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Three decades later, Steve Haggerty still loves coaching Olympic High School soccer
The players are still a joy to be around after three decades. The motivation to win is still strong nearly 60 seasons later. And the feeling of stepping on the field is still what he lives for.
Steve Haggerty loves coaching soccer, and he always will.
“I’d like to continue coaching until I’m asked to hang it up,” said Haggerty, in his 30th season as Olympic High School’s boys and girls soccer coach. “I really like what I do.”
Haggerty, 55, has become the face of Trojans soccer – and perhaps of prep soccer in this area – since becoming Olympic’s first boys coach in the spring of 1981 and its first girls coach that ensuing fall.
He is the only head soccer coach in school history, running the boys program each spring and the girls program each fall every season except 1989, when he took a year off.
The Long Island, N.Y., native has experienced more at Olympic than some coaches might in a lifetime.
He’s coached players who later became coaches themselves, including Klahowya Seconday School girls soccer coach Troy Oelschlager and Kitsap Pumas assistant Andrew Chapman. He’s led more than 10 Olympic teams to state tournaments, reaching the Class 3A quarterfinals with the girls in 2008. He’s watched neighboring programs succeed and struggle as coaches come and go.
There is, however, at least one accomplishment Haggerty wants but has yet to attain.
“My goal is to win a state championship with either the boys or the girls,” he said. “That’s on my bucket list.”
The motivation to be a champion might be especially strong for Haggerty because he was never the most talented or athletically gifted player on the field.
In high school he played for a Long Island team that finished second in its postseason tournament. But Haggerty didn’t receive much playing time.
Instead, he observed the game and listened to his coaches from his seat on the bench.
“I picked up the nuances of the game by watching and hearing the coaches talk – developed a passion,” he said. “That made me a better coach.”
Those who have played under Haggerty — or coached against him — don’t dispute his passion for the game.
“It’s funny because he still has the same amount of energy as he did back then,” said Oelschlager, who played under Haggerty in the mid-80s and later became his assistant at Olympic. “He’s intense, he wants to win games.”
Oelschlager took over the girls program at Klahowya in 1997, when the school opened, and has since faced Haggerty every season.
The duo has coached against each other in boys soccer as well, and in nearly 30 total matches, Oelschlager has never beaten Haggerty.
“They are always playing hard,” Oelschlager said of Haggerty’s teams. “Most of the time when we match up against them, they out-hustle us. They are always prepared.”
A 1976 graduate of Miami University in Ohio, nicknamed the “Cradle of Coaches,” Haggerty takes pride in what happens to players like Oelschlager after they go through his system, as well as during their time at Olympic.
He is a defensive-minded coach who borrows many of his strategies from University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance, whom Haggerty met at a coaching clinic in 2004.
Emphasizing the importance of ball pressure, Haggerty’s take on the game is simple.
“If you don’t give up any goals, then you’re not going to lose very many games,” he said.
Losing games is part of being a coach, which Haggerty understands. The boys team has struggled the past few seasons, managing three wins in 2009 and sputtering to a slow start this season.
But Haggerty has experienced many highs and lows – on the field and off – since arriving to Kitsap in 1979 from Fort Knox, Ky., a small town where he coached for one season.
In May 1994, Haggerty’s parents died within two days of each other. His mother, a smoker, died on a Sunday in a hospital after complications stemming from an operation to remove a spot on one of her lungs.
His father, who was diabetic, had his second leg amputated two days prior. He was released from the hospital against his doctor’s advice to help plan his wife’s funeral with her sisters. He suffered a fatal heart attack hours after his release.
It was the toughest time of Haggerty’s life, but through the experience he feels he became a better coach and person.
Now he measures the character of his teams by how they react to adversity, whether it’s a poor call by a referee or a particularly difficult loss.
“Sometimes you’re not dealt a fair shake, but good teams deal it,” he said. “The same goes with life. Sometimes you have to deal with adversity and it makes you a better person.”
Also a special education teacher, Haggerty hopes to be in the classroom and on the sideline well into the future.
He still wants that state championship. He still is making a difference in his players’ lives.
And he still can’t get enough of the beautiful game.
“I have a passion for it,” he said.