Thursday, November 19, 2015

Catching up with Santa Rosa coach, Doug Courtemarche...

The picture to the left is courtesy of Kent Porter and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Santa Rosa Doug Courtemarche congratulating Delaney White after she won her fourth league cross country title in the NBL (a unique achievement in league history). Doug has been coaching at Santa Rosa High School since 1992 after a very unique journey that started in Long Beach California. 

1) What were your sports experiences as a youth? What sports did you play? Where did you grow up? Who was your athletic role model in your family?
 I grew up in Long Beach, California, 3rd generation Californian.  That was in the 50's and early 60's.  At that time Southern California had distinct city boundaries surrounded by farm land and for someone to suggest that you were from Los Angeles was an absolute insult.  We were from Long Beach and in our eyes better because of it.  In the 50's Long Beach and Brooklyn, NY had more baseball players in the Major Leagues than any other cities in the country.  Hawaii and Alaska were US territories at the time.  Long Beach had a fabulous sporting atmosphere and so many opportunities for kids to participate in any number of sports.  In place was the neighborhood park system that sponsored touch football and track and field programs.  Intercity play was intense and competitive.  I competed for Admiral Kidd Park on the Westside of Long Beach. Our big rival was the park I can't remember the name but they were from the Long Beach Poly neighborhood.  Our two parks dominated city sports.  The kids from Admiral Kidd and the Poly neighborhood ended up at Long Beach Poly High, even back then probably the most powerful sporting school in the country.

Growing up sports was ever present.  In my very competitive family I had two older brothers that played football, basketball and baseball.  My dad was a former sprinter, pole vaulter, football player and gymnast. He was offered a full ride football scholarship to Loyola today known as Loyola Marymount.  My mom was an accomplished volleyball player, especially beach volleyball.  She was a member of the Western Regional team that competed for the National Volleyball title.  She had more trophies than any of her 3 boys and we had a lot of them. When I was a toddler to around 6 years old I spent my days on the sands of Long Beach and San Pedro watching my mom playing.  Mostly I played in the sand.

Backyard baseball was the first sport I knew.  My older brother Dennis invented the game of 1 person being all 9 players on the team with individual names, assigned positions and we kept records of every game and during the game we were also the announcers introducing each of our players that had unique batting stances and styles.  Every pitcher had a windup that was individual and could not imitate another hurler. We played with plastic practice golf balls and a piece of leftover stick lath as a bat.

We also played front yard football.  Being 5 years younger than my brother Dennis he had to play on his knees.  It was a one on one game and we hiked butt to butt.  I got beat up a lot as brothers can.

My favorite sport at home was around the block track.  That was the premier event.  Running around the block.  We used our kitchen clock as a stopwatch because it had a rotary second hand like in the classroom.  We would run on the go command from brother in the kitchen out the door to the backyard out the gate and then on the sidewalk barefoot around the block that included an alley with a lot of broken glass and then back to the bus stop sign outside our backyard gate finish line.  We could only go one at a time in order to insure an accurate time from the kitchen clock.  We kept records of every run and I couldn't wait to better my brother's time.  And then I did finally set the family record after on the same day he broke that record and that day was the last time Dennis ran around the block.  I convinced my friends to run around the block but it never had the same intensity or meaning without my brother competing.

We had a hedge in our corner house front yard that lined the walkway from the sidewalk to our porch.  We would run on the grass of our next door neighbor using it as the long jump runway and then jump over the hedge.  The goal being to jump onto the sidewalk at the edge of our front yard lawn.  For the high jump we pulled all of the living room furniture cushions and piled them up with two sticks holding string for the high jump.  If you didn't make a height the sticks would fall right on top of you.  We made sure the cushions were back in place before mom got back.  None of us wanted to face the consequence of missing cushions.

