Sports

Leader of the Wolfpack

Erik Wiker made history and didn’t even know it.

The evening was a cold and wet one and it seemed that by the fourth quarter few of the people at the game — fans, referees, coaches or players on either side, save a third-stringer or two — were interested in continuing the game.

On one side, the Sequim Wolves were getting ready for a playoff run, hoping to break their streak of bad luck and finally get a win in the state playoffs for the first time. On the other side, Port Townsend’s slumping Redskins were looking forward to basketball season.

When the final whistle blew and the scoreboard indicated a Sequim 49-14 win, Wiker and the Wolves shook hands with their Nisqually League foes, huddled for their routine post-game chat and loaded the bus to get home.

Perhaps if they’d known that their coach had just become the winningest coach in the program’s history, they’d have given an impromptu cheer or an extra pat on the back.

As it was — and how apropos, for a man who seems all business until a season is over and finished — the Wolves took no notice and focused on the next week’s playoff game.

That game was Oct. 26, 2007. A week later, the Wolves beat Washington in a state-play-in game and earned their second consecutive berth in the state tourney.

Wiker’s feat? Even more impressive. The fourth-year coach (at the time) had just recorded his 34th career win to pass Bill Schade, the Wolves’ leader from 1947-1956.

Schade needed 10 years to accumulate his 33 victories.

Since that bitter-cold night in Port Townsend, Sequim’s football squad has racked up two more state tourney appearances, to run that string to four overall, and tallied 19 more wins.


Serious as a heart attack on the field, Sequim coach Erik Wiker eyes his Wolves as they clobber Eatonville 41-6 on Oct. 23 en route to a fifth league championship in six years.    Photo by Jim Heintz

“I really didn’t know,” Wiker says. “The only person I knew had a decent amount of success was (Bill) Anderson. I didn’t know how long coaches stayed (here).”

When Wiker joined the program as an assistant in 2000, no Sequim High School football coach in the previous three decades had stayed in the position for more than five years. Some moved on to coach at other schools; some stayed in the district to coach other sports or at the middle school; still others were contemplating retirement by the end of their tenure.

Wiker and then coach Bill Anderson worked to improve turnout, boosting the roster from 38 players in 2000 to more than 70 players just four years later.

When Wiker took the reins as head coach in 2004, he said, “I plan to be here the rest of my career — not (just) four years then move up, down or sideways.”

Six years later, he says that sentiment still holds true.

“A lot of people ask me (if I’ll leave),” says Wiker, who turned 40 years young during the 2009 season. “It’d have to be U.W. or the Seahawks. I really like it here. I like having my kids growing up here. That’s why I didn’t want to coach in college. A coach’s life in college is two or three years and gone. I didn’t want that. Plus the challenge of being at the same school is, you get what (athletes) you get and make it work.”

‘Winning breeds winning’
Wiker was a lineman in high school, paying his dues on offensive and defensive lines. He moved on to a junior college for two years, then played on University of Idaho’s offensive line. After his playing days were done, he did some offensive line scouting for the Vandals, then took a job in Post Falls, Idaho, working with linemen.

He took a job as an offensive line, special teams and strength coach in Nevada before moving to Sequim with family in tow in 2000.

That year, the Wolves went 0-9. In Anderson’s final season in 2003, the Wolves went 7-3.

“Winning breeds winning,” Wiker said shortly after his promotion. “Anderson did a great job here. Kids have short memories; that 0-9 season is a thing of the past.”

Wiker’s Wolves saw success immediately, no doubt helped by the team’s shift from the Pierce County League to smaller, 2A Nisqually League in 2001.

But Wiker says the wins have come in a sort of convergence of things: the bump in turnout, the move in leagues, the emphasis on spring practices and summer camps, and in part because those who played for Anderson knew their new coach well.

“I knew the kids and everything; the transition really wasn’t there,” Wiker says. “We’re running same defense (now) as when I came on and … the same special teams.”

While Wiker’s career numbers look considerably better than winning percentages of coaches who led the Wolves into gridiron battles in the “old’ Olympic League — battling the likes of North Kitsap, Central Kitsap and Bainbridge each year — Sequim has posted strong numbers against bigger schools in his six years here, plus posted five league titles against some strong competition in the “new” Olympic League.

Perhaps more importantly for Sequim High fans, the Wolves are 4-2 against Port Angeles. Only Schade has more wins (five) against the Roughriders, and it took him nearly twice as long to do so with a worse overall record (5-10-1).

“I think they are fun. It’s definitely grown on me,” Wiker says. “The first few years, we didn’t play them. When we won (in 2004, a 37-6 Sequim victory), it was huge in the community. I knew it was big but it was so lopsided that it meant a big deal.”

In the backfield for that game was Brian Savage. Now an assistant coach for the Wolves, Savage was a force that night (230 yards, two scores) and several nights thereafter, earning all-state status at the end of that season.

“We kind of knew he was good at the time, but he made it look easy,” Wiker says.

The Sequim coach notes that he’s seen a few Wolves players with a certain “wow” factor — Savage, plus receiver/kick returners Ryan Rutherford and Kincaid Nichols — but most solid players from Sequim earn football success because of good work ethics, who relay more on heart than on talent.

