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Rainier track and field coach resigns after 20 years
Posted: Friday, June 14, 2013 2:27 pm | Updated: 6:46 pm, Fri Jun 14, 2013.
By Tyler Huey Assistant Editor | 0 comments
Sometimes all good things must come to an end for what’s best to occur.
After three decades of coaching and teaching throughout the Nisqually Valley — the past 20 in Rainier — Wayne Christensen is retiring. Sort of.
With 30 years under his belt, Christensen and his wife, Renee, are moving to San Tan Valley, Ariz., where he will be an assistant track and football coach at Poston Butte High School. Christensen has taught physical education at many elementary schools in town, but is leaving that type of teaching career behind.
Christensen, who graduated from Yelm High School in 1977, returned to his hometown after college when Dr. Glen Nutter, former Yelm schools superintendent, offered him a job. He initially worked two years at Rogers High School in Spokane, then coached one year at Tumwater High while teaching P.E. in Yelm. From there, Christensen coached track for the next nine years at Yelm and spent the past two decades in Rainier.
In 1983, before coming to Rainier, Christensen developed a unicycle program in Yelm. He took many students to perform in events, Renee said, such as fairs and for the former Seattle SuperSonics.
Christensen said they are moving to Arizona because he can retire after teaching for so long, and his wife has rheumatoid arthritis — warm weather helps with that disease. However, constant rays of sunshine will not burn out the lasting memories.
“Just the kids, they’re special,” Christensen said of what he’ll remember most about coaching at Rainier. “For me, I like to see kids improve and get better. I just remember the times when I was in high school and my coach helped me get better, and I appreciated that.
“Hopefully what the kids get out of it is that I gave them something back and got them better.”
He coached RHS football from 1990-98 and was the head coach starting in ’93. As an assistant defensive coordinator in the 1990-91 season, they went to the state tournament. Also, two years before that, he won Teacher of the Year in ’88, Renee said.
In 20 years at Rainier, the kids broke 96 school track records, had more than 30 state champions and numerous team awards, Christensen said. During that time, he mainly taught pole vault and javelin; however, being a 10-event decathlete in college, he was knowledgeable about everything.
“He was planning on retiring but I think he will enjoy (coaching in Arizona),” said Renee, a 1983 Rainier graduate. “His statistics are really impressive. I grew up in Rainier and Rainier never had a real track team until Wayne came along and built that program.
“That team went from having 10 or 15 kids on it to 60.”
Rob Henry joined Christensen at Rainier as a teacher and track coach in 1997. Henry believes his departure is a big loss regarding knowledge.
“He’s able to cover every area out there,” Henry said. “If you have an idea, you need an idea or a better way to teach it, he’d definitely be the go-to guy.”
Christensen said Henry and other coaches throughout that time helped lead him to such a successful career. But, in the end, while Christensen provided a lot of insight to each athlete, they also taught him something. For instance, because everyone has a different thought process, one has to find various ways to get a point across.
“You can explain to somebody how to tie shoes one way and another kid doesn’t get it,” he said, “so you might have to find … another way to do it and still get the same result. … It’s just knowing how to adapt to each kid’s personal learning style.”
For the second straight year, senior Nicole Talcott placed second in pole vault at the 1A state tournament. Christensen said that was his most memorable moment from his final year.
While practicing for state, the now valedictorian called him her “security blanket.”
“He is an amazing coach,” Talcott said last month. “My attention span is so tiny and whatever I chose to pursue — whether it was high jump, javelin, a field event or pole vault — he was always there to help me out. Just today when Henry and (coach Josh) Frunz are doing God knows what, he’s right here with me.”
Talcott is a prime example of the relationship Christensen had with his tracksters. Not only did he teach them techniques to succeed, he made jokes and had fun. Talcott said she and friend Kayla Turcott even made shirts that said, “I jump for the stache” and “I vault for the stache” — a light-hearted reference to his hairy upper lip.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have another coach like him,” Talcott said. “He’s more than just a coach. He’s someone I can talk to, and if I get frustrated he knows how to handle it with me. He knows what to say to help me focus and what’s going to motivate me.
“How close we’ve gotten over these four years, I wouldn’t want any other coach. … I didn’t choose the stache life, the stache life chose me.”
Being fun-loving is also one of the many things Henry will miss.
“Basically it’s just been a great 15 years,” Henry said. “I’ve really enjoyed — and it’s been a privilege working with him.”
Christensen said he gets stern as a coach, but fooling around from time to time is a great stress reliever. While it’s necessary to be focused and train hard, letting one’s guard down is always welcoming.
Moving on is bittersweet, but relaxing and having fun in sunny Arizona won’t be hard to do.
“Trying to push the kids to get better, on that realm I’m pretty focused as a coach, but in the long run when it comes down to when they do better and improve, you just kind of cry inside,” he said.
“But it’s tears of joy. I kind of wear my emotions on my sleeve.”
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