COACHING WITH PASSION
THE BOB ISITT AND PAT TYSON STORY
BY: David "Hawaiian Five-Oh" Taylor
Part One: Pat Tyson, Fulfilling a Calling (posted below)
"Number one is just to gain a passion for running. To love the morning, to love the trail, to love the pace on the track. And if some kid gets really good at it, that's cool too." -Pat Tyson
Summer of 66'
Bob Isitt and Pat Tyson are synonymous with great coaching. Tyson produced national caliber teams for nearly two decades and is renowned for producing the 1988 and 1993 squads which are considered the greatest to ever come out of the Northwest. Likewise, Bob Isitt has produced national caliber runners and state level teams for multiple decades and this year has produced what may be the greatest girls team in Spokane history, and what may become the best ever from Washington. What is below the surface is the connection each share spanning back four decades, and it all began in the summer of 1966. (Pictured: Pat Tyson, Kienan Slate (1988 1600/3200 WA "1A" Champion 4:19/9:17), and Greg Kuntz (1989 WA 3A XC Champion-Footlocker Finalist 16th)
In 1966 and 1967 Pat Tyson (Lincoln H.S.-Tacoma) and Bob Isitt (Rogers H.S.-Spokane) swapped finishes by mere seconds and began a connection with history that has spanned decades. In this two part series, we will discover together, just how amazing this connection and passion for coaching truly is! Consider this, one would go onto to room with and become the best friend of legendary Olympian Steve Prefontaine, while the other grew up a block away from Gerry Lindgren and went on to become the roommate and best of friends with legendary Olympian Don Kardong.
Part One: Pat Tyson, fulfilling a calling
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and spend some time with Gonzaga University's Pat Tyson. What I learned is that Tyson has been fulfilling a calling established over four decades ago that he seemingly was destined to live out. (Pictured: Me and Pat Tyson)
Pat was a decent high school runner posting 4:24 for the mile and 9:22 for the two-mile while running for Dan Watson at Lincoln High School out of Tacoma, Washington. He knew of Bob Isitt from Rogers High School, Bob had bested him by 3 seconds in the 1966 State Cross Country Meet. In 1967 Isitt was considered one of the favorites to take the title, having bested the eventual winner from Clover Park earlier in the season. However at state both Tyson and Isitt were caught up in the chase pack and were topped in the final stretch by faster finishers. Once again they finished within seconds of each other, seven to be exact, with Tyson besting Isitt the second go around. It would be 6 years before their paths would cross again.
In 1973 the world of running seemed to revolve around the legendary Steve Prefontaine. Only a year prior Pre had pushed Lasse Viren to the limits in the Olympic 5000 meter race, faltering in the final steps to lose a medal. Pre was the rockstar of the running universe and sought to match Gerry Lindgren's amazing 3 NCAA individual titles. Unfortunately the 1973 event was at the difficult Hangman Valley in Spokane, Washington and that didn't bode well given Pre's growing issue with sciatica (extreme lower back and leg pain). Nick Rose out of Western Kentucky sought to sieze the crown and make a statement on the brutal course, and for much of the race he held a 50 yard lead. Pre's roommate was Pat Tyson and arrangements were made to stay in Spokane with running legend and Olympian Don Kardong. Strangely enough, Kardong's roommate was Bob Isitt. So, lets back track to fill in this amazing connection. (Pictured: Pre and Kardong running)
In 1967 Pat Tyson had concluded for a surety that he would absolutely be a teacher and a coach. He had been inspired and influenced greatly by Lincoln High Coaching Great Dan Watson who "was a motivator and connector" as Tyson puts it. The only question was where he would go to college. That year Track and Field News had put out an issue that caught Tyson's eye, "the article was about runners at Oregon with pictures going by Bowerman's house, also my coaches parents lived in Eugene off the McKenzie River, so Coach Watson played up Oregon and it all influenced my decision". So, Tyson left for Oregon.
