EAST WENATCHEE — Not many of us can claim to have stuck with something for as long as Bob Paine has.
After 50 years of coaching mostly girls' and boys' basketball, Paine has retired. For the last 35 of those years, he has hung his whistle and taught at Eastmont Junior High School, just across the river from where he caught the sports bug.
Paine grew up in Wenatchee, finding a love for basketball in junior high that he carried through high school, and into college.
His first taste of coaching came as a student-teacher at Mead High School in Spokane. He assisted his mentor, who was also a coach.
“I sat on the bench and tried not to get a technical,” Paine said.
After college, he and his wife joined the Peace Corps where they helped raise money and built basketball courts in the small village of Willikies, Antigua, in the Caribbean. They returned to the states in the early seventies, taking teaching positions at a Vermont private school, where he helped run the sports program, and started a student-led radio station.
By the late seventies, they were starting a family and wanted to return home. With his radio skills, he found a job at a Chelan radio station. Eventually, a social studies position opened up at Eastmont Junior High and he jumped at the chance.
For decades he coached eighth and ninth-grade girls and boys basketball while educating them in the classroom. For 10 of those years, he also coached soccer, dabbled in track and field, and had a brief stint in football.
Variety was the key to longevity, but that wasn’t the only ingredient.
“I liked the age group,” Paine said. “I enjoyed it from the start. Seeing them improve, get excited about achieving something — it was fun.”
As a part of a teacher-exchange program, he and his family were able to spend a year in Australia, where he also coached basketball at the high school level. Shortly after returning, in the early nineties, Paine’s parents passed away. They took a year-long sabbatical and traveled to 23 different countries.
When their time abroad ended, he transferred an interest in travel to the kids by helping organize student trips to Australia, Russia, and Europe.
Over the years he’s seen sports evolve, especially for girls. He remembered when there were no school sports programs for girls at all. After Title IX, things changed.
“Girls' sports have improved a lot,” Paine said, but it was a slow build. “At first, there was little turnout. One year we went to play Pioneer with only seven girls. Now, turnout is as good as the boys.”
Sports are an important, if imperfect, testing ground for life. Paine tried a few ways to balance that.
“I never wanted to extinguish anyone’s enthusiasm. It’s difficult to get kids to work hard because they want to be good this moment, but it takes time,” Paine said. “Life is just trying to figure things out. If we just put the kids out there, point them in the right direction, and let them figure things out, they’ll be fine. Basketball helps, but it’s a challenge.”
Every class poses this challenge, and it’s one he’s shared with multiple generations. Once, an old student pointed out to Paine that he was coaching their grandchild. He got a kick out of that.
“It’s nice to have that connection,” Paine said. He loves trying to make a difference and trying to be helpful. He knows he’ll miss it.
Paine will stay involved with the community through scholarship fundraising. One he helps organize is “Cakes for College”, where they sell funnel cakes during Apple Blossom to provide 15 scholarships a year, now at $2000, through the NCW Foundation.
Fueled by a large group of volunteers, the scholarship has been ongoing for 10 years, and they’re closing in on one million dollars raised. They hope to set the fund up as an endowment so that it can carry on indefinitely.
Paine has learned a lot as a coach, from the broader to the personal.
“I’m reasonably outspoken. Coaching has helped me control that. I’ve learned to curb that instinct, and frame things better. I’ve noticed a difference, but I’m not sure everyone would agree,” Paine said with a laugh.