Editor’s note: Idaho’s premier footracer, Monte Brothwell of Bellevue, wrote this remembrance about Wood River High School coach Bob Shay shortly after Shay retired in 1988. Brothwell was a Wood River student in the early 1970s who developed into a state champion cross country runner. This article was published in the June 8, 1988 edition of the Idaho Mountain Express) and republished March 29, 2000 after Shay’s death.
I was signing up for my freshman classes and was down to P.E. (Physical Education). I saw who was left in my time slot—Shay’s P.E. After filling in the blank spot, I asked a friend, who asked an older friend of his, who is Shay and how’s his P.E.?
The older friend just turned and smiled, “He’s a good P.E. teacher.” Little did I know the smile was because Shay’s P.E. was the hardest P.E. around.
On the first day of school, I had a morning P.E. and the class went like the others. He introduced himself as Bob Shay; told us what we expected to do; all about his grading; what equipment we were to have, etc.
The next day we got ready for P.E., joking about how easy all of the classes were. I noticed the seniors weren’t joking at all. We walked into the gym and there Shay was in sweats and whistle.
That first day was 10 sprints across the gym (about 15-20 yards), get down one set of 10 pushups, one set of 10 sit-ups, one set of 10 pushups, and one set of 10 leg lifts in different holding elevations from the floor.
After this you would start over, and just when you thought it couldn’t get harder he would throw in another holding position (like one-half way down on a pushup).
I still wonder how I made it along with thousands of Shay’s other P.E. graduates.
Shay was the sly old fox in his P.E. classes, keeping an eye open for potential athletes. I was confronted by Shay to try out for wrestling (being a puny 98-pound freshman, and he needed someone in the lower weights).
Besides P.E., this was the first of a long line of experiences I would have with this regimented but gentle coach.
My first year as an athlete gave me two varsity letters and a lot of experience. I don’t think I won but one or two wrestling matches. In track I was mediocre. But in both sports Shay was always there, saying, :”Do the best you can.” I also had Shay for biology and found him as thorough and helpful there as in athletics.
The second year I added cross country to my athletic curriculum. I wanted to do my best and that year we had a mediocre cross country team (but most of us were sophomores and juniors). In wrestling I moved up to just saying—I’m not going to get pinned all year! I got beat bad sometimes. I didn’t get pinned.
In track I improved a little, but I was still growing. That year I suffered severe shin splints, and Shay just tried to help and get me through them. Injuries and leg problems are sure to happen in high school because of the growing that tendons and bones go through.
I learned a lot about the way Shay coached in the second year. He felt, especially in wrestling, if you didn’t know it by the time you went to the mat, it was your problem. He was never on the side yelling at you to do some move like many other coaches.
This is one area that one of his best wrestlers, Carson Duffy, used against opponent. He listened to the other coach and set up the counter before the opponent could move.
My junior year we pulled some benched football players and put together a good cross country team, a good wrestling team and a good track squad. And I saw something about Shay that I hadn’t noticed before.
Shay differentiated between athletes who were good and didn’t need a lot of pushing, from the athletes who needed more encouragement and involvement.
He would devote more time to new kids or to kids who had no self-confidence to get them more self-confident. Especially in cross country, there would be outings to the Shay house for watermelon and punch with his wife, JoAnn. They would greet all of us and welcome us into their home.
Now, for my senior year, I saw many successes in my career and many other people’s careers. In cross country our team won state.
One item that I think women’s athletics in Idaho should be eternally grateful for to coach Shay is what he did for girls’ cross country.
He actually started girls’ cross country in the state of Idaho. Shay took four girls at Wood River—one being someone I happen to know (my wife)—and put together the first girls’ team in the state. He almost had to sneak the team into most races the first and second years.
Jerome followed suit with a team and, although I had graduated, the next year Wood River’s and Jerome’s girls ran a state race of their own with no medals. The next year finally the idea made the Idaho High School Athletic Association’s agenda and there was girls’ cross country.
Since graduating I’ve seen many an athlete Shay has helped and his same idea comes across: “Do the best you can.” If you were last place and you knew you’d done your best, he’d be happy.
So after all the pain through P.E., I now see he has really helped me develop the physical and mental toughness you need not just in athletics, but in everyday life.
You think of Shay and you have to think of the hours he has dedicated year-round to youth athletics.
Also, that never-ending “Shay Smile.”