Perhaps the best of the sports growing up was body surfing.  My dad was a longshoreman working the ports of Long Beach and San Pedro.  He would get off work and take my brothers and me to Linden Beach in Long Beach before they installed the breakwater to protect the ships in port.  I remember the first day I got to go with them to Linden Beach, I was so excited.  My brothers by then were pretty good body surfers and my dad was expert.  He would walk to the end of Rainbow Pier, jump off and catch the huge outer break waves.  I remember when he finally let my brothers join him doing that.  I also remember that first day I was allowed to go body surfing. I was 5 or 6.  My oldest brother, Davey,  had the honor of initiating me to body surfing.  He did that by picking me up and throwing me into the shore break and telling me I could only stay in the first break and I had to watch for him, Dennis and my dad after every "breaker" I rode.  Davey later earned a football scholarship to Long Beach State as a linebacker. But that first day at Linden Beach for me was one of watching my brothers and dad ride wave after wave and I did my best to imitate them.

I went into organized sports competing in football, basketball, baseball, and track.  Body surfing was my all summer sport.  The high school football coach never questioned my lack of attendance at summer football workouts as on the first day of practice I was in so much better condition than everyone on the team.  Try spending 2 uninterrupted hours in the ocean, feet dangling in water over your head and then timing a 4 to 12 foot wave to perfection while sprint stroking to make sure you hit the crest of the wave for an unbelievable ride from the crest to the open water and then using your legs as rudders to continue the ride and exhaust the wave and then sprint back in the water to make sure you don't miss the next in a series of great surfing breakers. Then repeat those two hours twice more.  If you miss the crest and wipe out make sure you cannonball into the open water or get ready to hold your breath for quite a while before you pop out of the white water.

2) What was your position and role in the Vietnam war?
In time the Viet Nam War happened.  I had a low draft number so assured of being drafted.  I really didn't want to go into the army and live in a foxhole so I joined the Navy and volunteered for submarine duty.  I trained and became submarine ready at Hunters Point in San Francisco.  During the training I got a weekend off and my brother and his wife came up to the City from Long Beach and along with my close lifetime friend, Guy, we grew up together 3 houses apart, they took us to Golden Gate Park where I experienced my first fish and chips inside the San Francisco Chronicle.  Yes fish and chips were served wrapped in newspaper.  It was the "Summer of Love" in Haight Ashbury and Guy and I were in our navy blue uniforms while Hippies in the trees sang to us "Anchors Aweigh".  It was awesome.  Then I had to go to my assigned "boat" (submariner speak for the submarine).  I was ordered to Pearl Harbor and assigned to the USS Plunger SSN 595.  I was eventually to become a planesman and helmsman.  When people ask what that is I tell them I was a submarine chauffeur.  During Viet Nam I drove a nuclear submarine.  I liked it .  Along with 2 other sailors, my best friends on the boat, we were the battle station planesmen.  We were also the best athletes on the boat.  One was from Brooklyn the other from San Antonio, Texas.  I have to believe we were assigned together for a reason.  We were.

Our submarine eventually made it's assigned mission off the coast of east Russia.  We operated off of that coast and were inside the harbor in Vladivostok.  I can reveal this now as our mission has been declassified.  It was the time when Russia (the Soviet Union) was developing their nuclear submarine missile capability.  We tracked them in that endeavor and did some other communication espionage.  The best description of some of what we were doing is told in the book "Blind Man's Bluff" by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew. We were very successful.  In our endeavor we kind of got ambitious and ended up inside the harbor of Vladivostok and the captain of our boat let me look through the periscope and see the waterfront of Vladivostok, we were that close.  We were detected and went to battle stations so I took the helm and drove the submarine for 19 hours all the while eluding the pursuing Soviet naval vessels.   We got away.  That's what I did during the Viet Nam War.

