WALLA WALLA — Two of this valley’s most familiar coaching faces are missing this spring.
Mike Michels, DeSales’ longtime head track and field coach, and Wayne Dickey, Touchet’s veteran baseball coach, have called it a career. At least as high school varsity head coaches.
Michels, who turns 63 years old this summer, is currently in his 39th year at DeSales. He was the Irish’s head track coach for 33 of those years over two separate tenures, including the last 28 years, was in charge of the DeSales boys basketball program for nine years and also served as an assistant football coach for 10 seasons early in his career.
While Michels has no immediate plans to retire as an educator, he turned the Irish track program over to one of his top assistant coaches, Jim Scheel, who is in his 19th year.
The 66-year-old Dickey is in his second year of retirement after a 32-year teaching career at Touchet. He was the Indians’ head football coach his first 30 years at the school and was the varsity boys basketball coach for the first five years.
Dickey took over the baseball program in 1988 and continued in that role through last spring. He is being replaced by Tim McKeown, who moves up from Touchet’s middle school baseball program.
Interestingly, Dickey began his teaching/coaching career at DeSales, and for six years he and Michels worked together at the Walla Walla Catholic high school.
Dickey grew up in Walla Walla and graduated from Wa-Hi in 1966. He earned his teaching degree at Eastern Washington College in Cheney in 1970, where he also played baseball. And after a one-year hiatus to fulfill a military obligation, Dickey landed his first teaching job at DeSales in the fall of 1971.
“I was the jayvee boys basketball coach under Denny Gowan, and I also coached track,” Dickey remembered of that first year. “Nothing else was available.”
But when Bill Dobner left DeSales and vacated the head baseball coaching position, Dickey took over the program during his second year at the school and continued in that role until he was hired away by Touchet after the 1978-79 school year. Dickey also spent four seasons in charge of the DeSales boys basketball program, and Michels was one of his assistant coaches during that period.
Michels grew up on a farm north of Spokane and graduated from Riverside High School in Milam, Wash., in 1968. He attended Spokane Falls Community College for two years before transferring to Eastern Washington, where he earned his teaching degree in 1972.
Michels spent a fifth year at Eastern acquiring his master’s degree and took his first teaching job at DeSales in the fall of 1973.
“There was a teaching glut at the time, and I was applying everywhere,” Michels recalled. “I wrote to 90 schools in the spring of ’73. DeSales responded, I applied, was offered the job and took it.”
Michels’ coaching responsibilities that first year included a role as an assistant coach in football as well as the head coaching position in track. He soon found himself assisting in boys basketball as well, and when he became the head basketball coach after Dickey’s departure, he gave up track to focus on basketball.
“Basketball and track (and football as an assistant coach) was just too much,” Michels said. “So I dropped track for five years. By the time the job came open again, I had stopped coaching football and I fell back into track. That was in 1984, and I have really enjoyed it, 33 years total.”
Michels was raised Catholic but never attended Catholic schools. And it was never the plan to spend his entire career at DeSales.
“The funny thing is, we planned to stay maybe two years, get some experience and then move to Spokane,” Michels said. “But two years became three, three became four, we started having kids and they got into school.
“The thing I saw was what Catholic schools did for other people’s kids, and I wanted that for my kids. So we made the financial sacrifice and stayed at DeSales.”
All three of Mike and Janene Michels’ children graduated from DeSales as did Wayne and Nancy Dickey’s two oldest children. The Dickeys’ youngest, Timothy, transferred to Touchet as a high school freshman, and as a senior he caught the winning touchdown pass in the 1999 state championship game, the last of Touchet’s four state football titles during the Dickey coaching era.
That was one of many highlights that both Dickey and Michels have celebrated during their long and successful coaching careers.
In addition to winning state football championships in 1979, 1994, 1998 and 1999, the Indians reached the title game 1980, 1995 and 2002. And Dickey’s baseball teams twice reached the state finals, losing to DeSales 7-4 in the 1997 championship game and to Wilbur-Creston 10-4 in the 2009 title game.
Dickey’s final record as the Indians football coach stands at 208 wins and 96 losses. His final baseball mark is 312-238.
“Over the years, both at Touchet and before that at DeSales, I was blessed with outstanding athletes,” Dickey said. “They get the credit for whatever success we had. They and a lot of very good assistant coaches.”
Michels’ track teams won two state championships, one each for boys and girls. The girls won it all in 1992 and the boys were crowned champions in 1999.
The Irish girls also placed second at state twice and third twice while the boys had one fourth-place finish. Furthermore, 25 DeSales athletes claimed individual state championships during Michels’ tenure, beginning with Gerald Lyons’ state-record javelin throw in 1978 and ending with Nick Wales’ record-breaking run in the 300-meter hurdles last spring.
Also, Michels’ boys basketball teams made two state tournament appearances: The 1982 team, led by Brian Richard, and the 1984 squad, led by Roger Eyraud.
“I’ve been very lucky to have great kids, both in the classroom and on the athletic field,” Michels said. “It’s fun for me to see both sides of them and for them to see both sides of me.
“I’m going to miss that the most, the practices where you get the chance to know them better. It’s the day-to-day things that I will miss the most.”
Not that either coach is going cold turkey when it comes to coaching.
When Dickey gave up his head football coaching position following the 2008 season, he took over the school’s middle school football program. And now that he’s no longer the head baseball coach, he is coaching the younger group in that sport as well.
“When I stepped down from football, I had no regrets,” Dickey said. “And I feel the same way now about baseball. And I am thoroughly enjoying working with these middle schoolers.”
Michels, meanwhile, recently completed his 25th season as an assistant men’s basketball coach at Walla Walla Community College. Michels joined Jeff Reinland’s staff when Reinland was hired in 1993.
“I’ll stay at the community college as long as Jeff is there,” Michels said. “He is such a great individual, a great person, and I’m very happy out there.”