If you’re hanging around the Liberty Bell High School campus in the spring, there is no mistaking the booming nasal bass tone of Dave Schulz, the Mountain Lions’ venerable head tennis coach. He isn’t yelling, he’s just making sure he’s heard.
Maybe it’s the competition from the prevailing westerlies that plague practices and April matches that forces the coach to speak loudly. Maybe it’s the first four weeks of practice inside the Eagle Gym at the elementary school, competing with the cacophony of echoes, shrills, screeches and bouncing balls that accompanies practice inside a gym. Or maybe it’s just Schulz, making sure he’s heard, again.
The life of Liberty Bell’s 85-year-old tennis coach has been a love story, one of passion, caring, commitment, loyalty, faith, family, community, country and youth. Through much of that story winds the common thread of sports, highlighted by his commitment to the youth of the Methow Valley, one that, for the sake of argument, began in 1962, when he returned the land of his own youth.
Schulz grew up in the Beaver Creek area of the Methow, south of Twisp, playing versions of cops and robbers, or something like it, running around the tombstones and monuments of the Beaver Creek Cemetery and attending the old Beaver Creek School.
He was a multi-sport athlete at Twisp High School, focused mostly on basketball and track and field. He graduated from Twisp in 1955, worked in the Wagner Mill for about two years, then volunteered for the U.S. Air Force.
It was a quiet time, mostly, the Korean War having gone silent and Viet Nam yet to heat up. Schulz figured volunteering for the Air Force might be better than being drafted into the U.S. Army, so away he went, first to Texas and Lackland Air Base.
Eventually, he ended up in Oklahoma, working as an Airman Third Class serving as administrative assistant in charge of some challenging young men. He earned the title “Mostly because I could type better than anyone else and had some organizational skills. But I was in charge of some of the, well, bottom of the barrel. These guys were rough,” Schulz said.
He was responsible for scheduling, and following through with the KP crew, essentially. For some of them, according to Schulz, it was either finish your hitch or go to jail. “Some of them just couldn’t figure out how to stay away from trouble,” he said.
“There were lots of court martials and I had to organize a lot of their KP duties and make sure they did what they were supposed to do,” Schulz added.
First coaching experience
Schulz put his athletic prowess to work almost immediately as a member of the Air Force. “When I was on the Twisp track team, I ran, a mile, maybe, at the most. Well, they wanted us to run 3 miles one day,” he said. “I was way ahead of everyone else and finished with a pretty good time, I guess. They offered me the job of track coach at Lackland. I guess they figured I could teach others how to run.” Schulz points to that moment early in his Air Force career as his start in the coaching profession.
Later, after his transfer to Altus AFB in Oklahoma, he put his basketball experience to use coaching a base team, which eventually parlayed into a sort of ad hoc athletic director, organizing and coaching football, volleyball, softball and, of course, tennis on the base. Admittedly, that was better than organizing the remedial KP stuff.
It was while stationed at Altus where two big things happened. First, Schulz was permitted to attend the local junior college in Altus, earning an associate degree in business administration and taking several typing classes to augment his skills.
He also met a young lady named DeeAnnis Pearl Shaw from nearby Frederick, Oklahoma, while at Altus. Schulz says it was a blind date and that they had a love of the game of basketball as a common interest.
After a short courtship, the pair got married in 1959 in Frederick, Dee’s uncle performing the ceremony, and they lived in Altus until he was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1960. Schulz longed for home, and the couple returned to the Methow Valley, where he went back to the Wagner Mill.
By saving money, the couple were able to buy several apple orchards, which eventually became their primary source of income until Schulz started up a business centered on timber management, thinning and wildland firefighting that carried him for about 40 years.
Dee passed away in October 2016 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, Dave at her side along with other family members. The conversation didn’t touch much on their 57 years of life together, and it didn’t need to. Dee meant everything to Dave and it showed in how he took care of her later in life, as well as his attendance at Liberty Bell events, cheering on their children and grandchildren.
Taking on tennis
It was early in the new venture when Schulz got to know Robin Eliassen, a teacher in the Twisp School District and tennis coach for the Yellowjackets. They shared a love for the game, and for the kids of the community, and in 1962, Schulz began coaching tennis at his alma mater as Eliassen’s assistant.
In 1974 the Winthrop and Twisp school districts consolidated to form the Methow Valley School District and opened Liberty Bell High School in the “new” building at the current location of the Methow Valley Elementary School.
Public service came calling for Schulz in 1992 when Schulz ran for, and was elected to, the Okanogan County Board of Commissioners. He served three terms as a commissioner and gained a reputation as a collaborator, working to resolve issues and solve problems, bringing in all sides to points of commonality and purpose. But through it all, he continued to offer his services in the spring to kids wanting to play tennis.
