The end of an era is coming to Hudson’s Bay High School.
“When you say it like that it almost makes me want to cry,” Phoebe Miletich said.
As the 3A district track and field meet approaches this weekend, Miletich and Tom Petersen enter their 23rd postseason together as girls and boys track and field coaches at Hudson’s Bay.
Miletich and Petersen have been coaching Bay track since 1997, a couple years after Petersen arrived at Bay. Miletich’s tenure extends farther than that.
“I started at Bay in 1969,” she said. “I recently received an invitation to my 50th class reunion at Oregon State. When I saw that, I thought ‘Has it been that long?’ ”
Miletich can remember that first season coaching a handful of girls on the track team. She’d continue to coach the Eagles for several years before taking a break to lead the school’s cheerleaders until Peterson helped bring her back to track.
“I had been an assistant for a couple of years when the head coaching positions opened up in 1997,” Petersen said. “When that happened, I went to Phoebe and asked if she’d join me in leading the program. She said yes, and we’ve been doing this ever since.”
Officially, Miletich is the girls coach, and Petersen is the boys coach. But in reality, they’ve worked as co-head coaches of the entire Eagle program, helping out wherever and whoever, as needed.
“I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else,” Petersen said. “That’s why when we decided that if we were ever to retire, we’d go out together.”
Retirement has been a topic of discussion for the past few years, but the lure of working with the kids at Bay kept them coming back.
When the two met for coffee prior to this season, they both decided this would be their final season.
Why this season?
“Well, I’m about to turn 73,” Miletich said. “I think that’s reason enough.”
“I hate to call us dinosaurs, but we kind of are. It’s time to turn it over to the younger coaches. Today, most coaches like to use automatic timing systems. But I still like doing this,” Petersen said, clicking an imaginary stopwatch in his hand.
The two coaches can look back at their tenure and remember the standout athletes they’ve coached like Magaiva Herman, Sarah Jackson, Fontella Hooper, June Wright and Erika Weems, to name a few.
But they just as easily remember the accomplishments of athletes who might never stand on the winner’s podium.
“We had a kids from the state blind school run with us a few years back,” Petersen said. “He didn’t have any peripheral vision, but if he kept his head down, he could see the track in front of him. I remember the meet when he broke six minutes for the mile, and everyone was excited for him like he had just won state. It was one of cooler memories for me as a coach.”
The legacy that Peterson and Miletich will leave at Bay can’t be measure in league titles or state meet records.
Rather, it’s the impact they’ve made on the lives of the kids at Bay, many of whom come from difficult living situations.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had kids show up to practice hungry,” Miletich said. “They’d say ‘Phoebe, do you have something to eat?’ So you’d have to be ready for that. Or another kid needs to leave practice early to get to his job at Walmart or she needs to get home to babysit her siblings. So as a coach, you need to be flexible.”
It’s another reason why Miletich has continued to coach into her 70s.
“In our time at Bay, we’ve had 11 different athletic directors,” Petersen said. “We had one stretch when we had four different head football coaches in four years. You can’t build a program like that.”
Miletich added: “We wanted the kids to know that they could rely on us. We are going to be there for them, whatever they might need.”
As the Eagles head into the final stretch of the season, the coaches don’t know how many athletes they’ll have advance out of district, or bi-district to state.
“Our numbers are down this year,” Petersen said. “But the kids we have, they’ve been working hard.”
Miletich said: “That’s what we try to teach the kids. You compete against yourself everyday. If you’re getting better, then you’re winning, no matter where you finish in the standings.”
With advice like that, Petersen and Miletich are sure to go out in their final season as winners.
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep editor for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.