High School Football

For nearly two decades they’ve lied to and schemed against each other; think they’re friends?

Nooksack Valley football coach Robb Myhre, from left, Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper, Lynden Christian coach Dan Kaemingk and Meridian coach Bob Ames form a tight fraternity of legendary Whatcom County coaches in the Class 1A Northwest Conference. Their teams will battle each other twice over the next six weeks.
Nooksack Valley football coach Robb Myhre, from left, Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper, Lynden Christian coach Dan Kaemingk and Meridian coach Bob Ames form a tight fraternity of legendary Whatcom County coaches in the Class 1A Northwest Conference. Their teams will battle each other twice over the next six weeks. Bellingham Herald photo illustration

For Nooksack Valley football coach Robb Myhre, what he expects to be six straight weeks worth of restless sleep started a few hours after his Pioneers put the finishing touches on a 55-14 non-league win over Coupeville Friday, Sept. 14.

“The stressful dreams started this week,” Myhre said. “You look ahead to those games, and I’m already exhausted. You know each week is like a playoff game just to get to the playoffs, and you think to yourself, ‘Can’t there be just one easier game on the schedule?’”

Meridian coach Bob Ames joked that he’s been on the “Hawaiian diet” the past few weeks in anticipation of what’s coming.

“It’s the Israel three-step plan,” he said, referring to famous Hawaiian singer, entertainer and sovereignty activist Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo. “We Polynesians don’t eat ’til we’re full – we eat ’til we’re tired.”

It’s likely Lynden Christian’s Dan Kaemingk and Mount Baker’s Ron Lepper also will sleep a little less and stress eat a little more during the 1A Northwest Conference portion of the 2017 schedule. Over the next six weeks the Lyncs, Trojans, Mountaineers and Pioneers will play each other twice – home and away – in what figures to be one of the most competitive league races Whatcom County football has seen in years.

Three 1A NWC teams enter ranked among the top 10 in Class 1A – Mount Baker (No. 3), Meridian (No. 5) and Nooksack Valley (No. 6) – and Lynden Christian is probably deserving, as the four teams combined to lose just one non-league game and outscored opponents 475-233 during the first three weeks.

While somebody has to win and somebody has to lose each of the 12 league meetings, focusing solely on wins and losses would be turning a blind eye to one of the truly special bonds in Whatcom County athletics – the fraternity shared between the football coaches of the 1A NWC.

Seeing through the lies

One of the most important aspects of any relationship, most experts will say, is trust, which makes it odd to start talking about all the lies that are told among these coaching friends.

Ames is best known for his ability to deflect with humor and pessimism about Meridian’s size, speed and skill abilities, but he’s not alone.

Going up against guys like that it what makes Friday nights so enjoyable, even if you don’t come out on the right side of the score.

Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper

“Those preseason meetings when we all get together are fun,” Myhre said. “I think we all build each others’ teams up. Bob’s the guy known for saying how his team is going to be terrible, but we all give it back to him. Nobody wants to show their hand.”

Truth be told, nobody’s buying any of those lies and half-truths, anyway. In a relatively small county, such as this, there aren’t many well-kept secrets, especially not on a football field.

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Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper, congratulates Izaiha Schwinden during the Mountaineer’s 2013 Class 1A state semifinal win over Cascade Christian at the Tacoma Dome. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

Plus Kaemingk, Ames, Lepper and Myhre all have been around long enough and coached against each other so many times that they know each other better than they know themselves.

No secrets among friends

Combined, they have 107 years of head coaching experience, and Myhre likes to call himself “the baby” of the bunch in only his 18th year.

“As long as you’ve got Bob around, you can be the baby,” Kaemingk said, referring to Ames’ tenure at Meridian, which dates back to 1974. “I remember going against Bob when I was a player at Lynden Christian.”

It’s a good group of guys. We don’t have any qualms with each other, and we’ve developed friendships because we have respect for each other.

Nooksack Valley coach Robb Myhre

Kaemingk took over as head coach at LC in 1990, though he retired after 2010 for two years before returning as the defensive coordinator on cousin Galin Kaemingk’s staff for three years and re-assumed the lead last year. Lepper, who also coaches wrestling and softball at Mount Baker, has led the Mountaineers since 1996.

Combined the four have won 701 games – a number that would be much higher if they weren’t playing each other so often – led 48 teams to the state playoffs, 16 to the state semifinals and won four state titles.

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Nooksack Valley coach Robb Myhre, center, looks to the referee for a call during a 2012 game against Meridian. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

With that sort of familiarity, it’s no surprise to anyone that Myhre’s Pioneers will ride their high-powered offense or that Kaemingk’s Lyncs are known for their defensive schemes that are tailored to each opponent or that Lepper’s Mountaineers are going to play with the same toughness and physicality that defines their community or that Ames’ Trojans are going to give him every ounce of determination and effort they have.