When Eliassen died in 1994 after nearly 30 years at the helm, Schulz was the only choice to replace him as the coach. Having been the assistant coach for 32 years, Schulz is now headed into his 31st year as the head coach.
“The good Lord willing,” Schulz said, “I’ll be back in the spring .” He’ll be 86 in February.
During an interview, Schulz became introspective when talking about faith, community and people. He has long served as a congregational member, leader as a deacon, and occasional speaker of the local Southern Baptist affiliated Church, now the independent Cascade Bible Church in Twisp. His faith is deep, profound and guides his life in ways that he can only put into action as opposed to words. While he doesn’t wear his beliefs on his sleeve, and doesn’t vocally force his beliefs on others, he is quick to converse when the subject is broached.
“Life is too short to hold grudges,” he said. “I believe we are called to love unconditionally and without judgment, and to forgive.”
He lives that philosophy out as a friend, community member and coach. “I have stuff I can offer these kids, and I hope they grasp the good stuff and use it,” Schulz said.
He has built his coaching philosophy on building the positive relationships that interscholastic competition offers. “There are so many stories,” he recalled, “that come out of my time with tennis.”
Schulz told of one occurrence while on the road with Dee. “We stopped at a Dairy Queen in Pasco, years ago. We were sitting at a table eating a burger, or something, and this guy walks up and says ‘I know you! You’re Dave Schulz. You coach tennis.’ That was kinda cool. It’s always nice to get recognized with a smile.”
When asked to recollect some of his more memorable players he went right to Eliassen’s daughter Dawn, who has carried on with tennis as the coach recently at Medical Lake High School near Spokane. Dawn Eliassen is now the Cardinals’ athletic director after 24 years coaching.
“She was a good player and a competitor. She did well,” Schulz said. “I was really happy to learn that she has been coaching at Medical Lake.”
Eliassen said she saw Schulz at the state tournament a couple of years ago. “I couldn’t believe he was still coaching,” she said. “He must be one of the most ‘experienced’ coaches, ever. I feel like he was there for as long as I can remember, and I started going to practice with dad when I was on a tricycle.”
“I just envision his tall lanky frame somewhere in the perimeter outside of the fence,” continued Eliassen, “and his slow, but direct delivery of information. He was never one for a dramatic message. Just to the point and with a smile at the end.”
Maybe the tallest pairs team in the history of Washington high school tennis, a few years back 6-foot-6-inch Josh Frey teamed up with 6-foot-5-inch Jessie Schulz, a grandson of the coach. “I think they were the tallest players ever,” said the coach. “They were certainly tough to beat.”
“Jennifer Paluck was another great player,” Schulz reflected. “She was one of our more competitive players over the years. She played a tough match against a girl that was nationally ranked, but she was really good.”
“Wade Glandon was one of our better players on the boys’ side,” said Schulz. “He’s coaching tennis somewhere in Texas.”
“I think building relationships is what I most get out of tennis,” Schulz said. “It’s a friendly game and we need to be friendly while competing. But I really enjoy the friendships that have come out of the game, and all of the kids I have coached.”
“I took a call from a person I had coached years ago who now lives in Montana, Missoula, I think,” Schulz continued. “She has a daughter who is learning how to play and wanted some tips on helping her with practice. It took me by surprise to get that call, after all these years. And then to ask me for advice on how to help her girls learn the game … It means a lot to me to get these calls sometimes, and that was one of them.”
“And Josh,” referring to Josh Frey, “he told me that tennis was the best part of high school for him. It just kinda gets to you, sometimes, the emotions.”
“I really enjoy seeing the future results of the students, what they make of themselves over time. That gives me the greatest pleasure, Schulz said. “Seeing how they’ve taken the lessons we learned from tennis: success, honesty, dependability and sportsmanship.”
“We’ve done well over the years,” said Schulz. “We never got anyone a state championship, but we’ve done well teaching kids how to play, how to play better, and demonstrating a love for the game.”
“They can play this game forever, just look at me,” he said. “Not quite as fast, but I still surprise these kids sometimes.” He related a story of a young man, not that many years ago, who decided to try things his way instead of following the recommendations of the coach. They decided they would settle their disagreement on the court. The coach prevailed.
Schulz reported that it was only a short time later in that season when some of the boys were goofing off during practice, not working on the skill drill Schulz had assigned. “You guys better settle down, and do what he says,” came the admonishment from the player Schulz had bested. “He cleaned my clock and he’ll do the same to you.”