By David Krueger Herald Writer
The Arlington High School wrestling program has collected beloved, all-star wrestling coaches like trading cards.
Unfortunately, last week one of those cards was snatched away.
Robert “Barry” Knott, one of four Arlington wrestling coaches that have more than 80 combined years of coaching experience, died May 31 from complications related to pancreatic cancer.
He was 66. A funeral mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Arlington. A reception will follow in the church.
“It’s a tough loss,” Arlington head coach Rick Iversen said. “I don’t know how many times Barry said to me in the last two years, ‘Aren’t we lucky we get to do this again with all these great kids?’ And I felt the same way.”
Knott, a graduate of Seattle’s Blanchet High School, earned a teaching certificate from Seattle University. He taught high school English Literature and served as a prep wrestling coach for 34 years. After retiring from teaching in 2003, Knott and his wife Jeanne moved to Arlington.
Knott found his way to Arlington High School two years ago. Iversen, Knott’s longtime friend who had coached wrestling at Marysville Pilchuck and Western Washington University, was orgainizing a girls wrestling program at Arlington High and convinced Knott to come out of retirement to join him on the Eagles staff.
Soon after, the head coach of the boys team departed and the duo found themselves running the whole wrestling show at Arlington High.
“We knew each other from the coaches’ association and state tournaments,” Iversen said. “We were both English teachers. He retired to Arlington and I moved to Arlington and we decided to do this. It was a nice fit. It became a pretty good partnership.
“We’ve been friends forever and it was a pretty nice situation.”
Knott had retired from coaching wrestling in 1998 after a successful career at Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School. His teams won seven straight Metro League championships from 1984 to 1990. He also coached at Lake Washington and Bellarmine high schools and had been Regional Coach of the Year and was nominated to the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame.
Recently, Arlington High’s wrestling team found itself competing at Nathan Hale in, of all things, the Barry Knott Invitational.
“We took the team down to Nathan Hale High School and they have a tournament named after him, the Barry Knott Invitational,” Arlington assistant coach Jim Smoots said. “The coaches that were coaching there were all his ex-wrestlers. When he walked into the gym it was like a reunion. Everyone from the ticket taker to the coaches and the other over there at the Barry Knott Invitational teams knew him. It was like a family gathering.
“Wherever we went there were people who knew and loved him.”
Wrestling wasn’t Knott’s only passion, Iversen said. He also enjoyed singing and was part of a well-known barbershop quartet. As an English teacher, Knott also enjoyed writing.
“He was a national and international barbershop quartet guy, and had a beautiful baritone voice,” Iversen said. “He was just a real, warm and giving guy.”
Said Smoots: “At the beginning of our home meets he would work at the announcer’s table and he would sing the national anthem. I think it’s going to be a really eerie first few meets not having him there.
“That will be very much missed.”
His contributions as a coach are irreplaceable. Having Knott as part of the Eagles’ clan gave Arlington’s wrestling program “one of the most experienced (coaching) staffs in the state,” Arlington Athletic Director Tom Roys said.
“Any time you get people with that caliber on staff, that just brings that much experience, it’s fantastic,” Roys said.
From the beginning, Iversen, Smoots and Knott “did a super job” of creating a feeling of family in the wrestling progam and making “great relationships with kids,” Roys said. “That’s what it’s about.”
Like any family would be, Arlington’s wrestling family was concerned when Knott was diagnosed with cancer, but was cheered by a positive prognosis for their beloved coach. Everyone was devastated by how quickly the disease turned for the worse.
“He was planning on coming back next year,” Roys said. “Cancer’s one of those things, sometimes it’s unpredictable. We got the short end of the stick.”
Said Iversen: “We knew he was in trouble, but we didn’t realize how fast it was going to progress.”
Smoots, who teaches Health and Fitness at Arlington High, had wrestlers coming into his office a week ago when they heard the news of Knott’s death. Smoots organized a team meeting that afternoon to discuss Knott’s passing and then held a bonfire at his house Saturday night for the team to get together and talk about Coach Knott.
“A lot of them knew he was sick, but he didn’t let on how much,” Smoots said. “He would go to chemo and then come right to practice. He would just fight through it and be there for the kids. At the bonfire there was a lot of sharing. Barry’s wife and daughter came over.
“It was a great time of starting to heal. Letting his family know how much we care.”
The team already is trying to figure out a way to honor Knott next season. “The kids are going to dedicate their season for him,” Iversen said. “‘We’re Knott going to quit.’ Or something with ‘K-N-O-T-T.’”
Knott’s passing has left Arlington’s close-knit group of wrestling coaches “trying to recover and wonder if we’re going to be able to make it,” Iversen said.
“My great memory is he said to me several times, ‘It’s a great honor to coach with you,’ Iversen said. “But the truth is, it was my great honor to get to have him as a friend and work with him.”