For nearly 60 years Howard Dolphin loomed large over Spokane Valley’s track and field landscape. So much so his son-in-law Jim McLachlan pointed out yesterday that his passing fittingly coincided with the first practice of a new season.
The Hall-of-Fame coach, teacher and entrepreneur died at age 86 Monday at his and wife Mary Floy’s Waikiki, Hawaii condominium from apparent complications due to a kidney stone.
Dolphin began coaching at Otis Orchards High and continued, after it consolidated as East Valley, through 1984. He then spent another quarter century primarily helping McLachlan at West Valley, retiring for good after the 2011 season.
Nineteen years ago he was inducted as a charter member into the Washington Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame.
Dolphin coached 19 state champions, some of them multiple winners, from hurdlers and distance runners to implement throwers. Many set state records in the shot put, javelin and discus, both boys and girls at both EV and WV.
The list of those who later competed in college runs long.
One, state mile champ Dave McCarty, succeeded Dolphin as East Valley track and cross country coach. They were the only two in school history to have led the Knights programs before McCarty retired last spring.
“I don’t know how to put into words what he did for me and what he meant to me,” McCarty said of the man who hired the novice coach, “but I would not be here without him.”
Cora Aguilar Langford was his first girls state title winner, setting a state record in the discus and parlaying it into a career at Oregon where her 174-foot, 7-inch discus and 51-1 shot put throws still rank among the top three in school history 30 years later.
“I can tell you this,” she said, “He was a mentor to me and my family – almost a second father to me.”
In addition to coaching and teaching, Dolphin and his wife, Mary Floy, along with her sister and brother-in-law, Joe and Betty Trembly, have owned the landmark Sandy Beach Resort at Liberty Lake since 1961. Former athletes said it provided them summer jobs.
McLachlan, who competed for Dolphin at EV and fashioned a successful coaching career of his own, said “Howard was an influence on me in high school both as a teacher and coach.”
Former Spokesman-Review sports editor and EV grad Jeff Jordan summed up what others eulogized.
“One of Howard’s many strengths as a coach and educator was his ability to make everyone feel special,” he wrote in an email. “He gave me – a back of the pack varsity cross country runner – the same amount of encouragement as (a) state champion. He was a wise, wonderful man.”
Dolphin and his wife enjoyed spending three months a year in Hawaii and for years traveled to track meets across the country, including nationals and the Olympics.
He is survived by his widow, daughters Leslee McLachlan and Denise Coyle, six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is pending.