3) What paid the bills for the majority of your adult life? 
I worked for 10 years off and on as a Longshore clerk and longshoreman in the ports of Long Beach and San Pedro which along with the GI bill funds put me through college. I graduated from Long Beach State in Anthropology in 1976.  I got a job as a counselor for veterans in 1976 in San Francisco for the Veterans Administration that caused me to move to Santa Rosa where I commuted to the City for 6 years.  I was told of a federal job in the IRS that had an opening in Santa Rosa. I applied and got the job having no idea what it was. That was when I was able to follow my coaching dream I have always had. That was in 1982. I retired with 30 years of Federal service in 2004.  Since then I have been substitute teaching exclusively at Santa Rosa High, currently with 5th and 6th period PE classes until they hire a permanent instructor.

4) How led you into coaching? What was your first coaching job? How long did you coach Santa Rosa Express?
My first coaching stint was when I was a junior in high school.  I incurred a neck injury that prevented me from participating in football. I wanted to run Cross Country as an alternative but that was ruled out as well.  So I went back to my grammar school and became their flag football coach. That spring I was an assistant track coach for my grammar school team.  I coached the jumps and distance.  My senior year I was cleared to play football again.  Then Viet Nam.

Coming home from Viet Nam, in my case Russia or more accurately Hawaii where I continued to body surf, I married a ballerina.  I convinced her to join the local, Seal Beach, ladies softball team.  She did and I ended up as the coach.  That was my first exposure to what goes on with women in team sports. I didn't have the best reception at home many evenings. I went  back to my grammar school and took up the track coaching position.  While in graduate school at Long Beach State the work at the waterfront was stagnant and I had to apply for unemployment but was offered that job with the Veterans Administration in San Francisco.  I took it.  And here I am.

My desire to coach never ceased.  In grammar school at St. Lucy's in the Westside of Long Beach when assignments were done and I had that secret free time from what was supposed to be done at class and I would look at my classmates and teammates and design football plays and basketball plays and relay assignments.  Had I done the same in Math I think I might be at Cal Tech(just a dream). I wanted to be a coach.

My mom was the volleyball coach at my grammar school.  My dad was the football coach at the same grammar school.  Both won championships.  My dad recruited his buddies from the waterfront as coaches and made a team that defeated the reigning powers of Long Beach area flag football.  I was in the third grade, my brother Dennis was in the 8th grade at St. Lucy's.  They took on Holy Trinity the Los Angeles Archdiocese Champions.  St Lucy's crushed Holy Trinity.  One of my dad's assistants, Punky, said to me, "Dougie, go in on this play for Louie, then take the ball and run for a touchdown."  So I did and I scored.  I was in the 3rd grade.  My dad was so pissed off.  The coach of Holy Trinity was also a longshoreman.  My dad's assistant longshore coaches didn't care much for him and when Punky sent me in it was a statement in the ultimate way.  My dad didn't buy it.  He did tell me I made a good run and good fake to score the touchdown. He had a long talk or maybe a very short talk with Punky and I never got to play again that year.  Not so bad, as 6th grade was the first year you could play flag football in the Catholic School system.

My parents way of dealing with young kids in sport was beyond inspiring to me.  I saw the trust and fairness of sport between coach and athlete first hand since I can remember.  That is what the two most important people in my life did, my mom and dad, lift kids in sport to achieve what perhaps they never had the opportunity to achieve before.  I wanted to be a coach.  I had other dreams as well and still pursue those dreams but primary is by far coaching.

I got to fulfill my coaching dream when I got the job locally at the IRS in 1982.  I met Alan Burch, Tom Macken, and John Gash.  They were the coaches of Santa Rosa Express Youth Track and Field Team that year.  I was taken on and with Alan Burch became the coaches of Santa Rosa Express.  Macken and Gash turned it over to Alan as head coach and me as assistant.  That lasted 10 years.  After a few years Alan moved on as head coach of Piner High School and I took over SRX as head coach.  Many incredible athletes came my way.  Steve Guerrini who set the National High School Record in the 2000m steeplechase, Julia Stamps, national champion in the 3000m were the most notable.  We competed nationally and in Philadelphia at historic Franklin Field had 7 National placers in the USATF Youth National Championships.

