One man, one big legacy

(Top) After 30 years of working as a high school teacher, coach and administrator, Bainbridge High School athletic director Neal White (seen here at the 3A state boys basketball tournament on the UW campus in Seattle) is retiring from his post. He will be replaced by Annette Duvall. (Brad Camp/Staff Photo) (Bottom) White poses with his football lamp helmet that was given to him as a gift by the football team when he stepped down as coach in 1997. (Review file photo)  -
(Top) After 30 years of working as a high school teacher, coach and administrator, Bainbridge High School athletic director Neal White (seen here at the 3A state boys basketball tournament on the UW campus in Seattle) is retiring from his post. He will be replaced by Annette Duvall. (Brad Camp/Staff Photo) (Bottom) White poses with his football lamp helmet that was given to him as a gift by the football team when he stepped down as coach in 1997. (Review file photo)
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After spending 23 years at BHS, Neal White is closing the book on a fine career.

It’s the end of another year at Bainbridge High School.

As students play pickup games on the football field and sit and chat with one another in the courtyard, Neal White, along with all the other teachers and administrators, wraps up his end of the year duties, just like any other year.

But this year, White is doing them for the last time – all with a smile on his face, as evidenced by the PowerPoint presentation showing various pictures and moments of his life that was put together for his retirement party a few weeks ago.

“I look back and I think ‘Those were some great times,’” he said. “Those pictures brought back a lot of memories.”

White, 52, is retiring after a memorable 30 year career as a high school teacher, coach and administrator.

He’s spent the last 23 years at Bainbridge as the coach of several teams, with 15 of them as the athletic director for the high school.

Mary Sue Silver, who has worked with White for the last 13 years as the athletic secretary, said there was never a problem working together in all their time at the high school.

“It was seamless,” she said. “We think alike. We both put the students first and we never deviated from that.”

Silver also said she admired White for the way he went about interacting with everyone he came in contact with.

“He’s irreplaceable as far as his personality goes,” Silver said. “He could hold the whole gym’s attention.

“At homecoming assemblies, he was always in the middle of the floor leading the gym in a cheer. He could always get the kids excited and going.”

Getting going was always a part of White’s makeup.

He was born and raised in Shelton and was involved with sports as soon as he could walk, playing football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring with the neighborhood kids.

They rode bikes and even did some track, practicing in home-made pole vault pits using bamboo poles bought from the local hardware store.

“Everything was physical (with us),” he said.

White recalled they got going right after breakfast and didn’t stop until dinnertime.

The only time they came back was for lunch.

“It was a great place to grow up,” he said. “I don’t know if it is a great of a place as it was then, but (back then) it was awesome.

“There were no worries or anything.”

Playing sports also satisfied the competitive drive that has been inside White since he came out the womb.

“I don’t know why,” he said. “I was so different than my (brothers and sisters). I always wanted to get first and do well.”

He used that passion and competitiveness to play three sports at Shelton High School.

White was a quarterback and outside linebacker/cornerback on the football team, was a guard on the basketball team and played a variety of different positions on the diamond.

He was good enough to get invited to a Pittsburgh Pirates camp and a Kansas City Royals baseball academy, but couldn’t stick around in either.

“I wanted to become a professional baseball player,” he said. “I loved basketball but I wasn’t good enough.”

It was there – where his dad was the first all-state football player to come out of Shelton High – that he figured out what he wanted to do with his life.

That was thanks to two men – Terry Gregg and Jack Stark, who coached basketball and football, respectively, during his time in junior high and high school.

Both served as inspirational figures to White and still do, as White worked with Stark during football camps during his coaching tenure at Bainbridge.

“I knew I was going to teach phys(ical) ed(ucation) and coach” because of them, he said. “(Gregg) was a big influence. I loved the lifestyle that he had. I loved his involvement with sports and working with kids.”

It was also there that he met his future wife, Holly.

They dated for four years before marrying when both were juniors in college.

“We were kinda young, but we both felt like it was time,” he said. “Why not?”

They’ll celebrate their 33rd anniversary in August.

