State title won't end Bartlow's coaching journey

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WAITSBURG - When Jeff Bartlow took over the Waitsburg High football program in the fall on 1999, he had a couple of goals in mind.

"When we got here 13 years ago, we wanted to win a state championship," Bartlow said earlier this week, including his wife Lori in the goal-setting equation. "And we wanted to stay here and raise our family here."

Mission accomplished.

Well, almost.

The Bartlows got their state championship last Saturday when Zach, their 18-year-old senior son and Waitsburg-Prescott's prolific quarterback, directed his team to a 33-7 victory over Morton-White Pass in the Class 2B-11 finale at the Gridiron Classic in the Tacoma Dome.

Zach, who passed for 2,333 yards and ran for another 1,418 as W-P rolled to a 14-0 final record, will be heading off to college in the fall intent on playing football at the next level. At least three Big Sky Conference schools, a couple from the Ivy League and numerous smaller colleges here in the Northwest have expressed an interest in his football talents.

Zach's older sister Ellie, 19, is a 2010 Waitsburg graduate who played volleyball and basketball and was on the track team in high school. She is a sophomore at Corbin University in Salem, Ore.

The Bartlows also have a pair of foster daughters in Jordan and Taylor Doepker. Jordan graduated in 2010 and Taylor is a Waitsburg senior.

And then there is 15-year-old Nate, the youngest of the Bartlow children, who was a sophomore reserve on this year's state championship squad. If for no other reason, the Waitsburg-Prescott football program is assured of keeping its head coach around for at least a couple of more years.

"He's in a position to play a lot next year and probably start," the coach said. "But he is going to have to battle for his playing time just like anyone else."

Unlike his older brother and more like his father, Nate Bartlow is a lineman who started on both sides of the football for W-P's junior varsity squad that posted a 5-1 record this fall.

"Athletically, he's totally different from his brother," Jeff said of Nate. "He's bigger boned, and thicker. And he's probably a little slower than Zach."

Jeff Bartlow graduated from Pomeroy High in 1981 after an outstanding prep football career as an offensive and defensive lineman. He spent two years at Walla Walla Community College where he played left tackle for coach Gary Knecht, then transferred to Idaho State and started every game on the Bengals' offensive line during the 1983 and '84 seasons.

After graduating from ISU in the spring of 1985, Bartlow began his coaching career at Reardan High where he spent two years and learned from former Indians coaches Gene Smith and Dan Graham.

"If I have any (coaching) mentors, they would be Gene Smith and Dan Graham," Bartlow said. "Gene won a state championship in 1990 and Dan won a couple (2002-03)."

Bartlow was reunited with Knecht in the fall of 1988 when he and Lori moved to Corvallis, Ore., where Knecht had taken a job as an assistant coach at Oregon State University under Dave Kragthorpe. Bartlow spent the 1988 and '89 football seasons there as a graduate assistant while earning his masters degree at OSU.

And then the Bartlows returned to Walla Walla.

"I was applying for a coaching job in a lot of different places," Jeff recalled. "I was looking for a high school job when I learned that a position was open at Pioneer Middle School in Walla Walla. Lori and I had always liked Walla Walla, so I applied and got the job."

Bartlow spent eight years at Pi-Hi, the last four as the 49ers' head football coach.

"Those last three years we were really tough," Bartlow said, throwing out the names of future Wa-Hi stars Pierce Johnson, Zach Widmer and Casey Waddell as examples why. "Those kids on those teams never lost a game. We were 24-0 (seventh- and eighth-grade teams combined) the last two years I was at Pioneer."

Although Bartlow was happy at Pioneer, he wasn't sure there was an avenue to becoming the high school head coach in the Walla Walla School District. So when Jim Sharkey decided to move on and the Waitsburg coaching job opened up in the spring of 1999, Bartlow jumped at the opportunity.

"I applied for it, and I got it," Bartlow said. "And at this point I see myself at Waitsburg until I retire, which will at the least be the next seven or eight years."

And why not?

With the Waitsburg and Prescott athletic programs - enhanced by a few athletes from Jubilee Christian Academy, which is part of the Prescott School District - successfully merged, Waitsburg-Prescott has emerged as a Class 2B force to be reckoned with in Southeastern Washington in nearly every sport.

W-P's soccer team actually beat the football team to the punch by winning the Class 2B state championship in November. Last year's boys and girls basketball teams lost one game between them during the regular season, and the W-P boys qualified for the Class 2B state tournament. And the schools' cross country and track and field athletes have excelled for years.

Bartlow believes this fall's success will only strengthen the athletic combine.

"I think it has to," Bartlow said. "We had two kids from Prescott and seven from Jubilee on our football team, and we want to see more. There were only two Waitsburg kids playing soccer, and we want to see more. I do believe it will happen."

Bartlow's football team will lose eight players to graduation, he said, and there's always a likelihood that some of the Jubilee Christian students won't return. But the outlook is bright nonetheless.

"We lose six starters on each side of the ball, which means we will return five starters on each side," the coach said. "The biggest question is at quarterback, because Zach has been so productive for us for the past three years, both as a runner and a passer. You can't replace that."

Junior Sterling Eastman, one of the Jubilee players, was the backup QB, and he has indicated he plans to return to the academy for his senior year, Bartlow said. Owen Lanning is the heir apparent and one of 10 freshmen that Bartlow calls "the best freshman class I've ever had here."

"Three of those freshmen started for the varsity," Bartlow noted. "And they won those positions by beating out some other very good players.

"I think we are going to be very good next year," the coach said. "But we're going to have to get our quarterback position set up and then develop the offense around him."

In the meantime, Bartlow, his players, the schools and the communities will enjoy the moment.

"We got home Sunday afternoon in time for the annual Christmas Day Parade," Bartlow said. "We put on our jerseys, jumped into it and sang our fight song a couple of three times. There were a lot of waves and a lot of hugs.

"The parade wasn't put on for us, but it turned out to be a huge celebration for our kids. It felt great."

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