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SMH Sports Boss Leaves; He's Done It All

June 25, 1987|ADAM MARTIN | Times staff writer

In the not distant future, Don Steere, athletic director at Santa Monica High since 1966, might be running a sport fishing resort in Baja with son Doug.

An avid golfer, Steere may also involve himself in a desert golf resort. Either way, he'll continue to work. But from now until 1993, Steere will spend only 25 days a year at the school he has worked at for 27 years.

Steere, 58, retired this week after accomplishing "about everything I can do. Things are coming around for the third and fourth time, so I figure it's time for me to do something different."

As part of the school's early retirement plan, Steere will be under independent contract until 1993 and plans to assist vice principal Dick Turner in developing a new procedure for determining student-athlete eligibility.

He also will assist wrestling and assistant football coach Norm Lacy, who succeeds Steere as athletic director.

Steere says he isn't really retiring. "I'm leaving," he said with a laugh, "but I'm not going anywhere."

Steere will most likely spend much of his time gripping an iron and wearing spikes.

"Don will be happy most anywhere," said wife, Patty, "as long as he can play golf."

Steere considers himself an "enthusiastic golfer."

"Physically I don't feel any different now than I did years ago," he said. "I don't consider myself an elderly gentleman.

"I run and play two-on-two basketball, so physically I'm not ready for the wheelchair. This kind of job makes it so that you can stay in shape, and I'm athletic-minded."

In 27 years at Santa Monica High, Steere cared as much about athletics as about students who participated. By most accounts, he provided students with just enough room to make their own choices and just enough direction to make those choices productive.

Dennis Smith, a seven-year strong safety with the Denver Broncos, made many of the right decisions courtesy of Steere. Smith graduated from Santa Monica in 1977 and attributes much of his success to Steere's encouraging attitude.

"He saw something in me that I never saw in myself," Smith said. "He saw my long-range goals as unlimited. I was so quiet and hard to communicate with in school, but I always seemed to be able to communicate with him, even without saying a lot."

Smith, whom Steere called "the best physical athlete I've ever seen (at Santa Monica High)," faced many of the dilemmas teen-agers encounter and chose the right path. He is not one to forget the people who helped him make the choice.

"At that age," he said, "kids have so much time to do the wrong thing, like stealing or drinking and drugs. (Steere) helped me understand about not taking the wrong road."

Rick Monday, who played with the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs after graduating from Santa Monica in 1963, feels Steere's dedication was critical.

"I was just so damn lucky because I had people like Don Steere who cared about people and not just about their jobs," said Monday, a sports announcer at Fox Channel 11. "It wasn't just a job, it was a life experience with him. He knew how to affect a kid, and he sure touched me."

Steere hopes he touched every student, particularly the athletes. The school district sends a diverse group of students to the high school, many of whom see their future in sports. Steere realizes only a few will make the cut, but says the overall experience is most important.

"We've had some tremendous kids who graduated from here who were athletes and never did another athletic thing," he said, "and they still profited tremendously from their experiences here.

"A kid can get a lot from a team, especially kids who need something in their life."

Students who lack direction combine with those from more structured backgrounds at Santa Monica High to produce what Steere believes is a microcosm of the real world. And, he says, the mix of students contributes to the success of the athletic program.

"When you get (a diverse student-body) together," he said, "you have everything that's required from a psychological point of view to have a winning combination."

Tradition at Santa Monica also plays a role in the school's success.

When Steere arrived in 1960 to teach physical education and help coach football, he encountered the legacy of Jim Sutherland, Santa Monica's most decorated football coach. From 1941 to 1952 Sutherland compiled a 79-13-3 record, winning eight Bay League titles and three CIF championships. He was known for his pass-oriented offense that at the time made waves in prep football.

Steere hopes he kept Sutherland's winning tradition alive and feels the school's century-old tradition greatly influences today's students.

"There's a kind of heritage that goes with certain places," he said, "and I think this school has an athletic heritage that means a lot."

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