Oregon has a way of changing runners, either you thrive or barely survive, there truly is no inbetween. For Tyson, he thrived, "I matured quickly, rubbing elbows with guys that gave me a different way of looking at things, so I got into the system, got better, had hardtimes, motivational times, and discovered a routine that worked, I had 12 straight years with a PR, 12." He met Steve Prefontaine and they became best of friends. Tyson saw in Pre qualities that produced success and Pre saw in Tyson someone he could trust, "Pre was a guy with energy and passion before the hype ever began, he never questioned and never complained and everyone learned from that and then I moved in with him". "Behind the glamour of the movie was the real story, there was no dorms or anything like that, late in the fall of 1971, Pre and his girlfriend Mary Marx invited me to dinner at the trailer they were living in at Glenwood. Pre already had a roommate, Mary, and they were looking for another roommate. They asked me to be their roommate because I was a "perfect fit". This was in the fall quarter and I actually moved in during the winter of 1972 after Christmas vacation, and we did run together every morning and the guys would get together on Sundays to run with us."
As we spoke I noticed Tyson's eyes were moving over my left shoulder until it seemed as if he was speaking from a very personal place. I glanced back and noticed he was staring eye to eye with a larger than life poster of Prefontaine. I realized, that behind the story was a friendship that endured the test of time, Pre was his friend first and the rockstar second. He continued, "back then was the era of calloused feet, and no socks, we ran in leather shoes!, I guess my philosophy came from additions of Dan Watson who was very Lydiard and Ryun and at Oregon put together under Bill Dellinger." (Pictured: Bill Dellinger and Pat Tyson) He paused and continued, "Bill had a system four years out of Tokyo, that worked, that he did leading up to Tokyo, and I didn't even realize who he was when I arrived at Oregon. I didn't understand because four years was a long time ago to me then, I was in love with the beatles when he was at Tokyo, I had different things on my mind, so he used all the workouts he did and tested them on his athletes at Oregon, that is the Oregon system, Dellinger's Olympic System." "Now Pre never questioned the system, so I never questioned, and I improved like I said for 12 straight years."
So in 1973, Pre's roommate, Pat Tyson, traveled to Spokane for the NCAA championships and stayed with Don Kardong and Bob Isitt. Bob was running at Whitworth College with canadians and establishing an amazing story of destiny all his own, which will be unlocked in part two of this series. At Hangman, Steve Prefontaine ended up coming from 50 yards back, overcoming severe sciatic pains, to topple Nick Rose, winning his third title.
In 1975 tragedy struck and Prefontaine passed away following a fatal vehicle accident. To Tyson it was a difficult period of time, Prefontaine was his best friend, however as he states "I didn't know the long range mystique, I just used his energy in everything we did, I even showed slides about Pre in 1975 at a Camp at Clear Lake and it started it all". Tyson states, "you know I used to take trips with him to Coosbay, to his parents house, and you know his room is still set up exactly like it was when he died." As he spoke I flashed back to an encounter I had with Pre's room. In the summer of 1995 I was a sophomore returning from a Junior Olympic meet in California and we happened to pass through Coos Bay, Oregon. (pictured: Ray Prefontaine in brown hat and green jacket). I remembered someone telling me that Pre was from there so I asked my mom for a quarter, went to a phone booth and called the first Prefontaine listed. A guy named Ray answered, I asked if he was a relative of Pre and he said yes, he was his dad. I told him how much I appreciated his son's influence on runners and that I was just returning from the Junior Olympics in California. He immediately told me to come by the house and gave me directions. I told my mom and she didn't believe me, but gave in to my youthful persistance. As we drove up Elrod I saw a little house on the left, with a little trailer parked out front and a guy who looked exactly like Pre standing in the front yard. I nervously approached him and he put his arm around me and my brother Aron and said "lets go inside!". Once in, he asked if I wanted to see Steve's room and took me to it. I knew at that moment that there was something special about this place, there was a sense of greatness. As we waited for Pre's mom to come home we went through every photo album they had and then the mail came. Ray received a box from some Hall of Fame. As we sat on the couch next to a full wall mirror reflecting a large image of Pre hanging on the opposite wall, Raymond pulled out Pre's olympic warmup uniform. He stated, "I haven't seen this since the 70's, here hold it and get a picture with it" as we did he stated "what are the odds it would come while you were here". I was shocked at how Pre was about my size. He was a normal guy, behind the mystique, who just put his head down and worked hard. He had normal parents, a normal home, normal friends, and an uncommon zeal for life and hardwork.
