Published on Tuesday, 14 July 2015 07:00 in the Portland Tribune.
I’ve written this column before, but it’s one you can’t do too many times.
This is a salute to our state’s high school coaches, who work a job that often is underappreciated, undercompensated and overcriticized.
If you think a high school coach makes decent money, think again. By the hour, a prep coach reaps a salary less than the guy flipping hamburgers at your local fast-food joint — and sometimes nothing at all.
I’m in awe of the cream of the crop of this group, much more so than the folks who are being paid millions as a CEO or as ninth man on an NBA bench. The best high school coaches are role models, leaders and molders of young people who will become adults who contribute to society.
High school coaching is an avocation, not a vocation.
“You can’t make a living coaching high school sports,” says my brother, Brent Eggers, a cross country/track coach at Oregon City who retired two years ago after a 32-year teaching career. “You can afford it if you’re a teacher, but you won’t go very far on a coaching salary.”
Virtually all of the more than 10,000 men and women coaching high school sports in our state have primary jobs. About 35 percent are teachers; the other 65 percent are employed elsewhere.
“With the demands of the profession, it’s good we have a number of teachers who are able to dedicate time to coaching as well,” says Steve Walker, sports information director for the Oregon School Activities Association. “In addition, we are really lucky to have people in other walks of life willing to give up so much of their time for kids.
“You see the men and women who have coached for decades. They’re not doing it for the money. They come back year after year after year. It’s for the love of the sport, but more than that, it’s for the love of the kids.”
Heather Hatton recently completed her 16th year as girls golf coach at Lincoln City’s Taft High. Hatton’s assistant coach is her husband, Rick. Heather works as public relations manager for Chinook Winds Casino. Rick owns a garage door company. Heather’s coaching salary is about $3,000 per season, but the Hattons basically subsidize the program.
“We take care of transportation, buy the kids coffee on trips, handle expenses if they don’t have money,” Heather says. “We pay for the uniforms, cover range tokens and tournament fees. Rick’s company pays for team sweatshirts each year, and when we made it to state this year, he paid for the state sweatshirt.”
It’s actually costing the Hattons to coach. And it may get worse.
“We might not be a funded program next year,” Heather says. “The school requires each program to have 10 kids to be funded. We had six this year, and four are seniors.
“Rick and I will most likely be volunteer coaches next year, but we’re not going to quit. There’s no way we’re not going to have a golf program. We could fund-raise for (coaching) salaries, but I don’t like to do that. I don’t need the money. I’d rather it go to the kids and the program.”
Why do the Hattons do it, then? In part to provide an opportunity for the eldest of their three girls, Maya, who played No. 1 for the Tigers as a freshman this spring. But there is more.
“We love the sport,” she says. “It’s something the kids can do the rest of their lives. I played golf for Taft. So did Rick. We appreciated the time the coaches gave us. It’s our opportunity to give back to a program we got a lot out of and share the joy we have for the game of golf.”
Brent Eggers has coached for 37 years at Heppner, Oregon City and Putnam, the latter where he was head coach of the cross-country and track programs for 20 years. He worked his coaching jobs for below minimum wage.
“The most I made for a season was $5,000 for track,” says Eggers, who had a teaching salary to fall back on until he retired in 2013. “The last year I coached cross country at Putnam, I worked 368 hours for $2,648 — $7.19 an hour.
“The last couple of years at Putnam, cross-country was nonfunded, so I had to fund-raise for a coaching salary. I wanted to pay my assistant coach scale, and I took what was left.”
Eggers and his Kingsmen conducted car washes and bottle drives, sold team posters and sponsorships. Now an assistant at Oregon City, he has helped stage a road run at the Woodburn Tulip Festival and sold elephant ears at home football and basketball games.
“Coaches sometimes complain about having to fund-raise,” he says, “but they usually don’t complain about what they make. It’s nice to be compensated, but we’re not in it for the money. We’re in it for for the love of coaching.”
Steve Coury may be the most acclaimed high school coach in the state. For 24 years, he has coached a state-contending football team at Lake Oswego. This season, his stipend was about $6,000. Has Coury ever figured out what he makes per hour?
“If I’d done that, I’d have quit a long time ago,” he says with a laugh. “I do it because I love the kids, and because of the impact I can have on their lives. My own kids would listen to other coaches more than they would listen to parents.”
For the past 15 years, Coury has made a living as the Oregon/Southwest Washington sales representative for FieldTurf. It gives him the flexibility to put in an enormous amount of hours coaching year-round.
“It’s not just the 3 1/2 months during the season,” he says. “There are things to do throughout the school year, too, and in the summers.”
Coury says reward comes from letters and phone calls he receives from former athletes, many of them years after they’ve left high school.
“It might be from someone who has fought in Iraq, or has gone through hard times,” he says. “That’s when you know it’s been a success. I hear from parents, who might say, ‘You’ve made a difference in my son’s life.’ You might even be teaching the parents something. The kids might bring home your message. You never know how far the tentacles spread.”
Another career coach is Barlow basketball coach Tom Johnson, a head coach for 32 of his 36 years in the profession. His stipend this year was about $6,000, and he made another $550 from a summer camp. He figures he puts in 20 to 25 hours per week during the season and coaches another 20 to 25 games in the summer.
At Barlow, the school district pays for the coaching salary, transportation and officials. The program fund-raises for everything else, including practice tops and uniforms.
“We’re not a whole lot different than a lot of suburban schools in that regard,” says Johnson, who teaches English and literature at Barlow. “Everything we purchase through the year, we fund-raise for.”
Johnson coaches, he says, for “the opportunity to work with kids in an area (in which) they have a lot of passion. To help kids persevere and understand that the team and the program are more important than themselves. There are so many life lessons that athletics can be applied to.”
Doe Johnson ever feel cheated to be working so hard for so little salary?
“No,” he says. “I’ve chosen to do this. I wish we did not have to depend on fundraising so much. It takes a lot of time and energy. I could be doing something else and making more money, but I enjoy coaching kids, and I enjoy the challenge. Any time you’re working with young kids, it’s a challenge.”
Then there is Karey Osuna, for eight years a coach with the Roosevelt girls tennis team, the last two as head coach. Osuna donates her entire season’s salary — $3,800 — back to the program.
“I want to bring on some level of parity with some of the other (PIL) schools in terms of facilities and gear and that sort of thing,” she says. “Quite a few of our kids have a challenging home environment. Many of them can’t afford some of the things they need to play tennis.”
Osuna makes a living managing rental properties. Her husband, Dale, reviews building plans for Clark County in Southwest Washington. He helps his wife maintain the Roosevelt courts.
“Every year, we’ve gone out there with the weed whacker and his truck to take away the trash and debris,” she says.
For the first time this season, the school paid for uniforms. The previous head coach, Lisa Stoica, continues to serve as an assistant and provides equipment and strings racquets for the players.
Last season, Osuna spent nearly $1,200 for foods and snacks for her athletes. This summer, she will cover costs for 10 of her players to take lessons at St. Johns Racquet Center. She also is starting a summer program for girls from sixth to ninth grade.
Why all the investment?
“I just got hooked on the kids,” she says. “I enjoy coaching a lot. To be outside and at a job where you get to hit tennis balls is great. I love it. But the kids are outstanding. It sounds trite, but I get more out of it than I give. It’s a labor of love.”
The next time you see your kids’ high school coach, take the time to thank him/her for the contribution made to your child’s development and enjoyment. Or send a card or note. Money can’t buy that kind of gift. High school coaching is the gift that keeps on giving.