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GARY WUNDERBARTH

Gary Wunderbarth
PLU, 1976
PLU, 1977
Photo by Peter Haley, The News Tribune
Photo by Peter Haley, The News Tribune

GARY WUSTERBARTH
By Nick Dawson, former Sports Information Director, PLU

If ever there was a high school coach who understands what it means to “Make the Big Time Where You Are,” it is Steilacoom High School’s Gary Wusterbarth.

So it only makes sense that the winner of the initial “Frosty Westering Coaching Excellence Award” would be an individual who grew up under the influence of the former legendary Pacific Lutheran University and Hall of Fame football coach.

The things that Wusterbarth learned about coaching – and more importantly about life – while growing up just blocks from the PLU campus, and then as a two-sport athlete for the Lutes, have become a part of his long and successful teaching and coaching career at Steilacoom High School.

Frosty’s well-known encouragement for everyone to “make the big time where you are” – that the so-called “big time” is not a place but a matter of the heart – could well be the defining principle of Wusterbarth’s life. He grew up locally, went to a local university, and stayed in the area to teach history and coach basketball. He has truly made the big time right here in the South Puget Sound area.

Wusterbarth, 59, has coached boys basketball for 29 seasons at Steilacoom High School. During the 2013-14 season, in a defense-driven 51-40 victory over Bonney Lake last December 31, he became just the fourth coach in state history to win at least 500 career games while coaching at the same school.

A 6-2 post player, Wusterbarth played his prep basketball at Washington High for long-time coach Bob Ross. Depended on for mostly for his inside scoring touch at WHS, Wusterbarth went on to start as a shooting guard for the Lutes for two seasons, including a second-place Northwest Conference finish during the 1976-77 season.

Moving from the basketball court to the tennis court, Wusterbarth was a district doubles champion as a senior while playing for Mike Benson, another Pacific Lutheran coaching legend. Wusterbarth helped the Lutes win three consecutive men’s tennis conference championships and establish a tradition that saw PLU garner 24 conference titles in Benson’s 30 years at the school.

“He was a fierce competitor. He was loved and respected by his teammates, and he provided great inspiration and leadership to them,” Benson said.

After graduating, Wusterbarth served one season as assistant coach for Ross at Washington High School. In the spring of 1984, with three job offers on the table, he took the head coaching job at Steilacoom High, which had just won the state title under the guidance of John Medak.

Wusterbarth has led the Sentinels to 11 Nisqually League and West Central District championships. His teams have appeared in 17 state tournaments and his first, the 1985 team, made it back-to-back state titles for the Sentinels with a 78-55 victory over Highland. Steilacoom also finished as 1A runner-up at the 1994 state tournament.

In 29 seasons at Steilacoom Wusterbarth has compiled an incredible 506-232 record, which equates to a .686 winning percentage. His 506 victories rank him 10th on the Washington State All-Time Career Coaching Leaders list. As a result of that success and his longevity, Wusterbarth was inducted into the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.

“Gary's high school basketball coaching record speaks for itself,” Benson said. “I especially admire the fact that he has achieved all of his success at one high school over so many years. In recent years I have watched at least one of Steilacoom High's games each season. Gary is a great communicator with the kids, and he goes about his coaching in a very professional manner.”

In a Dec. 26, 2013 The News Tribune article written by sports writer Todd Milles, Wusterbarth is quoted as saying, “I grew up with Frosty (Westering) at PLU. His sons, Brad and Scott, were some of my best friends. I was around the man and the product, making the big time where you were at. I knew what that meant.” 

Not only does he know what it means, he has applied it throughout a stellar coaching career that has spanned nearly three decades at Steilacoom High School.



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