Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor’s new cross country coach has a familiar connection

Gig Harbor High School has named 27-year-old Seattle native Andrew Walker as its next head cross country coach.
Gig Harbor High School has named 27-year-old Seattle native Andrew Walker as its next head cross country coach. Staff writer

Gig Harbor High School has named 27-year-old Andrew Walker as the school’s new cross country coach.

Walker, a Seattle native, takes over for Mark Wieczorek, who stepped away after last season due to scheduling conflicts with his job.

Walker’s connection with former Gig Harbor cross country and track coach Patty Ley helped land him the gig with the Tides.

Walker ran cross country at Gonzaga University in Spokane, where Ley is currently coaching the girls’ team.

“That’s how this whole thing got figured out,” Walker said.

Walker ran for Gonzaga cross country coach Pat Tyson, the college roommate of legendary runner Steve Prefontaine.

“Before Pat got there, it was just part-time coaching at Gonzaga, basically,” Walker said. “The team was just operating at a different level. I think he was the first, full-time paid coach. So the team has gotten a lot better. It was kind of cool to be on the ground floor of that.”

Before attending Gonzaga, Walker attended and ran cross country at Seattle Prep. He coached cross country at East Valley High School in Spokane, before returning home to teach in Seattle. But he missed coaching.

“It was fine, but I definitely had the itch to get back into it again,” Walker said.

So he applied for the Gig Harbor job. Not only will he be coaching for the Tides, he also will be teaching history and English at Gig Harbor High.

As far as his coaching philosophy, Walker said he tries to toe the line between coaching and letting kids find success independently.

“With Tyson, he never micromanaged,” Walker said. “He kind of lets you make your own mistakes, figure out who you are as a runner. He’s giving you feedback but he’s not micromanaging every detail of your training. I think that made me a much better coach.”

Walker also tries to keep young athletes from getting too high or too low.

“You’re always trying to be even keel,” Walker said. “If you have a bad day, a bad race, you’re ticked off for five minutes but then you’re back at it. If you have a really good race, you’re over the moon for five minutes, but then you’re back at it. Having that kind of idea was cool.”

From Tyson, he also learned how to be passionate about running.

“His big thing, he always asks you, ‘Are you on fire about this? What’s better than doing this every day?’” Walker said. “The love of it is something I came to grips with more. It’s basically the driving force of what I’m doing right now, too.”

At East Valley, Walker had a few good runners, but struggled with the program’s depth.

“Getting kids out for the summer was like pulling teeth,” Walker said. “You’d have five or six kids out at summer training. Here at Gig Harbor, we’ve had some days with 20, 25 kids. So it’s different.”

Walker understands Gig Harbor’s high standards. When he saw the 30-foot tall banner in the GHHS gym commemorating Gig Harbor cross country’s national title, Walker was inspired to keep the proud tradition alive.

“It’s cool to be around,” Walker said. “I’ve always know they’ve been really successful. … The kids are used to doing real workouts, training at a high level. They know the deal.”