Even after 29 years and 498 wins as the boys basketball coach at Steilacoom High School, Gary Wusterbarth had some butterflies coming into Saturday night’s non-league, early-season matchup against Centralia.
That’s because seated on the opposing bench dressed in a light gray suit and orange tie was 79-year-old Centralia coach Ron Brown, a local legend who has led the Tiger basketball program for 53 years.
“(My players) all want to meet him because I talk about him in practice,” Wusterbarth said after his Sentinels picked up a 58-48 victory over the Tigers. “He’s come into our locker room and spoke to our team before. I just want kids to see someone like that because I don’t think there will be that many people that stay that long in one place anymore.”
The longevity element has bonded the two coaches over the years. Brown entered the game with 681 career wins, while Wusterbarth moved one win closer to his milestone 500th.
“He’s a great example for our coaches association,” the Steilacoom coach said of Brown. “He could have gone anywhere he wanted to go, but he stayed there in his community, which I feel is important, too. We share the same kind of values about being loyal to your town and not jumping ship.”
Brown has thoroughly enjoyed his time at Centralia, and said he’s never had much of a desire to coach anywhere else.
“You maybe have more consistent numbers (in larger classifications) that can help you be a little better, but I’ve just been very happy,” he said. “It’s a very good place to raise my family, and we’ve all been happy there.”
Brown downplays his success with a laugh “(Coaching is) overrated... you better have some talent.” Even at 79, he still has a strong desire to teach the game and connect with his players. There’s plenty left in the tank, he says.
“You go out and teach and coach and have fun with them,” Brown said. “I tell them it’s a fun game ... it’s a silly game.”
Wusterbarth can’t imagine himself patrolling the sideline as long as Brown.
“My wife informed me there will be no way I’ll be (reaching) coach Brown’s (career win) numbers,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t see myself getting 29 years at one place. I just don’t really look ahead at that kind of stuff.”
As for Saturday’s action, Glenn Jordan scored a game-high 21, and Jaden Jenkins added 19 as Steilacoom (6-1) held the Tigers to 28 percent shooting for the game. Baylor Scott led Centralia (2-3) with 13 points.