Yelm HS, Bellevue Christian HS, Samammish HS, Cal Berkley, Seattle Pacific University
Hall of Fame Class of 2019
Mike Strong shares with people that his coaching career chose him rather than he chose it. In 1969, he worked for the Mercer Island Park Department in the area of recreation. His job allowed him to work with kids by involving them in activities. In the summer of that first year, there were three young girls aged twelve who were very athletic and would show up at the park wanting to be involved in some high end athletics. Mike began to focus on how he could help them find a place where they could be competitive settling on the sport of track & field due to their interest in running, throwing and jumping. He helped them find a team in Renton where they attended summer practices. In the fall of 1970, those three girls were joined by thirty other girls and the Gazelle Track Club was formed. This marked the beginning of Mike Strong’s coaching career in track & field.
In the beginning, Mike started a grade school track meet for all the grade school teams on Mercer Island and today that meet still runs. While attending Bellevue Community College at this time, track and field became a strong interest. He began researching track and field information and, as he explains, “what happened from that point was some very good kids began to show up at his practices which motivated me to have more understanding to help them develop.” He attended Seattle University and changed his major to physical education.
After graduating from Seattle University, Mike got a job at Bellevue Christian where he coached cross country, basketball, and track where the girls won a state track title in 1975 and placed 2nd in 1976. After three years at Bellevue Christian, Coach Strong began working at remodeling homes in Seattle but he took a coaching job at Sammamish High School where he worked with Hall of Fame coach Roger Hansen. Coach Strong was a key figure in the development of women’s track and field. Two years after he began coaching at Sammamish, Mike began to think about coaching at Seattle University where he started the program there for women. He points out that, at the time, there were no quality programs in any sport for girls and he shared the belief with his coaching colleagues that it was imperative that girls have the same opportunities as boys. Knowing that the WIAA had not sanctioned the girls state championship meet held in Goldendale, he supported participation in that meet. After guiding one of his female athletes to a spot on the U.S. Juniors team in 1979, Mike was presented an opportunity to coach in college at New Mexico and he spent the next thirteen years as a college coach at several universities, including a three year period at Cal Berkeley.
Upon returning to Seattle with his wife, Mike was given an opportunity to be the coach at Yelm High School, a position he held for twenty-five years. In his time at Yelm, he guided teams to a state title and three 2nd place finishes. He coached numerous individual state champions and individual medal placers. He has mentored three athletes who went on to compete at the Olympic Trials.
His contributions to the sport extend beyond the high school season. He worked with Roger Hansen as the co-director of the State Decathlon and Heptathlon meet from 1993 to 2003, taking over as the director for seven years at Yelm before it moved to Lake Stevens. He has coached many kids in the summer, guiding several to the Junior Olympic Nationals. He started the Mountain Invitational in 2003 and guided that meet until 2014 which was also the year he retired from teaching at Yelm. He continued to coach at Yelm after his retirement. Today, he continues coaching at Capital.
The greatest impact one could argue Mike has had on the sport of track and field is found in the number of current high school and college coaches who he mentored and thus followed him into the coaching profession. There is no greater compliment than to have a person pursue coaching because of the coach they had serving as their inspiration! If you ask him, Coach Strong will point to his experience being mentored by Frank Ahern as an important experience. Coach Strong has paid it forward by becoming that mentor to so many himself. At the center of this great journey in a hall of fame career has been his marriage to his loving wife for more than forty years. It is a partnership that has brought him great joy and served as a strong foundation for him to be able to pursue his coaching passion. His tireless commitment to the sport, his important mentorship of his athletes, his mentorship of the many coaches he inspired who chose to follow in his footsteps, his important contributions to advocating for the sport, especially for young women, provide us with the opportunity to welcome him into the Washington State Track & Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame.