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Sports Spotlight

Veteran coach Joe Bales brings love of game, experience to CHS boys basketball program

Columbia High School's boys basketball program gained 25 years of coaching experience with the hiring of Joe Bales as assistant/junior varsity coach.

Bales replaces Josh Yarnell, who elected not to return for the 2006-07 season.

In 25 years as a boys head coach (14 at Lyle, 11 at Glenwood), Bales compiled a 278-260 win-loss record, according to the Washington State Coaches Association.

Two of his teams played in the state Class B Tournament in Spokane: Glenwood in 1992 (eighth place) and Lyle in 1998. (Bales also coached girls basketball at Glenwood; his 1986 team placed sixth at state.)

Bales teaches history at Lyle High School and lives in Klickitat with his wife, Laura, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in Klickitat.

Last week, Bales talked to The Enterprise about his coaching career and what led him to take the coaching job at Columbia High School.

You've been a varsity head coach most of your coaching career. Why did you decide to take the junior varsity/assistant coach's job at Columbia High School?

I've coached at the varsity level for 25 years, 14 at Glenwood and 11 at Lyle. Being a varsity coach can kind of wear on you after a while; I felt it would be a bit more relaxing to be an assistant, especially to a guy I admire, like Scott Kasenga. It was also a timing issue. When I resigned at Lyle, there really wasn't time to find another varsity job, they are pretty much all filled before the school year begins. I actually planned on joining the officials association, but when Dale Palmer called and offered me a job the next day, I decided I probably am more qualified to be a coach than an official so I jumped on it.

How different is being an assistant coach from being a head coach?

There doesn't seem to be a huge difference, at least at White Salmon. The varsity and JV teams practice together, and Scott has allowed me to work as much with the varsity as the JV team, so actually it's a great job because you get to do all of the coaching but you manage to avoid much of the paper work and organization. I'm really liking it so far.

You're also going to be doing some officiating this basketball season. What brought that on?

I actually joined the officials association 11 years ago. I worked for two years but really couldn't find the time to do it enough to get good at it so I decided to concentrate on coaching. This season I only joined because I didn't have a coaching job, but I also knew there is a shortage of officials and they need bodies, so I thought I would help them out. Even though it doesn't always appear this way during a game, I really respect the officials that we have in the Columbia Gorge. They've really helped us out the last couple of summers, are almost always available to work games, don't always require a fee, and I know many of them have spent their own time and money to attend summer camps to get better.

In high school you were a three-sport standout. Why did you settle on coaching basketball as opposed to baseball or football?

Baseball was always my favorite sport in high school and I coached it for 10 years but the weather eventually got the best of me. Springs here aren't always enjoyable, especially in Glenwood, and it was tough to get athletes outside on a consistent basis to play. We didn't have football in Glenwood so that wasn't even an option. I did coach middle school soccer one year in Glenwood though, but I'm sure I was the worst soccer coach in the history of the sport. I bought a video on soccer and I used the drills from that, but actually the kids ran the team. I'm still not sure what offsides is, and sometimes I get confused because it seemed to me there were times they were penalized for their speed. Pero Lovrin tried to explain a few things to me once but not much of it took hold.

You grew up in a small town, Klickitat, and have taught and coached mostly in small public schools. What was it like growing up in Klickitat and did that experience have any influence on where you have chosen to work?

I grew up in Klickitat, I still live in Klickitat, and someday I hope to teach and coach in Klickitat. It's always been home to me, I still have friends there, and I really can't imagine living anyplace else. Sometimes my wife, Laura, and I think living in a city would be nice, and we'll probably retire in a place with a warmer climate, but Klickitat will always be my home.

What is it you get out of coaching that you couldn't get from some other pursuit?

I enjoy teaching and coaching, I like being around the students, I typically feel like one of them. I guess in many ways it keeps you thinking that you're still young. I can't believe I'm 52, and typically I have to think about it whenever anyone asks me how old I am. I also spent much of my childhood pursuing athletic interests. It's been great to be able to make a living doing the same things that I have always done. Even at 52 I'm still able to play a game of touch football, go golfing two or three times a week, and shoot hoops with my players. There's not much in life that can beat that. My life really hasn't changed much since I was in high school, and I'm happy about that. I get up in the morning, I go to school, I participate in sports once school is out, and then I go home. It's the same life I've always had.

Who are the coaches you've tried to emulate, or gotten the most inspiration from?

I enjoy being around coaches and they have had a great influence on my life. Harold Patterson inspired me to be a teacher and a coach when I was in high school. In college I learned a great deal from Jerry Krause at Eastern Washington University. Since then I most enjoy listening to Bobby Knight, Jim Valvano, Pete Carril, and Don Meyer. As far as coaching in the high school ranks goes, I've gotten a great deal of support from people like Ken BeLieu, Kirk Huwe, Steve Larsen, Mike Vorce, Scott Myers and Pero Lovrin. I really miss my old allies at Glenwood, guys like Tom Eldred, Bozo Sampson, and Darrel Montgomery; especially the way they would just show up at a practice and talk basketball for three or four hours at a time. Overall, I've found that all coaches have something valuable to teach if you're just willing to take the time to get to know them.

Who are some of your favorite players that you've coached?

I've coached way too many wonderful people to mention them in an article such as this. I've enjoyed them all in one way or another. I did enjoy the way players seemed to rally around certain athletes. When I first started Eddie Murray had a personality that affected everyone around. He made everyone around him a better player. I'll always remember the season when we lost our center and Mary Olney, my point guard, volunteered to be our center for the rest of the season. Jenny Lorenz took our girls team to another level when we went to state in 1986. Lisa Montgomery and Denise Lively also did amazing jobs in leading their teams to the state tournament. Snapper Fiander found a way to get everyone on our 1992 state team to work a little harder than they wanted to. Gabe Moore provided a spark to the 1998 team that went to Spokane that was unbelievable.

Two of my favorite athletes were Tyler Austin and Matthew Palmer. We spent a great deal of time together on the basketball court and at the golf course. We still get together and golf as often as we can. They're not only former athletes but good friends.

What are the fondest memories of your coaching career? Do you have any regrets?

My favorite moment in coaching was when Gabe Moore hit the 3 against Sunnyside Christian that put us into the state basketball tournament. That team worked so hard that I really wanted something special for them. Going to Spokane with that group was really great. We were the smallest team in the league that season and we were picked to finish third in our league. To make it to the state tournament was about as good as it could possibly get.

Only one regret: I really wanted to coach Joey Nelson and Reggie Grace for their senior season at Lyle. I felt bad about walking out on them at the last minute but I was unhappy about the way the school had treated my assistant coaches over the last two years. No coach is any better than his assistants, and my assistants had contributed a great deal to the success that I have had over the years. I didn't feel I could continue to coach at Lyle without them.

One disappointment: I've pretty much lost the ability to get to 500 wins. I think I'm at 410 and I doubt that I'll ever get the opportunity to coach at the varsity level again, unless something dramatic occurs at Klickitat.

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