Rick Mergenthaler knows a thing or two about challenges. The retired high school basketball coach learned to ignore naysayers and face obstacles head on. He contracted polio as a child and overcame it without his young doctors ever correctly diagnosing the illness. It wasn’t until he was a high school sophomore complaining of back pain that his more experienced pediatrician recognized the cause for his back troubles and significantly smaller leg. Without knowing he had had polio as a child, Mergenthaler never played the victim — not that he would have. He just thought himself different from the other able-bodied kids. He had to practice more, try just a little bit harder. As a result, he said he has always been “inspired by odds to overcome obstacles.” That’s the kind of person that makes a great coach.
Mergenthaler’s career spans 43 years in education, 13 of those years in Anacortes, and he has coached high school basketball for 28 years. Think of all the lives — and generations — he helped shape.
Starting his career as a basketball coach wasn’t easy. Most interviewers asked if he played college basketball or was a good player, to which Mergenthaler honestly answered no, which deterred his hiring. He finally received a job offer from Idaho’s Dietrich School District. The high school had 32 students. He coached football, basketball, girls volleyball, track, taught six subjects, and drove the bus to basketball games.
Mergenthaler had earned his master’s degree in physical education, but felt there was more he needed to learn. So he took it upon himself to learn everything he could about coaching and took notes while watching basketball games. Mergenthaler admits in his memoir, “Living Impossible Dreams: The Life of a High School Basketball Coach,” that in his early years of coaching he sometimes tried to establish multiple coaching techniques at once, which only caused confusion among the players. He has since learned his lesson and many others — the biggest being to figure out your dreams and do what it takes to attain them. He credits his wife and kids with helping him achieve his. “It was hard on them, much harder on them than it was on me. I’m thankful for their support so I could achieve my dreams.”
The former coach worries that young people today tend to give up on something if they don’t immediately have success. They need to realize success takes unbelievably hard work. On the same note, parents need to “support and encourage your kids, but know when to let go.” Being involved is great, but letting children fend for themselves and even fail is part of life.
When asked about the message of his memoir he said, “Never give up and anything is possible.” It’s important to be reminded from time to time that things worth working towards, especially one’s dreams, aren’t easy to come by. If they were, they wouldn’t be dreams.