Through 31 years of coaching high-school track in Oak Harbor and Coupeville, Eric Lindberg worked with many talented athletes and successful teams.
One team, however, sparkles brightest in his treasure chest of memories — the 1971 OHHS squad.
Lindberg decided it was time to check up on that group and kicked around the idea of a team reunion. He said, “I started thinking about it five years ago and decided to wait until the 40th anniversary; that’s a nice round number.”
Lindberg gave Jay French, one of the athletes from 1971, a call and asked his opinion of the idea. French was all in and suggested to incorporate the track-team reunion with the 40th class reunion already scheduled for the summer of 2011. The date of the reunion, however, conflicted with a trip Lindberg had already planned and paid for to his native Sweden. The pair decided to shoot for this summer, and Lindberg and some of the athletes finally met July 28 in his home.
After coaching over 30 teams and 1,000 athletes in five different decades, why is the 1971 team so important? He said, “When you are beginning to coach, it takes awhile to develop a winning program. This (in his fourth year of coaching) was my first championship team; we won league and we won district.”
Lindberg coached many talented athletes. Alan Tegethoff, for example, won the 1976 state javelin title while setting a state-meet record that stood until this year. In his four years as co-coach at Coupeville, the Wolves won seven individual event state titles.
Lindberg’s 1978 OHHS team, like the ‘71 club, won the league and district title, something the Wildcats would not accomplish again until 2012. The ‘78 team was sixth in state, and Coupeville finished fourth in state in 2006 and 2008.
But the 1971 team remains Lindberg’s favorite, not only for its titles but because of the individuals who made up the squad.
Lindberg said the team’s success had more to do with the team members than the coaching: “I had great athletes; it was a good thing I didn’t screw them up.”
The team’s work ethic, dedication and perseverance still stand out after all these years. Lindberg pointed to the likes of over-achieving and hard-working distance runner Russ Fuller, the quiet intensity of javelin thrower Jerry Dulek and the explosive talent of David Garrison.
The team had great depth. In winning the league meet, it almost doubled the points of the second-place team although it won only five individual events.
At district, the Wildcats won only three events but upset favored Mountlake Terrace. It did it even though Garrison, one of the state’s top sprinters who would later receive a scholarship to run for the University of Washington, was limited because of strep throat.
Through district, eight athletes qualified for the state meet: Fuller (mile), Dulek (javelin), Ken Hamernik (high jump and 880 relay), Steve Waldron (220, 880 relay, mile relay), Garrison (mile relay), Ralph Shelton (880 relay, mile relay), French (mile relay) and Greg Williams (880 relay).
At state, Waldron, Shelton, French and Garrison combined to win the mile relay.
Twelve of the team members made the reunion. Four came from out of state: Fuller and Dulek traveled from California, Frank Hunter from Arizona and Gary Terpstra returned from Tennessee.
Also attending were French, Waldron, Shelton, Hamernik, Steve Eelkema, Roy Powell, Jim Ducken, and Rick Schoenfeldt.
Lindberg said, “It was a wonderful reunion as some (Dulek, Schoenfeldt, Powell) I had not seen since 1971…At age 59, they all still looked good.
“What I am most proud of is they have gone on to successful lives and great families. I believe that the discipline and commitment they learned in their track experience was an important part of their lives.
“I am proud of them all. It was a thrill to see them and recall the memories.”