By Bob Mortenson
LAKE STEVENS - The next time Ernie Goshorn retires, his wife, Dorothy, might consider screening incoming calls.
Six years ago - after Goshorn had completed a successful 35-year career teaching and coaching at Lynnwood High School - Lake Stevens High School cross country coach Cliff Chaffee was on the line wondering if his old friend would consider helping the Vikings' harriers. "It was only going to be part-time," Goshorn said with a laugh.
Goshorn and Chaffee are now in their sixth season sharing the head coaching duties at Lake Stevens.
Goshorn, who was inducted into the Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004, has coached cross country for 40 years. Chaffee has logged 32 years at Lake Stevens.
"He's the baby," Goshorn joked.
Having the venerable pair share coaching duties seems akin to asking Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden to prowl the sideline together.
Don't egos collide?
"Actually, we don't get in each other's way," said Goshorn whose Lynnwood teams won five state championships (girls 1988-90, boys 1993-94).
"We didn't miss a beat," Chaffee agreed. "We just said 'Let's go coach.'"
It's been a successful venture.
The Vikings' girls produced an individual state champion in 2002 (Amber Nickelson). This season the team is in serious contention for its first state berth since 1980.
The boys won a district title - its first in nine years - in 2005 and went on to place fourth at the Class 4A state meet. They are expected to be in the title hunt come November.
But success isn't the only factor drawing athletes - 47 boys and girls this year, 10 more than last season - who are willing to run their guts out with little fanfare.
"I think others are just seeing how much fun the team has," Goshorn said. "Cross country kids are probably the neatest kids in the world even if they don't get enough credit."
Added Chafee: "Ernie and I always say our job is to set the table. The kids have just bought into it."
Goshorn and Chaffee first became acquainted at church nearly 30 years ago. Neither knew the other coached cross country.
Chaffee laughed as he recalled how they ran into each at a state meet. "What are you doing here?" Chaffee asked.
Once common ground was established, there was no stopping the pair from swapping strategies and stories.
"We were talking cross country outside church when we should have been inside listening to the preacher," Goshorn said with a laugh.
Goshorn has coached five individual state champions. He was at Lynnwood when cross country became a sanctioned sport for girls in in 1973. "They realized girls can compete very well in the sport," Goshorn said.
Among the athletes he influenced is Jackson coach Eric Hruschka, who won the Class 2A state individual title for Lynnwood in 1983.
"Ernie is my mentor and my friend," said Hruschka, who went on to run for the University of Maryland. "He taught me the art and trade of coaching."
Of course, training methods have evolved since Goshorn and Chaffee started.
"In the old days cross country runners were iron men. We just pounded the Dickens out of them," Goshorn said. "We started with 40 runners and you hoped seven were standing at the end,"
Chaffee laughed. "It's far more scientific now," he said.
The pair lead with a bit of a good-cop/bad-cop style. Goshorn is the former and Chaffee the latter, according to Kyle Larson, captain of the Lake Stevens boys team.
"I think they do a great job of focusing on making it a positive experience for everyone," Larson said.
For all the advances through the years there has been one constant.
"Kids are kids," Chaffee said. "They change, but not that much."
In addition to his duties at Lake Stevens, Goshorn coaches track and the girls junior-varsity basketball team at Granite Falls. He also teaches special education at the school. "I like helping kids that struggle a little bit," Goshorn said.
Chaffee hopes his friend will continue at Lake Stevens for as long as possible. That should be easy, according to Dorothy Goshorn.
When her future husband was just 16 years old he told Dorothy becoming a teacher and coach was his life's ambition.
"He's done this forever," she said. "Teaching and coaching ... it's what he is."