By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT – Walking through the halls of Mariner High School with assistant cross country coach Ray Bean, there is no shortage of students and faculty who want to say hello.
Bean, who could not be accused of being shy, seems to love the interaction. It is that personality that has made Bean one of the most well-liked and well-respected coaches in the local cross country community, not to mention a favorite among student-athletes.
But when the 4A District 1 meet takes place today at Lincoln Park in Seattle, Bean won’t be coaching. None of the Mariner runners qualified for districts this year, meaning that Bean, who announced when the season began that this would be his last year at Mariner, has at least for now, coached his last race.
“It has been a journey,” Bean said. “It has been a lot of memories and a lot of fun and a lot of interactions.”
After returning to school to get his teaching degree, Bean plans to pursue a full-time job as a teacher, which will likely mean a move out of the district.
Bean says his journey to becoming a cross country coach at Mariner started in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in his hometown of Hammond, La. Bean said his primary mode of transportation were his legs. He would use them to travel to his grandmother’s house a few miles from where he lived and would sometimes use them to make it home before curfew, which he said was when the street lights came on. As he started running more, he realized it wasn’t too difficult.
“It came rather easy,” Bean said. “As you start going to P.E. you start realizing that you can run a little bit longer and a little bit faster than a lot of the other kids.”
To Bean’s surprise when entering high school, he found out that his school did not have a cross country team. Bean did a little recruiting work and gathered up enough of his friends to start a cross country team at his school.
The skill of recruiting runners was one Bean would find quite useful when his life led him to Mariner, but at the time he and his friends had developed the first competitive cross country team at Hammond High School.
“That was the beginning,” Bean said.
After attending Grambling State University and joining the military, Bean settled in Everett and soon found his calling as a cross country coach.
What has made Bean so special to the local cross country community doesn’t have much to do with running though, it is the relationships he has built with his runners — and not just those from Mariner.
“He’s been supportive not only of the Mariner kids, but supportive of kids in other programs as well,” Lake Stevens coach Cliff Chaffee said.
Chaffee’s comments are echoed by several coaches in the area.
“One thing that has been a constant has been hearing his voice and his encouragement at meets,” Snohomish coach David LeWarne said. “From the kids at the front, to the kids at the back, he wants everybody to meet their potential.”
True to form, as Bean walks away, he seems almost uncomfortable with the focus on him.
“It’s not about me,” Bean said. “It’s about the kids.”
It is perhaps that attitude that has made him such a favorite of the kids.
David LeWarne said that runners from other schools would always be excited to see Bean at meets.
“I’ve had kids that would go to meets and they would light up when they see him,” LeWarne said.
The interaction with runners and coaches from other schools is one of the things that Bean enjoys most.
“You get to interact with team members from other teams,” Bean said. “I don’t know too many sports that lends itself to that. But to be able to know the kids from Mountlake Terrace, know the kids from Kamiak or know kids from Meadowdale, it’s just a very positive atmosphere. And the coaches, the coaches are great.
“You find yourself cheering for every kid because you know the amount of training and you know the amount of effort and discipline that it takes,” Bean added. “You have to applaud the effort, it doesn’t matter about the uniform.”
While Bean certainly helped with coaching the runners at Mariner, it was his ability to form relationships with the students that allowed him to motivate the runners and also to recruit new runners to the team that were his biggest assets.
“What Ray does with the kids is so unique,” Mariner head coach Mike Grover said.
In fact, Grover said that Bean has played a large role in getting the number of runners at Mariner where it is.
“Without Ray, I don’t think I would have near as many kids on the team,” Grover said. “Because he just brings kids out. They trust him. They get to know him. He meets them in the halls and talks to every kid.”
“He’s the driving force behind Mariner cross country, there is no doubt about it,” Grover added.
Bean’s ability to reach the students was on display some years back when he went to work to try to and recruit enough players so that Mariner could have a JV softball team. As Grover tells it, Bean, who doesn’t know much about softball, was able to get enough players to field a team and became the JV head coach. When the season was over and the administration replaced Bean with somebody with more knowledge of the sport, the JV softball team dissolved.
Another example of Bean’s ability to touch the lives of the students at Mariner came three years ago when the graduating class at Mariner asked Bean to be the speaker at their graduation.
“The senior class chose Ray, who is a para-educator in special-ed,” Grover said. “He’s not exposed to all those kids in the classroom. A lot of the special-ed para-educators, nobody in the school knows them. Everyone knows Raymond.”
When it comes to running, Bean thinks that his ability to form relationships with the athletes allows him to be successful.
“I think that’s the key to it,” Bean said. “If there is no trust there and if there is nothing established then you can’t go and just say, ‘Hey, I want you to run eight miles today.’”
“I would hope that my kids would know that I care about them as a person,” Bean said. “It’s like family, it’s like daughters and sons and it doesn’t just start and stop during a cross country meet or the cross country season. It’s for a lifetime.”
When Bean says a lifetime, he means it. former runners have been welcome back he says.
“One thing about cross country is that you can always come back and get in a couple of laps,” Bean joked. “Now if you played football, I don’t know if the coach is going to let you out there and throw a couple of passes to the team. I don’t know if you are at the basketball game if they are going to let you suit up. But we have an open door policy.”
One runner in particular on this year’s team that Bean has made an impact on is senior Sondra Mainord. Mainord has run for Bean for three years and has always been able to count on her coach.
“Out of all my coaches, he is really the one that you know is always going to be there,” Mainord said. “It’s going to be weird not running for him anymore.”
Bean said that watching Mainord, who is one of just five girls on the Mariner team, grow into a leader on the team has been rewarding. In all of his 17 years, one of Bean’s favorite memories at Mariner came earlier this year when Mainord was named to the homecoming royalty court. Ever the prankster, Bean and the rest of the team planned a coronation ceremony for Mainord. They didn’t skip any steps, they picked flowers, got Mainord a tiara and one of the boys wore a Burger King crown.
That is just one example of Bean’s fun-loving sense of humor, one that he hopes has brought more runners out over the years.
“I would hope so,” Bean said “I would hope it would have a little to do with that.
“We have to give them something back, you know fun and humor. Humor is the equalizer of whatever is going on.”
For all the laughs, Bean became emotional several times when talking about retiring from Mariner, saying how difficult it will be to say goodbye to this year’s team. As many local schools get ready to race in districts this afternoon, Mariner and Bean will be absent, but don’t try to tell Bean that these kids aren’t champions.
“It’s a good group of kids,” Bean said. “They’re special, We’ve been fortunate this year to have a good group of kids. They are fun respectful, hard working. We may not win our district championship. We may not win our state championship. But I will look every one of those kids in the eye and tell them that they are champions. They’re champions of courage. They’re champions of strength. They’re champions of will. They’re champion ambassadors for their family and this school. They’re champions of my heart.”
And while it appears that Bean is retired, he and Grover did not completely close the door on a return.
“I need to find a K-8 (teaching) job and I don’t know where that is going to take me,” Bean said. “If it is somewhere around the corner, well then I will be back.
“At this point, I don’t plan to be back,” Bean said. “But if things work out … I’m basing it on all the facts and how the stars are lining up today.”
“I told him, ‘The job’s open,’” Grover said. “‘I will always want you no matter what.’ I’m keeping that door open for him.’”
If this truly is the end of Bean’s career at Mariner, for Grover, the kids at Mariner and other coaches around the league, saying goodbye to the man they know as Mr. Bean isn’t easy.
“He’s irreplaceable,”Kamiak coach Charley LeWarne said. “There is not another personality like that around. He is, I think, very iconic in that way.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @aaronlommers.