The dean of Olympic League soccer coaches
June 11, 2008 · Updated 4:23 PM
"Ask Steve Haggerty if he's superstitious and he hmms and haws.He's clearly not a big fan of the word. Just because he hands out sticks of gum to his boys and girls Olympic High School soccer teams before each and every game doesn't mean he's superstitious. Just because he makes sure there are exactly 13 soccer balls in the team bag before every game doesn't mean he's superstitous. Just because he starts each and every practice with the same drills doesn't mean he's superstitous.Haggerty calls those routines. And Haggerty, now in his 20th year as the head coach of the Trojans, has got his routines down pat.Haggerty was the coach of the first Olympic soccer team to take the field back in the spring of 1981 (before that, Olympic and Central Kitsap joined forces for soccer). Except for one year he took off to take college courses, the bearded, bespectacled and now slightly balding Haggerty is the only coach the Trojans have ever known.I used to challenge kids and tell them I could remember every goal ever scored at Olympic High School, said Haggerty, his eyes never leaving the practice field as he speaks. Well, I'm 48 years old now, I'm not sure I can do that anymore.Actually, he remembers more than he might initially let on. He recalls the names and faces of players on his first Trojan team. He remembers the win-loss records of teams whose players have long since graduated from high school, matriculated to college and began their careers.He remembers the nine boys teams and five girls teams he has led to the playoffs over the years.And he remembers the difficult times, like the 1994 playoff game in which his team lost to Oak Harbor High School in a shootout. He remembers that two days before that game, both of his parents died. He remembers that hours after that game, he was on a plane, headed for his native New York, where he would attend their funeral.Ever since, the clipboards he carries at practices and games have borne his parents initials. And ever since, before every game, he makes the sign of the cross and points skyward, as he says, just to say hello. It's a routine.Haggerty learned soccer growing up in New York City and honed his game at Ohio's Miami University. He played one year for the Red Hawks and later coached them for a year. He then moved to Kitsap, the home of his wife's family, in 1980, and was working for the Central Kitsap School District soon after. He was a substitute teaching at first, then a classified employee. Later he earned his teacher certification, and now he teaches special education at Oly.And, of course, he coaches.This year's team is different than past Trojan clubs. Olympic has often had more pure soccer talent most of its Olympic League competition - select team players, ODP players, future college players. This year's talent is younger, freshmen and sophomores primarily, but according to Haggerty this year's team seems to be willing to work together.They opened the season against two of their toughest Olympic League opponents, tying Port Angeles and downing North Kitsap 1-0. With two strong goalkeepers, the veteran coach said, he expects the low-scoring trend to continue.Ken Campbell, limited last year by injury, returns at full strength this year. He's the starter, but he's being pushed by classmate Glen Reed, who filled for Campbell in last season.We've got two who probably could start for a lot of programs, Haggerty said. It's good to have two experienced guys in goal. When you're confident in the back, you can go forward.Other key seniors include four-year letterman Viet Phan, three-year letterman Scott Tonge and new starter Matt Froman, a baseball convert who has made surprising early-season strides on the soccer field. Haggerty's task this year is to blend that experience with young talent like Ridgetop ninth grader John Hoogestaad, who scored the Trojans' winning goal against NK on Tuesday, and promising sophomore Joel Nelson.Across town, Central Kitsap has several returners from last year's 7-4-5 squad. Among them are erstwhile wrestling star Preston Chadwick, junior keeper Casey Sullivan and junior midfielder Chris Crissman.Last year, a few goals here or there could have got the Cougars into the playoffs, but they fell short.At Klahowya, meanwhile, there is reason for optimism. The Eagles won just five league games in 1999 while competing against 3A and 4A schools, but they advanced to the state 2A quarterfinals when they got to pick on schools their own size.With seniors Brett Krache, Ben Eddings, Brandon Milovich and almost everybody else from that squad back, there is reason to believe the Eagles could improve on that finish this year.I think nine of my starters are seniors, said KSS coach Troy Oelschlager. Pretty much this is the year, next year will probably be a rebuilding year. The seniors are really excited about the opportunity this year.Prior to taking the Klahowya job, Oelschlager played for Haggerty from 1985-88 and served as an assistant coach at Oly from 1994-96. He describes his former coach as intense, nervous and fun.He always made it fun. It was fun to go to practice every day, said Oelschlager, who said he now uses many of the drills he learned from Haggerty. He's a player's coach. He's easy to get along with and he knows a lot about the game.Oelschlager, who said he still consults with his mentor several times a week on strategies, scouting reports and other issues, isn't the only area soccer coach who studied under Haggerty.By Haggerty's count, current or former coaches at South Kitsap, Port Angeles, Bainbridge, Gig Harbor and Chimacum are former Olympic players or assistants. I don't know if I had anything to do with it, Haggerty said, but at least they didn't get turned away from coaching by me.Most would say Haggerty had something to do with it. Oelschlager would.But for all the time Oelschlager has spent with Haggerty over the years, there is one thing the pupil has never done - defeat the teacher.It sure will feel good when I beat him for the first time, said Oelschlager, chuckling. We're looking for that, hopefully this year."