[Editor’s note: The idea behind “Alphabet Stories” is to write one noteworthy athletics-related story about each OSAA-member school. We started with Adrian HS on Sept.18. Today’s story, more than five months later, is about Corvallis High School. The goal is to write two per week all the way to Yoncalla! While we will be relying upon athletic directors to furnish story ideas, anyone may offer suggestions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org]
“Once a Spartan, always a Spartan.”
Roam the hallways at Corvallis HS in any non-COVID year and you’re bound to hear chatter about athletic conquests, championships won or milestones achieved.
The chatter, however, may not be coming only from students…
There are 17 varsity head coaches at the high school. Seven are themselves former Corvallis Spartans.
“I believe this is because of wanting to give back, their experience as a student-athlete at CHS and their love for Corvallis and CHS,” said Athletic Director Salvador Munoz.
There’s at least one Spartan alum coaching in every season. Chris McGowan (football) and Chad Foley (boys soccer) coach in the fall. Dan Miller (girls basketball) and Emilie Zook (cheer) are active during winter. Kevin Gregg (baseball), Sami Arnst (softball) and Quincy Johnson (boys tennis) mentor varsity teams in the spring.
Many of the coaches have connections to one another that go back to their playing days.
McGowan was a standout wrestler and football player during his time at Corvallis. He came back to his alma mater in 1998, assisting in the wrestling and football programs, and took over as head football coach in 2002.
McGowan coached Johnson, who was an All-Conference linebacker before graduating in 2016.
“I actually had the privilege of playing for him all four years at Corvallis,” said Johnson, who also was a state tournament participant in tennis during his time at CHS, and is entering his first year as coach of the boys tennis team. “We will always share awesome memories of being a part of some high quality teams, including a playoff run that included us upsetting the #1 seed, Mountain View. He has been a great mentor and friend as well. Whether it was when I was playing for him, or when we both coached together in Pop Warner, I have always looked up to him and held him as the best example of what quality leadership looks like. Something that distinguishes him from a lot of other coaches is that he is extremely approachable. Whatever question I had, whether it was about helping my teammates with the plays for the week, advice for how to handle certain situations as a coach, or simply a question about our shared love for history, he is happy to answer. Even though I'm no longer his student or player, I will continue to use him and his program as high quality examples of what to do, as I build mine.”
McGowan cites winning the 5A championship in 2006 as his biggest accomplishment as head football coach at Corvallis. That’s something Zook, the cheer coach, remembers fondly as well. She cheered the Spartans on to victory that December in three overtimes at Autzen Stadium her senior year!
“That was a game to remember!” she exclaimed.
Zook, who is in her fourth year as cheer coach; and Miller, who is in his fourth year coaching girls basketball; not only were in the same graduating class at Corvallis, they also were in the same friend group. Zook even was in Miller’s wedding, as his wife’s Maid of Honor!
“We have maintained a close relationship ever since high school,” Miller said.
Being back coaching at his alma mater is nostalgic, said Miller, who is an attorney in Albany.
“There is an instant point of connection with players as they walk the same halls, and have many of the same coaches, and teachers that I had,” Miller explained. “There are special connections of coaching players who are the children of former teachers and coaches. At the same time, it keeps a focus on the future, because there is always a next generation, and each brings its own unique brand to the school's tradition. This has been especially true of the classes that have persevered through Covid-19. It is encouraging having my own young child knowing someday he will get to experience the benefits of the Corvallis High community. As a coach at CHS, it is joyful to be able to give back to the institutions that set me on a path towards a successful and happy life.”
Gregg is in his first year as head coach of the baseball program but he has been connected to it virtually every year since graduating in 1996. Gregg played football, basketball and baseball all four years at CHS, but the major league baseball draft in 1996 set him on a professional career that spanned 20 seasons, 13 in the big leagues.
“During most of my off-seasons I was able to help Eric Dazey with preparing his pitchers as I was also preparing myself for my seasons,” Gregg explained. “I’m excited to carry on the Spartan pride that Coach Dazey instilled in me. Eric’s influence on me inspires me to help the kids reach their best potential. The lessons I learned through CHS, both on and off the field, have helped me find success through my playing career and personal life. I hope to provide the same for my athletes.”
Gregg said that he has always felt that special connection to both the school and the area.
“As my wife and I traveled the country, we realized how nice we have it here and wanted to raise our kids in Corvallis and as Spartans,” he said.
Arnst was hired as softball coach in 2012, at the ripe old age of 21. She played volleyball and softball at CHS before graduating in 2008. Arnst was a catcher on the diamond, a four-year starter and All-State honoree her senior year who went on to win a 2011 NCAA Division III national championship at Linfield.
Arnst is coaching the Spartan softball team with Karmen Tessier. Tessier was a pitcher at CHS and threw to Arnst for three years.
“We both went on to play college ball and didn't stay in close contact, but, after graduating, she began her teaching career, too,” Arnst said. “Since we've begun coaching together we picked up our friendship right where we left off. We've supported each other through the ups and downs, are raising our kiddos (who are exactly the same ages, 4 and 2) together, and love every minute. We grew up playing on the field and now we are continuing to grow up together coaching young athletes and teaching them about the game we both love.”
Arnst has a unique connection to the school that extends beyond being a player and coach at CHS. When she was a child, her father, Will Keim, starting advocating for equity in female athletics, a cause she subsequently took up.
“Through a local bond passing, we now have brand new dugouts, storage, team room, bullpens, scoreboard, and fence,” she said.
The updated facility, yet to be used because of COVID, is named “WILL KEIM FIELD,” after her father, who was an assistant coach in the program before dying of cancer in 2016.
“I will forever be proudest that I was able to help improve female athletics and have an amazing facility named after my Dad as a legacy at CHS,” she said.
Arnst added that what’s most special about coaching at her alma mater is that it’s family to her.
“I start every softball email message as ‘Dear CHS Softball Family,’” she explained. “It is special to be back at a place that really taught me a lot about work ethic, setting goals, working as a team, and formed me into the person I am today in many ways. I love being back at CHS and wearing the Spartan colors. I love watching the athletes grow. I am getting old enough now to have some of my former 3rd graders I taught as high school players now. Our entire goal in the program is to help girls develop skills they need to be successful on and off the field. I love that many of our alumni come back to help volunteer coach, watch games, and check in on the program. I've been to graduations, weddings, and big events for former players several years after they graduate.
“This program has also helped me in more ways than one. The players and I have a bond having gone through losing Coach Will, my dad. They've been through me becoming a mom. I have been SUPER pregnant in two different seasons. My son was born 5 days before Senior day in 2019, and I strapped him onto me and coached from the dugout.
“Being a Spartan lasts forever and I am so grateful to pass that tradition on to the players.”