In an era when high school sports were mostly for boys, Delores Sutherland always thought girls deserved better.
And when the rest of the world finally caught on, she was ready.
Beginning in 1974, Sutherland was the first varsity girls basketball coach at Everett High School, and in a decade-long tenure she churned out championship teams and top college prospects. She took the game seriously and expected the same of her players, and the result was a program that became a Western Conference powerhouse.
Under Sutherland, the Seagulls went to multiple state tournaments, including two runner-up finishes.
“We were really, really fortunate (to have played for her),” former player Jo Metzger-Levin said of Sutherland, who died last week at age 80. “But I don’t think we realized it until after we were done. It wasn’t until we’d graduated and gone on to college that we knew what we’d had.
“She was just an amazing person. She was very intense about her coaching and she got the most out of people.”
Scoffing at the notion that girls were dainty things that needed special care, Sutherland preached toughness while disdaining excuses.
“She was a hard-nosed coach who wouldn’t put up with anything,” said Metzger-Levin, who went from Everett to an All-American career at Western Washington University. “If you were complaining that you had a sore knee or a sore ankle or a sore finger, she’d tell you to go sit in the corner and hold it, and then when you felt better you could come back out.
“She was very demanding, but in her own way she was also very sensitive to your needs.”
Early in Sutherland’s high school teaching career, girls did not compete at the varsity level. They played on something akin to club teams, which is when Sutherland took up coaching, beginning with tennis.
“What a wonderful coach she was,” said B.J. Larimer, a longtime colleague at the high school. “And she was certainly a pioneer (in girls coaching). She had a wonderful rapport with her students and with her team members, and she was certainly very knowledgeable about her sports.”
“She loved coaching,” added Merrilie Howard, another fellow teacher and coach at the high school. “And she was very good at it, too. I always felt she should’ve stuck around a little longer because she was so good at it.
“But she discovered golf and then she made me hurry up and get old so I could play golf (with her),” Howard added with a laugh.
Sutherland, who was widely known by her nickname of Suds, retired from teaching in 1982 and then coaching in 1983. She was succeeded by Metzger-Levin, but later returned as an assistant coach under her onetime star player.
“She was my assistant and it was a wonderful experience,” Metzger-Levin said. “She just had a way with kids, and they really liked her and liked her humor.”
In her retirement, Sutherland became an avid golfer and a longtime member of the Port Gardner Ladies Club at Everett’s Legion Memorial Golf Course. During the golfing season, “I don’t think she ever missed a Tuesday or a Thursday (when the club had its regular bi-weekly matches),” Howard said. “She just loved golf.”
Sutherland was diagnosed with lymphoma several years ago, and as her health declined in recent years “she could no longer walk the course, which she’d always done,” Larimer said.
“So she rode in the cart, and then she had to take her oxygen with her. But that just shows how much she loved it. And if she’d passed away on the 18th hole, I think that would’ve made her happy.”
Sutherland made it known that she did not want a funeral or memorial service, but friends are planning a “Celebration of Life” at 3 p.m. on April 6 at Legion Memorial GC. The public is invited.
“She touched so many lives,” Metzger-Levin said. “She was a very special lady who gave her life to women and to sports.”