By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
Everyone agrees that Howard Price was an outstanding coach and teacher, but those who knew him best say he was so much more.
Price, who died April 5 at age 76, spent 25 years coaching at Mariner High School, 30 years teaching physical education at the school, and 36 years as a teacher in the Mukilteo School District. Throughout those years he gave selflessly to the lives of young people because of an extraordinary desire to see them succeed.
“He truly cared about people,” said John Ondriezek, the football coach at Mariner and one of Price’s longtime colleagues. “He went into education because he wanted the opportunity to help others improve their lives. That was very, very important to him.”
Like most top teachers, Price was invested in more than just his students’ homework and exams. Similarly, being a track and cross country coach meant more to him than just shouting instructions and jotting down race results. Over the years he had students with problems in the classroom or in some aspect of their social or personal lives, and for them Price always had a sympathetic ear and a kind word.
“He was a confidante to some of those guys,” said Dave McFadden, a Mariner teacher who ran track and cross country for Price in the early 1980s, then replaced him as head track coach in 1995. “He was their mentor, their advisor and everything else. And I know kids he was essentially a second father to.”
Price had a special interest in athletes, but he was concerned about other students, too. Mariner should be a place of learning, he believed, but also a place of optimism and fun. McFadden remembers the time Price was passing through the cafeteria and overheard that it was one girl’s birthday. Price took charge and was soon leading the crowded lunchroom in a noisy chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
“He brought that passion, that fire, that special brand of enthusiasm to everything he did here at school,” McFadden said. “He was just always that way.”
Price’s energy was obvious and, to his peers, sometimes astounding. An avid runner, he would generally arrive at school about 4 a.m., and then head out for a brisk run of 3-4 miles. “The rest of (the teachers) would come in at 6,” Ondriezek said, “and Howard would already have run and showered and be ready to go. … He was just such a vibrant, energetic individual.”
He could be feisty, too, and at times he rubbed people the wrong way. Like the teen-age McFadden, who admits he and his coach “had some disagreements my first year here. He’d get on you about stuff, but the whole time you’d know he was doing it because he cared and cared deeply. And before long you’d start seeing things his way.”
Until that moment in his life, McFadden said, “I’d never met anybody with his level of intensity and passion. He’d get fired up. He’d get excited. And if you were running for him, you couldn’t help be excited, too.”
And along the way he turned out some pretty good teams. During the 1980s, which included McFadden’s years in school, Mariner won eight of 10 Western Conference track and field championships.
His admirers included fellow coaches like Eric Lindberg, who coached track and field at Oak Harbor High School for many of the years Price was at Mariner.
The two men first met in the mid-1970s, “and I quickly realized that Howard was one of most competitive coaches I’d ever coached against,” Lindberg said. “He was very knowledgeable and he worked hard, but I think the key — and this was something I quickly realized — was that Howard was passionately loyal to his athletes. He treated all his athletes like they were his own kids.”
Price and Lindberg became close friends in coaching, and later away from coaching. It was Lindberg who helped lead the effort to get Price inducted into the Washington State Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
“Howard did a lot for (track and field) above and beyond his kids becoming champions,” Lindberg said. “You don’t have enough space in your newspaper to tell everything (good) about Howard. He was just a fabulous guy.”
Price retired from teaching a decade ago, and devoted time to hobbies such as fishing and horseback riding. He and his wife, Mary, spent winters in Arizona, although his later years were marred by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the end, that insidious disease left him without the memories that remain so precious to his many friends. Among them, the scores of people — including dozens of former athletes — who have left moving tributes to Price in an on-line memorial guest book.
“He certainly a touched a lot of lives over the years,” Ondriezek said. “He was just a very intense, very compassionate human being who truly cared about people. And he really had a heart for kids.
“He was one of those rare individuals who, if you’re lucky, you have the opportunity to be associated with in your life. And I feel very fortunate that I was able to have Howard as a colleague, a friend and a mentor.”