5) When did you start coaching at Santa Rosa HS? What was the state of the program when you first started? 
In 1992 Ken Goetzel asked me to take over the track and cross country jobs at SRHS.  He was retiring.  I had helped Ken in the previous years while coaching the Express.  The Express sort of worked as a feeder for SRHS.  We were both successful.

Santa Rosa High School originated in 1876. We have been competing in Track and field since at least 1898.  That is the first trophy we know of for track and field for our school.  We are very proud of our history.  To name outstanding athletes is to take a trip through extreme history.

6) Who are the cross country and track and field athletes that stand out to you during your time coaching at Santa Rosa HS and what were some of their accomplishments?
Julia Stamps is the most noted. State and National champ and more Junior National team memberships than any other American track and field athlete. USA flag bearer in the World Junior Championships in Sydney, Australia. Pan American Champion.  I coached her since she was 9 years old then through high school. While I wasn't her official coach in high school Nika Horn was another standout that I coached with the Express when she was 9 and older  Her daughter is Rylee Bowen.  Steven Guerrini set the National 2000m Steeplechase record.  Trina Cox State Cross Country Div I champion and Nationally placed.  Peter Egerton, Reesey Byers, Rory McLeod, Michael Tomasi.  Currently running for UCLA Kelly Brooks.  Those are the names of note.  This year Delaney White is the only North Bay League 4 time Cross Country Champion who signed with University of Nevada Reno and last night I was witness to Aimee Holland signing her letter of intent for Winona State.  Kirsten Carter as a freshman last year took the NCS 400m championship.  I coached her dad Darin since he was 7 on the Express and Santa Rosa High.  He competed in the sub Bantam (under 9) 100m State Championships at UCIrvine doing pushups on the starting line.  Darin is now our sprint coach.  He sprinted and long jumped for Sac State.  While unknown to most is Karin McCall who in Philadelphia took 2nd in the Pentathlon, 4th in the 3000 meters and 2nd in the shot put.  She is our school record holder in the shot put.

7) From your coaching experience, what would you is most important in the coach to athlete relationship?
Trust is so important in High School.  The athlete and coach must trust each other.  That comes through honesty.  Open discussion and free discourse.  The athlete needs to know they exist in a safe and open environment.  They need to know they have importance. They need to know they are special and an important part of day to day doings.  Boundaries need to be set and rules need to be adhered to.  In Cross Country and Track and Field we deal with some pretty special individuals.  These are the potential leaders of our future. For me that is pretty important as my Social Security check is quite the deal.

8) You currently coach with Carrie Joseph at Santa Rosa. Why do you feel that you two have been such a successful coaching duo?
Carrie Joseph, named assistant coach who is hardly that, and I have been working together going on 19 years.  We met at the main office at school when she came to SRHS as a possible permanent teacher.  Then we met again that week at Barnes and Noble.  That sealed the deal for a relationship that couldn't have taken a better course than it has to date. We are literature and crossword puzzle geeks.  Carrie has grown gradually into a head coach. Today she is the chief mover of our Cross Country team.  I might hold the Head Coach title but that is really all it is, a title.  One thing that comes with age is recognition of true greatness.  Carrie has that and  is for all intents and purposes our head coach this year.  She brings renewed energy that is current and inspiring to our runners.  Being an AP English teacher and regular student English teacher she brings classroom discipline and know how.  It's also really cool to have someone to talk football with.  We have shared so many important life situations.  We get along so well because we aren't afraid to be honest with each other and support each other.  We share the same goal of making our kids better runners but more importantly better citizens.  We understand to be goofy in front of the kids isn't such a bad thing.  After 19 years we just understand each other.  Somehow while things can be the same we seem to be able to renew each season with a new twist.  Carrie has a great gift of communication.  It works on all of the levels we share.