Those include lineman Joe Shaw (“big body but maximum potential and a great leader,” Wiker says), running back/linebacker Chris Riggs (“awesome energy guy”), tailback Travis Decker (“played up to the top of his potential”), Clancy Catelli (“made lots of plays, very athletic”), plus linemen Thomas Gallagher, Wes Maguire and Roman Turner.

“We have a lot of self-made guys,” Wiker says.

Example: Sept. 21, 2007, in a nonleague contest against Klahowya, the host Eagles are up 17-14 and looking for the game-clinching score. On fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard-line Klahowya quarterback Dan Zimny flipped the short toss toward the super-speedy Andre Moore, but Riggs, the Wolves’ all-league linebacker, stepped in front of the pass and went 99 yards for a touchdown.

The run was made all the more impressive when Moore pulled up more than 20 yards short, conceding the score.

“That,” Wiker says, “is where that heart thing is.”

Dusty pages of history
I started out trying to answer one simple question: Who is the winningest coach in Sequim High School’s football program?

I have to admit, researching Sequim High School’s football history proved to be a tricky matter. For one, our newspaper archives here at the Sequim Gazette date back to 1974. Since I came here in 2001, I’d kept pretty substantial records regarding each football game but apparently that wasn’t always the case with our other football reporters.

At times it took me until the 20th paragraph to find the game’s final score or whom they were playing.

Armed with a list of coaches provided by Doug McInnes and the Sequim Alumni Association, I went to Sequim High School, hoping their archives would detail game scores and coaches and perhaps a bit of anecdotal information.

The SHS library had nearly every yearbook from the season I needed (1973) back to the early 1940s. Despite some worn and tattered covers, I found yellowing page after page of game scores, portraits of ruddy-faced players in those great “throwback” poses, photos of coaches with clipboards in hand and whistles at the ready. Good stuff.

I found that my hopes to have a complete history of the program were far from achievable, at least here. For one, according to our alumni group and documents I found at the Sequim Museum and Arts Center, Sequim High played its first games — three in all — in the 1914 season.

But the high school’s yearbook archives only went back to 1929. By the looks of things, folks might not have produced yearbooks before then. The early 1930s yearbooks weren’t exactly the Encyclopedia Britannica, if you catch my meaning.

Furthermore, several years were missing from the school’s collection.

Some people haven’t returned them, librarian Nancy Woolley told me. Others were more easily explained: several editions in the 1930s weren’t printed because of the Depression, and the 1941 and 1942 yearbooks might not have been printed thanks to that World War II thing.

I went to the Clallam County Historical Society, where more information turned up. I was able to fill in some of the blanks from seasons in the 1950s and 1960s; fortunately, a certain newspaper that printed evening editions in the greater Port Angeles area included some bits of Sequim games from time to time, and I was able to get a better picture of the SHS football program, its on-the-field successes and (frankly) its more abundant on-the-field failures.

Top Wolf on the pile
In the end, it turns out Wiker already was the winningest coach in the program’s history — by a long shot — by the time he tallied his 50th win earlier this year, a 41-6 decision at home against Eatonville.

But I’m glad I did the research. I found enough tidbits of interesting factoids about the Wolves to fill a trivia book. For example:

■ Despite being closer to Port Angeles, the Wolves have played Port Townsend more than 80 times since the late 1920s. Though I’m missing results from a few of those seasons, it’s clear the Sequim-P.T. rivalry is much more competitive (44 Redskin wins, 36 Wolves wins and two ties) than the Sequim-Port Angeles rivalry (Roughriders 47 wins, Sequim 18 wins and five ties since 1928, minus results from four seasons).

■ Sequim has had seven winless seasons since 1961.

■ The Wolves played in daylight for their first 45 seasons until 1959 when the school put lights on the field. Five years later, a lit scoreboard was installed.

■ In a 1999 game against White River (a 30-8 loss), Sequim fumbled 12 times.

■ Sequim has played at least 75 different schools in its history.

■ The Wolves have played Notre Dame twice. No, not the storied school in South Bend, Ind. It’s a school in British Columbia. Sequim also played Vancouver College once in 1978. Sequim won 29-14 en route to its first state playoff berth.

■ That same year (1978), Sequim played at Port Angeles as the Roughriders played on their brand new home turf at Civic Field. After the Wolves won 23-8, Sequim carried coach Barry Wheeler off the field on their shoulders.

■ For a while in the 1960s, Sequim was so outmatched by the Roughriders, they played (and beat) Port Angeles’ junior varsity squad instead.

■ Sequim’s longest winning streak is 16 games, from the 2003-2004 season. Coach Anderson saw his team win six in a row, followed by Wiker’s 10-game undefeated streak that ended in a playoff loss to Franklin Pierce.

■ Sequim’s longest losing streak is 23 games, including parts of the 1960 and 1963 seasons and all of 1961 and 1962.

Editor’s note:
I’ve put a few things online about the program, such as a year-by-year, game-by-game score recap and all-time records versus individual schools. Check it out at www.sequimgazette.com/sportsblog.
I’m hoping to get some help filling in the blanks, so if you have any archive information that can help, send me an e-mail (see below) or drop it by the Gazette office (147 W. Washington St.).

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.

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