile Walk-a-thon gave both of us an excuse to push our own physical limits of our impetuous youth.
And as we talked, I realized just how much our paths had crossed over the years. Steve started coaching Cascade cross country during my senior year in high school. He was a young coach with more enthusiasm than any other coach in the league.
When I got my teaching certificate, I substituted in Steve’s class and then I had my first teaching job in the same hall as him at Evergreen Middle School back in the late 1980s. When fate landed me at Heatherwood Middle School, I again had Steve right down the hall from me.
In many respects he became a mentor for me.
We coached cross country together at Cascade for one year back in 1991 and it was one of my most enjoyable seasons in my 28-year coaching career. Steve had put together a number of good teams back in the 80s and early 90s. It was a golden era at ‘The School of Pride’ as Cascade was one of the largest high schools in the state. And Coach Bertrand’s distance crew reflected the spirit of the school and their coach.
During his 35 years of coaching, Steve would sometimes rub the administration the wrong way, but free spirits are that way. When it was obvious that Cascade was getting second-class treatment as a 4A school with no quality track, he adroitly handled a delicate situation that resulted in both Jackson and Cascade new, much-needed all-weather tracks.
But, if I cast an image of Steve Bertrand as simply a track/cross country habitué, I would be doing him a great disservice.
Steve sucks more marrow out of life than does a mosquito suck blood from a vampire. When he isn’t coaching, Steve is making wine for his homemade wine business- Blue Dragonfly Winery. Or Steve is working on his eighth book, this one on the history of Paine Field, which will be published in April. Or as one of the original activists, he is passionately campaigning for the preservation of Mukilteo’s Japanese Gulch. Or he is scouring yard sales and second-hand stores looking for Bernie Webber or Arnie Jensen paintings. Or, he is writing more poetry for his book “As the Crow Flies: Collection of Poems.” Or he is involved in a Civil War re-enactment. Or he is leading black belt instruction in Jungyae Moosul Federation of Martial Arts. Or he is playing the guitar or running marathons. You get the idea that this guy is as multi-dimensional as Torgerson–Gower scaling.
If you are wondering if this 58-year-old has time for a wife, he does. Steve and Donna Marie have two grown kids and three grandkids. The two of them also find time to run their own antique store, “He said – She Said”, in Harbour Pointe.
Lest I now have portrayed Steve Bertrand as simply a guy who is obsessed with ‘doing things,’ I bring you back to that half hour on the landing of the stairs at the Everett Memorial Stadium. Steve had kids to coach and yet he still took the time to chat with an old friend, a colleague.
For those thirty minutes, nothing else really seemed to matter for Steve. And he did this because he understands that it’s not necessarily about what one does, but who one connects with. Steve did the same thing 27 years ago when I was just a new teacher.
And something tells me he will be doing the same 27 years from now as well. Right after he finishes up that marathon, or poem, or black belt lesson.