Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Irreplaceable Icon

I received news on Friday of the passing of one of the most unforgettable characters I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  Howard Price was not a football player or coach, but he was a fixture on Mariner High School's sidelines for many years.  He was a track guy, and a great one.  He started running in at Edmonds High School and then attended the  University of Washington for two years before joining the Navy.  When he completed his military service, he finished his B.A. at Western Washington University and his Master's at the University of Washington.  In 2010 he was voted into the Washington State Track and Field Hall of Fame.

When Mariner High School first opened, it was established in Mukilteo where Olympic View Middle School is presently located.  Howard Price taught and coached for thirty-six years, thirty of them at Mariner.  His teams won numerous District and Regional titles, and he produced a number of state champions.  Those champions include Dave McFadden who is now Mariner's head track coach.  Much of what the members of his teams took away from his mentorship has helped them throughout their lives.  If you want something bad enough, you have to work for it, he taught them.  And, if you work for it, you have a chance of attaining it.  Howard loved working with kids.  For many of them, he became a father-figure filling in for absentee dads.  While doing that, he was also a proud father himself.  His family was his first love.  He spoke proudly of his wife Mary, whose inner qualities, he said, matched her visible beauty (she is a former Miss Edmonds).  Howard was also extremely proud of his children Howie and Reenie.  His second love was for his Mariner family,  his students and his athletes.  

I have seen a number of passionate people in the coaching profession, but I have never, ever seen the passion that Howard Price possessed.  Coach John Ondriezek would have Howard speak before football games because he was so passionate about his school and Mariner's kids.  I spoke to Scott Wendlandt (who played at Central Washington after he left Mariner) at the YMCA weight room the other day, and he said that Coach Price's passionate talks were the best motivation he had ever encountered.  Although he was a kind man, his intensity was evident in every move he made.  He wasn't a big man, but when he shook your hand, his grip, while not bone-crushing, showed the strength he possessed.  I can't recall him ever swearing at all, but when he was talking to s student, he could say, "I get so DOGGONE disappointed when you act that way!", and it would have the kid hanging his head in shame.  The word doggone was loudly enunciated and it felt like a swear word to the recipient.  His voice, with it's pure volume, could figuratively blast paint off locker rooms walls.  

I think that the way Howard dealt with kids can best be illustrated by a situation I observed in Mariner's weight room.  Howard had his class in the wrestling room, and everything in the weight room was normal weight room sounds:  clanging weights, grunting athletes, shouted words of encouragement.  Suddenly, the wrestling room door burst open accompanied by a sound so loud that it seemed to be propelling a tall, slender student hurriedly through the weight room toward the hallway doors.  Behind the student was Coach Price in full volume.  A student I had been talking to said, "Watch this.  They will be out in the hallway for two minutes.  When they come back in, Coach Price will have his hand on the kid's shoulder and they will both be laughing."  Two minutes later, the hallway door opened, and Howard and the kid walked in.  Howard's hand was on the kid's shoulder and they were both laughing.  All the students knew Howard Price, and they knew he loved them and always wanted the best for them.  They loved him in return.

Rest in Peace, Coach Howard Price.  Your students and your friends will miss you.  Jim Olsen

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