Before Steve Davis was hired last spring as Olympia High School’s head football coach he placed a call to fellow longtime assistant Denis Shea. The conversation was to discuss the vacant wide receiver coaching position the Bears would need to fill.
Davis suggested Rick Chase.
And, according to Davis, Shea and Chase – it has.
It’s been 35 years since the trio has been together as part of the Bears football program. Back in 1982, during their senior season, they were all players, leading Olympia to a Black Hills League championship and the state playoffs during the final season of the program’s best three-year window in school history.
Now, a little older, but just as enthusiastic about Bears football, they are together serving on the same coaching staff.
“It’s fun to be in the middle of practice and I can walk by either of these two and say two words about something from the fifth grade we found funny,” said Davis, who is in his 25th season coaching for OHS with the previous 24 as the offensive line coach. “We’ll start laughing, even though we’re in the middle of a serious practice.”
Davis and Shea, who by mere coincidence live a quarter-mile away from each other currently, were the first of the group to become friends.
“We went to first grade together and have been pretty much joined at the hip ever since,” said Shea, who is in his 12th season as an assistant coach. “We’re pretty fortunate to have a friendship last that long.
Chase, who was a wide receiver at Washington State University and a 2015 inductee into the Olympia High School athletic hall of fame, joined them the next year.
“While playing soccer of all things,” Chase added with a laugh.
It was on the football field, however, they would find their biggest success.
“Even as kids, we kind of had a dynasty. We never lost a game in youth football,” said Davis who, along with Shea and Chase, started playing the sport in fourth grade during the Thurston County Youth Football League’s inaugural season. “It just kind of kept going. When we got here (to Olympia High School as freshmen) it escalated.”
The three went a combined 39-3 over their four years as Bears – beginning with an undefeated campaign as freshmen before registering a 33-3 mark, including an unblemished record in league play, in the varsity ranks.
As sophomores in 1980, they were part of a Bears team that won its first BHL championship and advanced to the Class 3A state quarterfinals before losing to Mark Morris, 40-29.
Next season, the squad once again rolled through the BHL, going undefeated in the regular season for a second consecutive year before facing top-ranked Centralia, the defending state champion, in the first round of the playoffs.
“Centralia had won 20-something games in a row,” Davis said. “They were ranked No. 1, we were No. 2. Everybody thought that was the state championship game even though it was the first round.”
The Bears prevailed, winning 7-6 behind a strong defensive performance. They would shutout Liberty of Issaquah, 28-0, in the quarterfinals to secure the program’s first trip to the state semifinals where they would eventually see their season end with a 6-0 loss to Arlington.
“That one sticks out the worst for me,” stated Chase, who started at both running back and linebacker and was the only player to go both ways on the 1981 Olympia team. “All I remember is back-to-back double reverse passes. We were trailing late in the game and just scrambling to make something happened.”
With the loss came the thinking that the Bears’ run would slow down the following season as the majority of the team graduated.
“People thought we were just decimated,” Davis said. “We only had four or five starters back.”
Three of those starters, however, were Davis, a first-team all-BHL center, Chase, who would go on to earn co-BHL Offensive MVP honors in 1982 and Shea, a first-team selection as both a defensive back and punter.
“I thought we dominated the league our junior year,” Shea said. “That year we killed everybody. That didn’t happen our senior year. We didn’t have the big blowout wins. The game at Elma it came down to the last play. Tumwater had us on the ropes and we got a pick 6 late to win. We were down against Aberdeen at the half and came back and won.”
Despite all the obstacles, the Bears still managed a third straight undefeated regular season and knocked off W.F. West, 35-8, in the first round of the state playoffs to set up a rematch with Centralia in the quarterfinals.
Extra stands were brought in to accommodate the overflow of fans that spilled onto the track at Ingersoll Stadium. Many would leave disappointed as the Tigers got their revenge a year later, defeating the Bears, 14-7, ending an incredible three-year run by Olympia’s senior class.
“I think I remember that loss the most,” Shea said. “It’s horrible, having that feeling you get that it’s all over.”
While it ended for them on the field in 1982, 35 year later, the reunion has occurred on the sidelines. When Davis took over as head coach, he already had Shea aboard as an assistant. All that was missing was Chase, who had coached for Olympia in 1990-91 before returning to the staff this year.
“When you’re spending that much time together, you have to get along,” Davis said about coaching. “It’s a 12-month deal. You have to be friends first.”
Which is something the three have been for four decades now.