When Gary Wusterbarth first started coaching boys basketball at Steilacoom High School in 1985, there was no 3-point line and no shot clock.
Those were a couple of things that changed over the years, but for Wusterbarth, most things stayed the same. After 34 years as the head coach of the Sentinels and 40 years teaching history, Wusterbarth is retiring due to health reasons.
He has battled Parkinson’s disease for the past four years and will soon undergo surgery.
“It was a tough decision,” Wusterbarth said. “It’s a great community with good parent support and a tremendous administration. It’s just been a pleasure to coach and teach there. I knew the time would come eventually. I had 34 great years there.”
Wusterbarth, 64, racked up 567 wins at Steilacoom, which puts him No. 9 on the state’s all-time list.
“It’s always an honor to see the names of the people you’ve idolized and you’re up there with them,” Wusterbarth said. “But the hard work and relationships with the kids, assistant coaches and other coaches around the league really superseded all the wins.”
He also won the Class 1A state title in 1985 — his first year coaching the team.
“I thought it’d be real easy after that,” Wusterbarth joked. “I learned real quick that’s not how it goes.”
Wusterbarth played basketball for Pacific Lutheran University before taking over at Steilacoom. Over the years, there were various offers to leave and coach elsewhere, whether at the high school or collegiate level. But Wusterbarth never took the bait.
“I grew up with (late longtime PLU football coach) Frosty Westering,” Wusterbarth said. “He used to talk about, ‘The big time is where you are.’ I didn’t see a need to go anywhere else. It was a good situation for my family and allowed me to be a good dad and a good husband.”
Assistant coach Bruce Hayes coached alongside Wusterbarth for 34 years, while JV coach Elmer Lago and C-team coach Jon Lemming both played for Wusterbarth.
“I have a great staff there,” Wusterbarth said. “The kids worked hard, we had a winning tradition of hard work and excellence in the classroom. Not very many coaches can say they’ve had an assistant for 35 years.”
There was one more group of people Wusterbarth wanted to acknowledge on his way out.
“I really appreciated the officials,” he said. “Without those guys out there every day taking harassment from coaches and parents, we couldn’t play the game. I appreciate what they’ve done over the years.
“I leave on good terms. I really appreciate our community.”