It’s been that way for years, and it’s unlikely to change while this coaching fraternity remains intact.

“Each coach brings their own flavor,” Myhre said. “They’re all different flavors. It works well for them, and you know what to expect, and we respect each of them.”

Building respect

That’s the basis for this friendship among the four – mutual respect.

It’s something that’s developed over time. The longer they’ve been coaching against each other, Ames said, “the less ego is involved and the more you realize these are really good guys.”

“I remember a couple of years ago, we had a real close game with Meridian,” Lepper said. After it was over, I remember Bob coming up to me and giving me a hug. That’s when I felt like maybe I was on the same level. Obviously, he’s a little ahead on experience, but I felt like he respected what I was doing here.”

That same level of respect is shared among all four.

I have such respect for those three men, and I know their kids are going to play hard and play fair and play clean – a reflection on each of them.

Lynden Christian coach Dan Kaemingk

“I mean this from the heart,” Ames said, “I’m very proud of those guys and how much they have done for football in this area and how they’ve developed their programs. They’ve always been great guys and knowledgeable guys, and I’m very proud of what they’ve all accomplished.”

As that level of respect grew, so did the friendship.

No longer were they just seeing each other on Friday nights, but they started to invite each other over for dinner and to meet their families. They’d look forward to seeing one another at other sporting events or even elsewhere in the community.

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Lynden Christian coach Dan Kaemingk watches his team practice in August 2009. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

But, of course, football is always at the center of their relationship.

“I look forward to those guys coming to our games so we can visit before the game and give each other a hug afterward,” Kaemingk said. “I just enjoy being around them – that’s what friendship is all about, isn’t it?”

Friendly rivals

This friendship, of course, has an interesting twist, in that they want to beat the pants off each other once the scoreboard clock starts ticking.

“We’re like brothers,” Lepper said. “When you compete, you don’t ever want to be one-upped by your brother. You have no ill will, or anything like that, but you really want to beat your brother. I really want to beat Dan, and I really want to beat Bob, and I really want to beat Robb.”

I would be proud if one or all of my sons played for any one of those guys. They’re good guys and good coaches.

Meridian coach Bob Ames

And he wants to do it twice a year – a scheduling twist none of the four is particularly fond of but became necessary partly because they’ve been so successful building their programs that other 1A teams in the district don’t want to play them until November.

“All of us, if we had our druthers, wouldn’t play each other twice a year,” Myhre said. “We like seeing each other – once.”

Bringing out the best

With the quality of all four teams this year, the twice-around schedule makes for an extremely tough six-game gauntlet.

“I can’t imagine four 1A teams that have it tougher than we do,” Lepper said. “It’s a brutal six game stretch, facing that type of competition every week. It’s going to test the kids and the coaches. You can’t afford to get dinged up or get sick or let your grades slip. You’ve got to come ready to play every time out.”

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Meridian football coach Bob Ames and running back/linebacker Brady Emmons hold up the Class 2A state championship trophy after the Trojans beat Pullman in 2003 at the Tacoma Dome. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

But once these next six weeks are over and the dust has settled, the coaches of the 1A NWC fraternity are all on the same side. All four coaches have been known to pick each others’ brains for advice or use each others’ connections to give them an edge.

This year the top three finishers in the 1A NWC will advance to the Northwest District playoffs, meaning only one will be left behind.

“Whatcom County is Whatcom County,” Ames said. “Once we’re there, these are our guys. We’re all proud of what each other accomplishes, and we’re all pulling for each other.”

107 Combined seasons as head coach by Meridian’s Bob Ames, Lynden Christian’s Dan Kaemingk, Mount Baker’s Ron Lepper and Nooksack Valley’s Robb Myhre.

701 Combined victories by the 1A NWC football coaching fraternity.

And after it’s over, they’ll look forward to getting together and sharing some laughs, some stories – and some lies – and start getting ready to do it all over again next year.

“Those veteran coaches, I look at each of them and think, ‘When are you guys going to retire and make things a little easier on me?’” Myhre joked. “But I’m really going to miss seeing and playing these guys when that does happen. I have such respect for each of them. I look forward to going against them. I think we all bring out the best in each other.”

And that is the true meaning of friendship.

Fabulous foursome

Bob Ames

Dan Kaemingk

Ron Lepper

Robb Myhre

Seasons as head coach

44

23

22

18

Record

311-154

134-88

160-68

96-83

Win percentage

.669

.604

.702

.536

State appearances

23

12

8

5

State record

30-20

16-11

8-8

5-5

State semifinals

9

4

2

1

State titles

3

1

0

0

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