Pat Tyson was Pre's brother and took his spirit and influence everywhere he went, Pre felt he was an artist, we could all be artists with our life, and Tyson would spread that message, that was his commitment. In 1975, only a few months after Pre's accident, Pat began the slide shows at the Clear Lake running camp outside of Spokane, Washington. A decade later Tyson would take over at Mead High School in Spokane, Washington and begin to fulfill his legacy to this sport with his first state title at a program that would come to epitomize greatness. However, the program of Mead began with loss, even as Pat's career in teaching and coaching began with the Loss of Pre in 1975.
Everything was looking up for Mead following the 1988 Clear Lake Camp. Only a few days after camp he received a handwritten note from team motivator Matt Zweifel who was projected to be the teams #3 runner. In it Matt said,
Thanks for choosing me for Spring Leadership Camp. I hope that next cross-country season I can use the knowledge I’ve learned to make the team better. (Although were already going to be the best.) It was a great experience teaching me to work better as a group instead of as an individual.
Thanks a lot for everything,
Matt “Baby Huey” Zweifel
Matt Zweifel was an energetic, exciting young man who coined the team motto at camp that year: "Go out hard, take charge, and have fun". However, just following the Camp, tragedy struck and Matt was lost to a fatal vehicle accident. As the team and coach were overcome with grief, Tyson pulled them together. Perhaps no other man was as prepared by history and experience to assist that team to overcome that loss, and they made a commitment together to honor Matt with that season, with that motto, they would go out hard, take charge, and have fun. It was in the spirit of loss, hope, and courage that Pat Tyson and the youngmen of Mead set forth on a destiny that has since produced a legacy unmatched nationally. In the last 21 years Mead has won 14 State Titles and inspired through their greatness, the young men of Spokane's Greater Spokane League to 21 straight state titles by a Spokane Team. (picture above: one of the many amazing Spokane trails)
Prefontaine had stated, "to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift" so he likewise ran races and lived life so that in the end the legacy of his life was one of fulfillment through effort. Pat Tyson carried this gift to all those he met and inspired Matt Zweifel who in turn inspired his teammates who have in turn inspired a sport with an unmatched legacy. Teammates who would "be the best" that season in the State of Washington and Nationally as the 1988 XC Legacy National Team Champions. That is how it began for Pat Tyson, with a decision to go to Oregon, with a trip to Spokane for an NCAA Championship with his Best Friend Steve Prefontaine, with loss, with hope, with courage, with perseverance and endurance as a mentor for youth who shared in that loss a decade removed, inspiring a legacy began with a National Championship, and an enduring commitment to Spokane.
Pat Tyson has now moved on to Spokane's Gonzaga University to carry forth the spirit of excellence began with Bowerman, Dellinger, Prefontaine, and Mead. As was the case in 1975, and in 1988, in 2009 Pat Tyson is fulfilling a calling to exhort, inspire, and influence the best in young men and women. History is calling on a new group of dreamers to come to Spokane, Washington, the home of Gerry Lindgren, the Rift Valley of America; History is calling on Pat Tyson, History is calling on Gonzaga University to fulfill a calling with Destiny. Bowerman felt it, Dellinger felt it, Prefontaine felt it, Pat Tyson felt it, Mead felt it, If you can feel it now, the call of history and destiny, answer the call.
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