With tears running down his eyes, an emotional Don Strametz tried to regain his composure to speak to his team after the Big West Track and Field Championships Saturday in Irvine, California.
“I’m extremely excited, especially to go out this way,” said Strametz after the Matador women picked up a sixth straight conference title. “Pretty emotional day for me, it’s hard to say goodbye.”
It was a perfect way to end Strametz’s final Big West championship meet, culminating an illustrious 31-year coaching career at CSUN.
With only a few weeks left on the season, it finally dawned on Strametz during his post-meet speech that his coaching days are coming to an end. However, that wasn’t the case a week ago.
“I haven’t really had time to reflect with the season being so hectic right now,” said Strametz, who has racked up 21 conference titles combined for both the men and women’s programs.
The 65-year-old coach realized how long he has been coaching when a few of his former athletes paid him a visit.
“A couple of guys came by last week, I called them my kids, and one kid was already 52 and it blew me away,” said Strametz, who started coaching at CSUN in 1979. “It put a big smile on my face but made me go ‘wow he’s 52’. Some of the kids I coached now have grandkids. Grandkids!”
Strametz, who also coaches the men and women’s cross-country team at Northridge, said health is the reason why he decided to retire.
“I did not recover last summer, the long 80-90 hours a week finally caught up to me after 42 years (of coaching) and 31 years here (CSUN),” said Strametz, who began his coaching career at Locke High School in Los Angeles. “Every single Saturday from Jan. 1st to June 30 and recruiting and some Sunday meets, it finally caught up to me.”
It will be tough replacing Strametz, who has recorded 29 Coach of the Year honors.
“The history he brings to the program is tremendous, but more importantly, he shares that with his athletes and assistant coaches,” assistant coach Bridget Anderson said. “Everything he has learned over the years he passes on to us. We are going to miss him.”
Avery Anderson, who has been an assistant coach at CSUN for six seasons, said it’s an uncommon opportunity to learn from a coach with many accolades like Strametz.
“I am extremely proud of Strametz with what he has done and accomplished,” said Anderson before showering Strametz with water to celebrate his final Big West meet. “I think it’s very rare to be in the mix with a legend.”
In April, Strametz was inducted into the Mt. Sac Relays Hall of Fame, which he called one of the high points of his career. He was enshrined with fellow friends Ernest Gregoire and Art Venegas.
“I went with a group of guys I already knew and that made that event more special,” he said.
Strametz has come a long way since being hired at CSUN in the summer of 1979.
“I saw an ad in the Los Angeles Times that Northridge was looking for a cross-country coach and I got the job, but I was still working full-time for Los Angeles Unified School District because I was only making $100 a month,” Strametz recalls. “That’s how I started here.”
In the spring of 1980, Strametz began working with the women’s track and field team and was named the head coach shortly after. He still continued to teach at Locke High School until 1985 when he became the head coach for both the men and women’s track teams at Northridge.
Lilyana Morejon, who finished second in the 10,000 meters and fifth in the 5,000 meters at the Big West championship meet, has improved drastically as a runner and as person under Strametz guidance.
“I thank Strametz for being here and I have grown into one of the best runners in the league because of him,” Morejon said. “We are going to miss him and it’s not only the coaching but the friendship too.”
Distance runner Juan Olea said Strametz is a lot more than a running coach.
“Strametz is a person you can go up to and ask him about anything in life,” Olea said. “Anything you need to know about life in general he will help you out. How he coaches in running he will coach you in life. He will tell you what’s good and what’s bad.”
Strametz, a native of Pasadena, California, played football at John Muir High School before getting injured during his sophomore year and was never able to participate in track during his high school days.
California State University, Los Angeles was where Strametz learned a lot about track, but it wasn’t during college where he knew he wanted to be a coach.
At the age of 15, Strametz coached a baseball team of 16 to 18-year-olds.
“I really enjoyed playing baseball, but I threw my arm out pitching. I threw too many curveballs,” he said. “I still wanted to keep playing and the only way I could be involved was by coaching,” he said.
Injuries are never a good thing, but for Strametz it turned out to be a positive.
“I guess I wasn’t meant to be an athlete, but the coaching turned out well for me.”