Mark Perry, who recently retired as athletic director at Snohomish High School. Perry spent years as an assistant and head coach for the football and boys wrestling teams before taking over as athletic director in 2013. He worked for Snohomish High School in different positions for more than 40 years. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mark Perry, who recently retired as athletic director at Snohomish High School. Perry spent years as an assistant and head coach for the football and boys wrestling teams before taking over as athletic director in 2013. He worked for Snohomish High School in different positions for more than 40 years. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mark Perry retires after nearly four decades with Snohomish High sports

In June, the 62-year-old cornerstone of Snohomish sports retired from his post as the school’s athletic director.

For nearly four decades Mark Perry played an integral role in developing and providing opportunity for student-athletes at Snohomish High School.

He served 29 seasons as a head and assistant coach for the Panthers football team. He spent another 20-plus years as a head and assistant wrestling coach. For the past decade, he’s been the school’s athletic director and served in numerous athletic leadership roles for Wesco, District 1 and statewide.

After a longstanding career as an influential, well-known member of the Snohomish County athletics community, Perry, 62, retired from his position as Snohomish’s athletic director in June.

“I always considered (athletics) a seventh grade class, meaning it was always more of a learning aspect of life than maybe sitting in my math class,” Perry said. “We’re learning about hard work, determination, how to be a good sport, how to relate with people whether you like them or not, and how to deal with real-life issues through sports.”

Former Stanwood High School boys basketball and girls golf coach Zach Ward has been hired as the school’s new athletic director.

Perry grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, and competed in football and wrestling at Sandpoint High School.

He knew he wanted to be a high school teacher and coach by the ninth grade. The influence of his coaches and teachers in the small northern Idaho town, including middle school and high school wrestling coach Ray Miller, played a major role.

“He impacted a ton of kids,” Perry said of Miller, “and I thought ‘that’s what I want to do.’”

Perry walked on to the Boise State University wrestling team as a freshman before transferring to Eastern Washington the following year. He was a member of the Eagles wrestling team for two seasons and finished his degree in Cheney.

After completing school, Perry became a math teacher, head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at Valley View Junior High. He became an assistant football and wrestling coach at Snohomish in 1985, and the head wrestling coach two years later.

On the football field, Perry worked under legendary Panthers coach Dick Armstrong, whose bronze statue stands on campus at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

As a young coach, Perry would often sit in Armstrong’s office. They’d have conversations about how to run a program and the hard work that needed to go into it.

“Coach Armstrong was thought of by many as a big, gruff guy, but he was actually as kind as anyone,” Perry said. “If you needed something, he was always willing to go out of his way to get it for you.”

“(He was) just a mountain of knowledge in terms of the game of football and life,” he added.

After 11 seasons on Armstrong’s staff and an equal tenure with the wrestling program, Perry and his family moved closer to home. He took a job as head wrestling coach and freshman football coach at East Valley High School in Spokane.

Perry returned to Snohomish a year later, this time as head football coach and assistant wrestling coach. He became head wrestling coach again soon after and served as the head coach for both teams for six seasons

He was tasked with being the successor to Armstrong’s 32-year stint that included 16 league championships and two state titles.

“Huge shoes to fill, but my approach was I knew that I was not Dick Armstrong,” Perry said. “… The unique thing I think for me was, when I came in, people in the community of Snohomish and the athletic world at Snohomish High School knew who Mark Perry was, so I didn’t have to become Dick Armstrong. It made it a little bit easier for me maybe than had somebody else been hired to come in and fill that same role.”

Perry led the Panthers football team for 18 seasons from 1995-2012. Between Perry and Armstrong, Snohomish football experienced a remarkable 50-year run of coaching stability. Long-tenured coaches have been a constant for many of Snohomish’s athletic programs over the years.

“It’s a destination place,” Perry said of Snohomish’s tradition of longtime coaches. “… Our saying is ‘Once a Panther, always a Panther.’ And it’s so true. You get hooked in and you just don’t want to go anywhere else.

“I made that mistake maybe in ‘94 when I went to Spokane. I got to Snoqualmie Pass and thought in my head, ‘I just made a mistake,’” he added with a laugh.

Another constant in Snohomish football during Perry’s years with the team was Keith Gilbertson Sr., who coached alongside Perry as an assistant under Armstrong and later an assistant for Perry.

“He was just another guy who was a mountain of knowledge and ahead of his time in the conditioning and mental aspects of athletics,” Perry said.

Snohomish won over 100 games with Perry at the helm. The program reached the state playoffs five times and went as far as the Class 4A semifinals in 1998. He was inducted into the Washington State Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

In 2008, he experienced the effects of a school split created by Glacier Peak’s opening. With the talent pool for athletics essentially shrinking in half, it was a tough time for some of Snohomish’s traditionally strong programs, including the football team. But Perry saw the split more as an opportunity for more kids to get involved.

“You have two ASB presidents, two starting quarterbacks, two first trumpets in the band,” Perry said. “Everything doubles for the kids and their opportunities. … That’s what it’s all about.”

Perry became Snohomish’s athletic coordinator after the school split in 2008, and he replaced Mark Albertine as athletic director the school year following his resignation as head football coach.

During his time as athletic director, Perry served in numerous roles for Wesco and statewide. He was football commissioner for Wesco his entire tenure as athletic director, a tournament director for multiple Mat Classics and served on the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association District 1 board and football state playoff seeding committees.

Snohomish has also been a regular site for league, district and regional tournaments across several sports during Perry’s tenure.

“The fun part of the job is being able to be that host and bring other schools into your community and try and do things right for kids,” he said. “Trying to host a great event that’s meaningful for those kids when they walk away.”

Perry created many long-lasting memories during his nearly four decades of dedication to high school athletics.

There were the standout teams like the 1998 football squad.

“It was a group of guys who maybe weren’t the greatest set of athletes, but they knew how to play together,” Perry said. “That was a heckuva experience right there.”

There were more personal moments like the night of his first football game as Snohomish head coach in 1995. The Panthers hosted coaching legend Terry Ennis and his Cascade Bruins squad. Snohomish won 10-7. Perry’s father was hospitalized in Spokane at the time. Perry faxed articles to the hospital so his brother could read them to their dad. Perry’s father died just hours later.

“He just wanted to know if we won or lost that first game as a head football coach,” Perry said.

Others stemmed from seeing remarkable achievements by others in the face of adversity. Cosman Bishop wrestled for Perry at Snohomish. Bishop’s legs were amputated above the knee when he was young. He finished second at state in the 101-pound weight class as aq senior and won a title at the prestigious Tri-State Tournament in Idaho.

The most famous memory of all happened on a Friday night in September, 2010. Perry and Snohomish faced Lake Stevens in a game that’s best remembered for a single play rather than the final score. With Snohomish trailing 35-0 and just 10 seconds remaining in the game, the Panthers dialed up the “Ike Special,” a play designed for Ike Ditzenberger, a football player with Down syndrome. Ditzenberger ran 51 yards for a touchdown as time expired.

Over the years, Perry has experienced seeing many of his former students and athletes become teachers and coaches, including some who returned to Snohomish. Head football coach Joey Hammer played quarterback for Perry. Boys basketball coach Jeff Larson was a student of Perry’s. And Perry’s coaching career started alongside the dad of head girls basketball coach Ken Roberts, who Perry also taught.

“It’s really the reward you get to see at the end of a career,” Perry said.

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