He moved on to Central Washington University, where he earned his bachelors in physical education and a minor in health and played football and baseball.

After graduation, White stayed on for a few years as a grad assistant coach for the football team under longtime coach Tom Parry and the baseball team under coach Gary Frederick.

Both coaches also served as inspiration to White for his future career.

The time spent coaching at CWU worked out great for him and Holly, as she finished her studies after taking time off to give birth to their daughter Danielle.

“It worked out well for both of us,” he said. “It was really fun. I really enjoyed it.”

The experience was beneficial for White when he got his very first job in 1977 in Vancouver, Wash.

There, he coached ninth grade football and eighth grade basketball while working at Evergreen High School as an assistant coach on the varsity baseball team.

In 1979, he moved back to Shelton to take up assistant coaching positions in football, basketball and baseball at his old high school.

But after five years of working on and earning his master’s degree in physical education at CWU through Pacific Lutheran University while also working at Shelton with neither of the three head coaching positions becoming available at the high school, White decided to branch out to other places to find his dream job.

He would eventually find it at his destination: Bainbridge Island.

Right move

But while his wife was initially supportive of his decision to do an interview, she was reluctant to leave her hometown behind when he did get the job.

“She didn’t want to leave,” he said. “When they called and wanted to offer me the job, she sat there and bawled.

“She said ‘What are we going to do?’ and I said ‘We’re going to move.’”

While he had to convince her about the move, he also had to fit into a delicate situation at Bainbridge.

The previous coach, Gordon Prentice, had died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 41.

The pressure was on for White to take over without making waves.

“It was tough,” he said. “He was a great coach.”

“When I started out, they had one win in each of the past few seasons. We did that too.”

But the team doubled their wins – from one to two to four – to taking three straight Wesco League titles from 1988 to 1990.

But they ran out of “specimens” as they toiled near the bottom for the next few years.

The next swing came in 1994 when the team went 9-2 and made it to state, where they were beaten by their current league rival O’Dea.

But White still takes pride in the fact they scored 21 points on the Irish, who hadn’t given up a single point to that point and went on to give up just 14 points in their next three state games.

“We always played hard, but we were undersized to the teams we played,” he said.

Along with his coaching duties – he also coached varsity and JV baseball, boys golf and was the C-team basketball coach during his time at the school – White taught four different classes P.E. classes.

But his decision to become the athletic director when Dean Fritz left was simple.

“I was getting bored,” he said. “I still loved the competition aspect of (coaching), but I was ready for something else.

“I knew I didn’t want to be an assistant principal,” White comtinued. “I did that for six months and I didn’t want to continue.”

After taking over in 1992, he slowly withdrew from his other coaching duties over the years to focus solely on being an athletic director as the school got bigger.

“I loved being in the office and just to see how they handle things,” he said of being an adminstrator. “They gave me a lot of responsibilities which I wouldn’t get as a teacher.”

Those responsibilities included working on Memorial Stadium, Paski Gymnasium and the 200 building.

While he misses his interaction with kids on a daily basis, Silver said he always tried to make it to the big games for all the teams and get to know everyone on the team as well.

“He knew everyone by name and when he didn’t, he always had them come into his office to learn their name,” she said.

White said he’s enjoyed being able to watch so many games and so many great players pass through the high school.

He also said he’s tried to be fair whenever a problem came up – mostly centered around playing time.

“(There’s) a lot of perception that it’s not equal and they’re not in my brain and they’re not thinking the way I am,” he said.

When it came time for retirement, White said he knew it was time.

“I was just ready for a change,” he said. “I’m really okay. I have little emotional spells, but I’m okay with my decision.”

He’ll still live on the island and attend games, but he gets more time to play golf (he wants to be a pro golfer) and spend more time with Holly and their two kids, Danielle and Allyssa.

The man who Silver said she’s “never seen him in a bad mood” said he hopes to be remembered as one who always made sure everyone was enjoying themselves.

“It’s what I do best,” he said. “I bring the enthusiasm and the fun to the workplace.

“I always try to make things fun for everyone.”

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