An Interview With Retiring Squalicum Boys Coach Dave Dickson

For a coach who has had tremendous success at three different schools and been inducted into the state’s basketball coaching Hall of Fame, perhaps it’s surprising that Dave Dickson doesn’t want his legacy to be about victories on the court or state trophies.

After stepping down earlier this month after 14 years as the Squalicum boys coach, Dickson pointed to other things he was proud to be a part of:

  • The Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association board for the past 15 years.
  • The four teams that Squalicum fields — varsity, junior varsity, freshman and the “Silver” team — something no other school in the Northwest Conference has.
  • The Coaches vs. Cancer games he helped start in the NWC.
“I hope I was able to influence a lot of young people in a positive way,” said Dickson. “(Now) I can begin the transition to see what’s out there and how I can serve the community and my family in ways I haven’t been able to because of the time and energy I’ve put into coaching.”

And make no mistake. The time and energy he put into coaching resulted in lots of victories on the court and lots of state trophies.

State trophies, state titles on resume

After graduating from Whitman College in 1980 and spending two years at a junior high in Puyallup and four years as an assistant at Ferndale, Dickson took over the boys program at Oak Harbor from 1986 to ’89, his last team also being the last time the Wildcats have been to the state tournament.

Then it was off to Bellingham High in the 1990s, when he took the Red Raiders to state three times, finishing fourth in 1997 to tie for the second-best finish in school history.

And in 1998, he joined the staff at brand-new Squalicum High School. He was head coach for a year, stepped away for a couple of years, and assisted good friend Mike McKee before returning as head coach in 2006. That’s when the Storm had its unprecedented string of state success.

In 2007, Squalicum placed eighth and in 2008 took third, both in the Class 3A state tournament. Then came 2009 and 2010, when the Storm went 52-2 and won back-to-back Class 2A state titles, and 2011, when Squalicum placed second.

In his 14 years at Squalicum, Dickson’s teams went to state nine years, earned five trophies and won the two state titles. The glory years of 2008 to 2011 produced a record of 14-2 at state and a winning streak of 12 state games.

His combined record at Oak Harbor, Bellingham and Squalicum is 399-223 (.641). And in 2016, he was inducted into the state basketball coaches Hall of Fame.

Hard work, hard lessons equal success

“The teams that really stand out to me are the teams that collectively worked to become excellent,” said Dickson when asked about some of his career highlights. “The state championship teams fall into that category, but there were other teams that weren’t as talented but worked as hard.”

Reflecting on his impact in the lives of hundreds of young men, Dickson gratefully — and humbly — pointed to their willingness to be coached by him.

“I was often times demanding and often times abrasive, although it was never personal,” he said. “And there were a lot of young men that looked past that and understood that I wanted excellence from them, and they did their best to achieve that.”

Like the teacher he has been for the past 39 years, Dickson said coaching provided a way to teach important lessons to teenagers — commitment, preparation, dealing with adversity, that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that they are part of a team.

“I’m not certain that there’s another laboratory that gives young people a chance to learn how to compete and learn how to strive for excellence as athletics does,” said Dickson.

“That is what makes it so enjoyable … is being a part of something bigger than yourself. As a coach and as players, you’re part of something bigger than yourself whether it’s your family, your community. We’re all wired to be that kind of person.”

(Photo courtesy of Will Rice)

Understanding what is truly important

Dickson has shown himself to be that kind of person. As proud as he is of his teams’ accomplishments, he didn’t bother mentioning coach of the year awards or Hall of Fame inductions.

Instead, he shared how important it was to serve on the state coaches association board and as its Hall of Fame chair. He mentioned how meaningful it was to him to honor colleagues who had passed away from cancer by starting the Coaches vs. Cancer games among Northwest Conference schools.

And he was perhaps most excited about Squalicum’s Silver team, which is made up of students who rarely have the talent to reach the varsity level.

“But that’s not the point,” he said. “They get to put on the uniform, and be coached and be loved … which is maybe the same thing.”

Which is the kind of talk that makes one think Dickson wants to still coach. But the history teacher said it was a good time to step away from the basketball court and spend time with wife Jamie; daughter Allison and sons Aaron and Adam; and Dickson’s 13 grandchildren.

And, of course, to continue looking at ways to serve others.

“I know myself well enough … I’m very passionate with what I choose to set my mind to do, and it’s been basketball for a long time,” said Dickson.

“As a Christian you want your identity to be in Christ. Our identity is what we do to minister to people, to use the gifts that God has given us. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I’m anxious to see where I end up and how I’m able to serve in other ways.”

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