Changing of the guard at Bremerton: A new athletic director ahead for Knights

Bremerton High School boys basketball head coach Darren Bowden watches his Knights squad play Kingston High School at home Jan. 28. The team is now two years removed from a state tournament appearance. The Bremerton boys soccer and girls bowling teams have also advanced to state under Athletic Director George Duarte, but most programs have failed to find success. - file photo
Bremerton High School boys basketball head coach Darren Bowden watches his Knights squad play Kingston High School at home Jan. 28. The team is now two years removed from a state tournament appearance. The Bremerton boys soccer and girls bowling teams have also advanced to state under Athletic Director George Duarte, but most programs have failed to find success.
— image credit: file photo

For the first time in five years, the Bremerton School District will enter next school year without a full-time athletic director.

The past five years haven’t been stellar for Bremerton High School sports programs, with some notable exceptions such as girls bowling, boys basketball and boys soccer.

The Knights have struggled to regain its prestige as a Class 4A powerhouse from the 1940s, or a 3A perennial champion when they competed as East Bremerton High School in the 1970s.

Now, district officials are expected to hand the job over to a teacher, possibly within the building, with no additional pay.

It will mark a shift from the past five years, when the district paid full-time Athletic Director George Duarte to run the district’s programs. He was hired in 2006 at $80,713. After five years, he is making $95,710.

The district added the position to its administrative staff, in part to return Bremerton to its former glory, but facing a $1.2 million budget deficit through the 2011-2012 school year, the school board in April voted to eliminate the position.

Duarte, a former football player from Northern Arizona University who played one season as cornerback for the Chicago Bears, has been the only person to hold the job.

The cuts, which also include one of four vice principal positions, take effect in July.

Bremerton Principal John Polm said the next athletic director will focus solely on the high school and would likely go to a teacher, which means divided time between the classroom and sports.

“Times are tight,” Polm said Monday.

Duarte can re-apply for the job, Polm added. The first-year principal will conduct interviews in the next two weeks and hopes to hire an applicant at the end of that period.

Polm would not comment on whether Duarte is one of the applicants, citing it as a personnel decision, and said he wasn’t sure how many candidates filed for the job.

Duarte declined to talk about his future or the new athletic director position when asked Tuesday.

“I’d rather not discuss that,” Duarte said.

Neither Polm nor Patty Glaser, the district’s spokeswoman, is sure if Duarte will return to the district.

When asked repeatedly to comment on the future of Bremerton sports, Glaser said Superintendent Lester “Flip” Herndon refused to comment.

Chris Sargent, a sophomore at Bremerton who plays boys soccer and runs cross-country, believes Duarte’s tenure at the school is considered neither a success nor failure. He said that an athletic director’s job should not be summed up in just wins and losses.

However, Sargent feels that Duarte played favorites with the football team. He added that more attention was focused on football than other sports, like soccer, which he found frustrating.

“George gave football leeway, because he’s huge into it,” Sargent said. “We definitely felt like football was treated better than the rest of the sports.”

During Duarte’s tenure, the varsity football team earned a 10-37 record.

One solution, Sargent added, is to have the athletic director also work as a teacher at Bremerton. He feels it would create better rapport between student-athletes and the athletic director.

“If they have extra time to be with students in the classroom, that would be better,” Sargent said. “I don’t think the athletic director needs to be a high-paid position, just part of a teacher’s job.”

The school plans to follow the same model used in the Central Kitsap School District, which includes three high school athletic directors under teaching contracts.

The school will not add classes or teaching positions to make room for the athletic director, Polm said. He added that a portion of applicants includes current staff members from the high school.

“Our building is already being reduced, there’s no room for expanding,” Polm said.

Glaser said the move mimics other schools that have a staff member work both as a teacher and athletic director.

“It’s like this in most districts,” Glaser said.

Lane Dowell, a retired Bremerton teacher and coach who also started the Chuck Semancik Foundation to provide the school’s athletes with scholarships, said Tuesday the school’s teams showed improvement under Duarte, but that without a dedicated administrator, the programs would languish.

The Kitsap Sports Hall of Famer said that having an athletic director who also teaches in the same building will have its ups and downs.

“I’m concerned it’s going to water down and dilute the athletic director’s ability to run the programs,” said Dowell, referring to teachers having to split their days between class work and sports.

“But if they get the right guy in there, it could still work, it just depends on the type of candidate,” he added.

Dowell also said that he sees progression in all of the school’s teams despite recent skids. He believes football is the key to propelling the rest of the athletic programs into success.

“Every team is important, but it all starts with football,” Dowell said. “It’s the biggest program and people are always going to look at that first.”

Five years of Duarte

If Duarte (pictured) does not return to Bremerton next year, he leaves behind highs and lows.

The boys basketball team, under former coach Casey Lindberg, won the Olympic League regular-season championship and earned a trip to the 3A state tournament in 2010, his last season at Bremerton.

Lindberg resigned to become the assistant principal at Kopachuck Middle School of the Peninsula School District, and Duarte filled the position with Darren Bowden, a teacher at South Kitsap High School.

The decision disappointed Phil Olwell, a longtime assistant to Lindberg who resigned when he was passed up for the job.

“It would have been one thing if they brought in someone who had been a head coach somewhere else,” Olwell said last October. “But this was an assistant from a rival high school.”

Last September, Lloyd Pugh, Bremerton’s second-longest tenured coach and a member of the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame, was released from his position as the track and field head coach.

Pugh believed his dismissal stemmed from disagreements with Duarte, which included criticism of the improvement project at Memorial Stadium and neglect of the track program.

The $650,000 renovation was eventually completed.

Jeremy Blum, a former assistant with Pugh, now coaches the team.

Meanwhile, the Bremerton football team has gone 12-49 under head coach Nate Gillam in seven seasons.

The girls basketball team went 21-41 in the last three seasons. The program was led by three different head coaches in that span, most recently, Debbie Lindgren.

The girls bowling team won state in 2008. They continue to finish near the top of the league standings since winning the title.

Last week, the boys soccer team clinched its first berth at the state tournament in 20 years, despite being on probation by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association for red cards. The squad, which has won back-to-back league titles, was one violation away from having its season terminated. The team lost 8-1 Tuesday to Mount Vernon High School.

The girls soccer team went 9-5-2 last fall.

Duarte also helped bring back golf for the 2011 season after the sport was eliminated due to cutbacks in 2008. The boys and golf programs went a combined 3-13 this year.

Fallen on hard times

Once known as a perennial powerhouse for football and boys basketball, Bremerton sports programs have since struggled to win state.

Last state appearances:

Football: 1993

Baseball: 1984

Girls soccer: 1987

Fastpitch: 1995

Girls basketball: 1989

Boys basketball: 2010

Boys soccer: 2011

Girls bowling: 2011


In the May 20 story, “Changing of the guard at Bremerton: A new athletic director ahead for Knights,” Bremerton High School sophomore Chris Sargent was misquoted as referring to Athletic Director George Duarte as “George.” Sargent referred to the athletic director as “Duarte” in the interview.

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