Whether or not the athletic pinnacle of Western Washington University’s three Class of 2015 Athletic Hall of Fame inductees came during their time at WWU, after or both, a common thread bonds Kerri Browitt-Caviezel, Orlondo Steinauer and Jim Pearson.
Steinauer, a standout defensive back on Western’s football team during the early-mid 90s, expressed it well.
“I think Western, playing you don’t go to Western Washington University to be a professional football player — maybe an engineer or a school teacher,” Steinauer said in a phone interview. “But just being at a small college, having to work hard. Nothing was given to us. We were not on TV, national TV. We were doing phone-a-thons for our sweat suits. It’s that blue-collar mentality that I carried with me as I moved up.”
Steinauer followed up a brilliant collegiate career with an impressive professional career in the Canadian Football League, the height of Browitt-Caviezel’s dominant women’s basketball career came during her four years as a Viking and Pearson made a name for himself after graduating from Western.
But on their divergent paths, each learned similar valuable lessons competing collegiately in Bellingham.
The trio will be formally inducted at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, in Fraser Hall on WWU’s campus. They will also be introduced during halftimes of both the Western men’s and women’s basketball games against Simon Fraser on Feb. 26 and Feb. 28.
Pearson, who developed into one of the nation’s top runners upon leaving Western, competed in both the long jump and triple jump in track and field and ran on the Vikings’ cross country team in the early-mid 60s.
“I’m glad I went to Western Washington University,” the 70-year-old Pearson said in a phone interview. “It helped me continue and grow where I had a chance to realize maybe I could do something.”
Browitt-Caviezel starred on the WWU women’s basketball team during the late 80s. Having played under legendary coach Lynda Goodrich and her successor Carmen Dolfo, Browitt-Caviezel, who coached after graduating, said she implemented what she learned into her own style.
“Total grace and control in the moment,” said Browitt-Caviezel of what Goodrich had that she found so important to coaching. “I don’t know if I ever reached what she did, but I wanted to emulate that.”
More so than just coaching, Browitt-Caviezel took plenty away from her four successful years in Viking blue and white.
“Just the lessons you learn from sports that you don’t learn from any other avenue,” Browitt-Caviezel said. “Perseverance and obtaining that goal, and it’s different when you do it with a team.”
After graduating from Western, Browitt-Caviezel coached at her alma mater, Cle Elum High School, leading the team to a second-place finish at state. But she made her name as a do-everything player at WWU.
Upon graduation she ranked among the schools top-10 in points (1,013), rebounds (680), steals (233) and blocked shots (62). Browitt-Caviezel, 45, was a co-captain her junior year on a team that is Western’s only women’s basketball team to earn 30 wins. The team reached the quarterfinals of the NAIA National Tournament. During the run she displayed her trademark stingy defense to help propel the Vikings to a district win over Concordia.
Star forward Laura Jaeger was burning WWU before the Vikings moved to a box-and-1 in the second half, and Goodrich asked Browitt-Caviezel to guard Jaeger. The Concordia standout scored five points the rest of the way. The memory sticks with Browitt-Caviezel still.
“She asked me to guard Laura and said it doesn’t matter what else you do in the game, score another point or get a rebound. If you stop her we can win this game,” Browitt-Caviezel recalled. “She had a lot of points in the first half. I think she scored five or less points (in the second half). That was one of the best memories.”
Browitt-Caviezel exclusively played forward and center in high school, but Goodrich switched her to guard at Western. She credited her frontcourt background, combined with her teammates and coaches for being able to become such a well-rounded player.
Steinauer displayed his versatility throughout his football career, playing cornerback at Western before eventually earning all-star selections in the CFL at three separate positions.
Although Steinauer, 41, went on to win two Grey Cup championships, earn five all-star selections and have stints playing for the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins, he honed his skills playing for coach Rob Smith in Bellingham.
Steinauer said he was proud to be a part of Western football’s rise in the 90s, and the all-American certainly made his impact felt. As a senior in 1995 he led the NAIA with 10 interceptions, finished with 20 career picks and earned numerous all-American accolades.
Arguably Steinauer’s best game, which is one of his top college football memories, came in a 19-16 win over rival Central Washington University. He recorded three interceptions and was selected NAIA Defensive Player of the Week.
“It just feels awesome, to be honest,” said Steinauer of being inducted in a phone interview. “When you go to Western Washington University from Lynnwood High School you don’t have aspirations of the Hall of Fame or anything like that. You are going to school to get an education and enjoy life. This is great for everyone involved, and specifically my teammates. When you get an award like this, it’s not about me, it’s about the whole Western Washington team and the athletic department. Everyone should enjoy it.”
During his time at Western, Steinauer said he would like to think he was someone teammates and coaches could always count on. He backed that sentiment up throughout his career with steady, reliable play.
Steinauer played 12 season in the CFL with the Ottawa Rough Riders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts. He finished his pro career with 49 interceptions, and his 1,178 interception return yards ranks second in CFL history.
Much like Steinauer, Pearson went on to achieve athletic fame after graduation.
A 1966 graduate, Pearson evolved into a national level distance-running standout. He was the U.S. champion in the 50-mile run in 1975, setting a record time of 5 hours, 12 minutes and 41 seconds. Person qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 1972 and 1976 and has placed within the top five at the U.S. National Championships seven times.
One of Pearson’s proudest accomplishments is still ongoing. He’s working on a massive streak running at least one mile every day that dates back to Feb. 16, 1970, giving him a string of more than 16,400 straight days.
And to keep the streak in tack, Pearson divulged several intriguing stories. Arguably the most stunning he shared was one in which he was hospitalized with a serious illness yet still managed to run. With the help of others, the distance was paced off in the hospital and at night Pearson got out of his gown, into his running gear and covered the distance.
It was at Western, though, that Pearson got the chance to further satisfy his appetite for competition after getting a taste in high school. Pearson did triple jump and long jump during track and field, and he was a member of Western’s 1963 cross country team that won a NAIA District I championship.
“I had the right people around me, and I do believe I went to the right school,” Pearson said.