9) From your perspective, what are the keys to being a successful high school distance runner? What has changed the most for high school students that is for the better or maybe not when it comes to them participating and competing in XC and TF?
Success in distance running for a high school runner comes from running a lot.  Gradual increases year to year in mileage are essential for a full 4 years of successful running.  We have summer running t shirts that we give out at the beginning of the fall season.  White t shirt for 250 miles, orange t shirt for 375 miles and a black t shirt for 500 miles.  Any one seeking a t shirt needs to clear their goal with us before we approve their projected summer mileage.  We are very strict with our kids' mileage.  Incoming freshmen are generally not allowed to pursue a t shirt.  Out going freshmen are encouraged to attempt the 250 mileage but not any more than that.  Exceptions for exceptional individuals are made but closely monitored.

Our goal is to have healthy and pain free fresh runners on the first day of practice in August.  And when they graduate to be the same pain free runner.  In between are those sessions of injury and setbacks.  That is when monitoring the athlete is at the apex.  Remembering the 4 year program is sometimes difficult during those times but must be adhered to.

Natural talent with a reasonable work ethic increases the above kids chances of having a high degree of success.  Genetically deprived kids in our sport always have a high chance of success if they just follow the above scenario.

There is no substitute for a positive attitude and a willingness to feel that moment of decision when the runner decides to go past that first pang of nasty uncomfortableness and then to graduate to push the running pain to a place of no return.  When the kid can get to that point a racing runner is born.

10) How do you feel we could better our sports (XC and TF) in California?
The state of track and field and cross country in California seems to be on the right track.  In Sonoma County at least numbers are up.  We have the luxury in Cross Country of a unique park system that spans the city of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County and the State.  Over 50 miles of dirt trails in hills and a mountain within the city limits. Yesterday at practice, Piner High, Maria Carrillo, and our team were essentially doing similar workouts trying to emulate the Hayward course.  Some days at the park we have over 7 schools practicing.  Coaches all knowing each other and runners encouraging each other in their workouts.  A unique situation to be sure.  My view of a state wide improvement is second place to improving our local running.  We are proudly provincial in Sonoma County.  Pride in running is the only thing I can offer as improvement statewide.

11) A 9th grader is undecided about joining the cross country team in the fall. What would you tell them to convince them to join?
As Carrie takes the reins of leadership I insist on dealing with our freshmen.  I want to make sure they feel welcome and insist that our upper classmen be inclusive and protective.  I spend the majority of my time with the freshmen trying to instill that Panther Pride that defines our school and our part in Cross Country and Track and Field.  I want to make sure our Freshmen learn loyalty and dedication.  I want them to know that they are important to our team.  I want to let them know that we have a 4 year program and they don't have to be world beaters right now.  We have a system for them to continue to improve for 4 years.  It takes patience and we need to build trust with our freshmen so that they know they are on that 4 year path.  I want them to know that they are students at a very special and historic school.  6th oldest high school in California.

I seek out the undecided freshman.  I spend time with them and hopefully gently convince them to be part of a great experience as opposed to being a runner of world renown.

Our school is unique.  We are an arts school and the school focus is just that.  Over 60 percent of our team is at our school being part of the ARTQUEST program.  That makes our team unique.  It also makes our team very entertaining and fun. I want to assure those freshman ArtQuest kids that it's a pretty good place to be on the Cross Country team.  One thing the ArtQuest kids bring to our team is constant upbeat energy and that can be infectious in the most positive way.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
I look forward each day to practice because I get to surround myself with so much positive energy that the kids so naturally generate.  Guiding them comes easy when all of us share a common  positive goal.  Coaching Cross Country and Track and Field at Santa Rosa High has fulfilled a life's dream and I sure feel pretty good every evening when I come home.  Then my dog Ringo and I go for a walk.

Thank you very much for your time Doug! AJC


Andrew said...

Wow, great interview. Learned a lot about Santa Rosa. I look forward to seeing them race this Saturday.

Peter Brewer said...

One of my favorite coaches in the game.

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