By Randall Hauk
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Tonight, Seattle Lutheran High School will hold a post-game ceremony to recognize its 35-season women’s-basketball coach at his final scheduled home game.
“But first we need to win a game,” says Bruce Carlson, tonight’s honoree.
A victory for Seattle Lutheran (6-1 conference, 11-6 overall) over visiting Crosspoint (1-6, 1-14) would keep the Saints within a game of first-place Evergreen Lutheran (7-0, 12-1), who will host SLHS in the season finale on Friday with a share of the SeaTac League title in play for the winners.
While the crowd in the gym tonight will certainly enjoy the elevated stakes in the basketball game itself, the stands will be filled with people there to pay tribute to a man who has led multiple generations of West Seattle athletes: “I’ve coached players who are children of some of my former players or of players I watched playing for the men’s team,” says Carlson. “That’s one way to know you’re getting old!”
In addition to coaching former players’ children, Carlson has “been blessed” to have had had players return to help with summer scrimmaging, with a few even serving as assistant coaches.
The West Seattle native decided a few years ago that he would depart with his current senior class:
“There’s never a good time,” says Carlson, “but you eventually just have to decide to step away and let somebody else take over the program.”
Whoever takes over will benefit from receiving a program with a strong legacy, though will also step into a very large shadow.
Carlson has taken twelve teams to the state tournament, with a pair of seventh-place finishes (1987 and 1992) to show for it, all well beyond what he might have imagined when he originally accepted the only basketball-coaching position he’s ever had.
After having never made the team at Chief Sealth High School, Carlson was determined to make himself a better player and eventually landed at Concordia College (now University) in Portland, Oregon, where he played two seasons as a walk-on. Upon returning to West Seattle, he began helping a friend coach in an unofficial capacity.
Between jobs during the summer.of 1981, Carlson landed a day job at Menashe and Sons Jewelers (WSB sponsor) at about the same time he inquired about the position at Seattle Lutheran, which he’d learned was going to be available. When he was offered the coaching job, the management of the long-time Junction shop agreed to work with the scheduling needs of a high-school basketball coach.
Nearly 35 years later, Menashe and Sons still employs the head coach of Seattle Lutheran women’s basketball.
“I’ve been very fortunate that my boss has allowed me to do this the whole time,” says Carlson. “I never knew how long I was going to coach. I thought it’d be two or three years and I’d be done, but apparently God had a place for me here, so I just kept coaching. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I hope it’s been a good experience for all my players over the 35 years.”
It’s all those players and the support of the Seattle Lutheran community Carlson credits for everything he’s achieved over the course of 850-plus games, demurring when asked to share his career victory total.
“I know how many I’ve won, but I’ve coached a lot of talented players, says Carlson. “It’s about team victories. It’s not me. It’s been the players, assistant coaches, the school, the parents . . . I have to thank all of them for all the work they’ve put forward every day to win for Seattle Lutheran.”
And “win” they have. In fact, Seattle Lutheran has won 521 times with Carlson on the sidelines. Yet, with all that success, Carlson has never been tempted to test his coaching skills elsewhere.
“I can’t imagine how I’d have managed this anywhere else,” says the retiring coach. “I’ve always been a Saint.”
Tonight’s game starts at 6 pm in the SLHS gym at 4100 SW Genesee. The tribute to Coach Carlson is expected around 7.