Forgive Dan Steelquist if he doesn't know how to spend his time this fall.
One particular constant has existed in Steelquist's life during the last quarter of a century. That's been coaching Blaine soccer.
When this summer draws to a close and high school girls' soccer teams begin practicing, Steelquist will spend his afternoons away from the soccer field
"It's going to be pretty strange I think," Steelquist said in a phone interview. "I love being on the field, love teaching the game. It will be an odd feeling."
Steelquist, a science teacher at Blaine Middle School, began coaching soccer as a student teacher, helped coach the inaugural Blaine High School soccer team, which was boys and girls mixed, took over the girls' program when the boys' team began playing in spring and has coached Borderites girls' soccer for 16 years. He's spent 11 years coaching the boys' team. Combined with middle school soccer, Steelquist has spent the last 25 years teaching youth the game he loves.
He's finally ready to retire, and it's well deserved, based on Blaine Athletic Director Wayne Vezzetti's kind words.
"He is just an outstanding human being," Vezzetti said of Steelquist in a phone interview. "What he does for not only the soccer community, but for the Blaine School District is unbelievable. He is just a class act and is a great mentor to all the kids. He's just a wonderful person."
Former girls' soccer assistant coach Kelly Tuski has been hired to replace Steelquist, and to put into perspective how long he's been coaching at Blaine, Tuski's husband used to play for Steelquist.
The long-tenured coach didn't specify why he felt it was time to step down, but leaving coaching will allow him to focus energy in other places such as school and family.
"Any varsity coach or any family member of a varsity coach will tell you a lot of mental energy goes into it," Steelquist said. "I'll miss the camaraderie with the girls and how they approach the game. It's been a great run, and I'm looking forward to being able to watch games without the other stuff. That's for Kelly to do now."
It's becoming increasingly harder to find strong teachers who can coach athletics, and it's even harder to find a teacher who can coach and stay with the program, Vezzetti said.
Steelquist satisfied both those hallmark qualities athletic directors look for.
"He teaches the kids the game of soccer," Vezzetti said, "and it teaches them about life experiences. He teaches respect for teammates, respect for coaches and respect for opponents. He practices what he preaches and is dedicated to teaching the right way to play the game. As an AD, he is the kind of guy you want coaching."
More so than teaching the X's and O's, it's been watching players improve week-to-week and being able to share learning experiences with students outside a classroom setting that's kept Steelquist coaching all these years.
He's enjoyed seeing players improve, getting new crops of athletes and tweaking a team in order to create the best final product.
Steelquist has watched Blaine soccer grow since day one.
He got his start in coaching helping the Bellingham girls' team while he was still in college. Steelquist got "instantly hooked." A middle school coaching position opened when he began working in Blaine, and Steelquist took the job. He's been coaching in the border town ever since.
"It's been fun to be a part of that," said Steelquist of being with Blaine soccer from the beginning, "and to watch it develop in the community to where it is now an established sport."
Several former players have returned to work as assistants under Steelquist. Seeing them teach what he's taught them has been particularly rewarding. Former Blaine grad Alyssa Hendrickson is Steelquist's most recent player to coach alongside him.
"When former players get the chance to come and give back to their community, that has been a real highlight for me as well," Steelquist said.
Some of Steelquist's most memorable seasons were two years in the early to mid 2000s. He couldn't remember the exact year, but between 2003-05 when Blaine was in the North Cascade League the Borderites finished top eight in the state tournament.
Blaine put together a 7-11-4 season last fall and lost in a winner-to-state, loser-out Class 1A Tri-District Tournament game. It was the Borderites' top finish in the last five years.
While Steelquist will no longer be working the soccer field, he'll still be involved in Blaine athletics. Steelquist is coaching the middle school volleyball's C team, and he told Vezzetti he'd be happy to help the athletic department if they need him.
"Couldn't ask for a better person to work with," Vezzetti said of Steelquist. "We've had many conversations about soccer and athletics and how to develop leadership. I've had a great working relationship with Dan, and it goes beyond the AD-coach relationship. I can tell you he is a friend of mine and will be forever."
Steelquist echoed Vezzetti's remarks.
"I've gotten a lot of support from the community and the administration," he said. "I feel fortunate to be a part of the athletic department at Blaine High School."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
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