Heritage High School’s Athletic Director Leta Meyer says goodbye after four decades with Evergreen Public Schools
VANCOUVER — Leta Meyer is not afraid to take a stand.
That fighting spirit has defined not just a career, but her life.
All she wanted to do was compete in athletics, long before girls were supposed to compete.
Then, she wanted to coach, back when there were not a lot of women in the coaching ranks.
Later, she moved into the male-dominated world of sports administration.
So yes, Leta Meyer is tough.
Earlier this week, though, she showed her soft side. Tears filled her eyes. She covered her face with her hands. Through a cracked voice, she tried to put into words what it has meant to spend four decades in Evergreen Public Schools.
A former teacher and coach at Mountain View High School, and then the longtime athletic director for Heritage High School, Meyer is retiring this month.
“I guess I’m blessed. I’ve been able to work for a great district that supports athletics and activities. They understand how important they are to the development of the kids.”
She worked at Mountain View from 1982 until 1999. She then helped open Heritage.
“I had the best of both worlds. I had the best experience as a coach at a school. Then I got to come over here,” Meyer said. “Not too many people get to start a new school. It doesn’t happen much. If you do, you’re blessed.”
There are no favorites as far as Meyer is concerned.
She points to a vein in her right arm: “This one has purple and green,” she said of the Heritage colors in her blood.
Then she points to a vein in her left arm: “This one has blue and green,” the colors of Mountain View.
This century, she has been all about Heritage. Technically, Meyer was not the athletic director at first. Instead, the title was athletic coordinator, and there was an AD. However, it was Meyer who was doing most of the everyday work.
From the very beginning, too.
It was Meyer who ordered the first Heritage gear. It was Meyer who set up the storage facilities, who checked in that original gear. She requested — or demanded — more basketball hoops in the upper and lower gyms.
In 2007, Evergreen schools changed its model, for the most part turning athletic coordinator positions into athletic directors.
“I got lucky. I got to do something I was born to do,” she said of being in athletics.
The journey into sports started as a girl in Kelso. Describing herself as a tomboy, she could jump out of the gym and used her athletic skills in a number of sports. She excelled in summer softball.
“My mom and dad both said, ‘Listen … be who you are and do what you love. Don’t let someone else tell you who you’re going to be.’”
Leta Guglomo, as she was known back then, was an athlete.
In high school, she played tennis at Kelso. She played volleyball and basketball at Kelso as a senior in the 1974-75 school year. She did not play for Kelso before that because Kelso did not have those teams until then.
Title IX, the landmark legislation requiring that public education institutions offer equal access for boys and girls in sports, was passed in 1972. It took a few years for schools to implement it.
That first season, the Kelso girls basketball team did not get its uniforms until the end of the year. Instead, each player had a shirt and they wore their own shorts from home.
“We just wanted to play,” Meyer recalled.
After graduating in 1975, Meyer went to nearby Lower Columbia College and played volleyball and basketball. She was planning to move on to a four-year program but a knee injury in basketball ended her career. An ACL tear back in the 1970s was a lot different than today.
The injury turned into a blessing. She ended up mentoring the new starting point guard, and while she was on the bench, she was learning from Jan Karnoski, the head coach. Karnoski, by the way, is still active in the game. He is the head coach for the R.A. Long girls program.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do, to become a coach,” Meyer said.
She met Dan Meyer, also an athlete, at LCC. Leta would end up moving on to Central Washington University where she earned a degree in 1979. Leta and Dan married soon after graduation. They are set to celebrate their 40th anniversary later this month.
She returned to LCC to coach basketball and volleyball. Teaching was her calling, though, which led her south to Vancouver.
She got a coaching job first at Mountain View and was a substitute teacher for a year. In 1983, she got her first full-time teaching job at the school.
Meyer ended up being the head coach, at various times with the Thunder, in four sports: girls golf, girls basketball, volleyball, and softball.
Organization is key to being in charge of so many things. A colleague took notice and suggested she look into administration.
A career change for Meyer was in the works, but life in sports remained.
Earlier this school year, as Meyer began to reminisce, she tried to figure out just how many sporting events she has scheduled. She figured for regular-season only, more than 10,000. For the home contests, that would also mean coordinating personnel for game-day operations. For road games, she would schedule transportation.
Heritage has hosted district basketball and district wrestling, among other events. And Meyer has been running district golf tournaments since before any of this year’s golfers were born.
“If you’re doing what you love, and you’re competent, and you work extremely hard to get there, you get respect,” she said.
Cale Piland, the athletic director for Evergreen Public Schools, said Meyer has always been the go-to AD.
“There was never a task that Leta wasn’t willing to do,” Piland said.
Many fans might not realize all associated with organizing tournaments or league schedules. Meyer, Piland said, always made it so that everything ran as smoothly as possible for the athletes.
When Meyer was new to the administration side of things, she thrust herself into education, first becoming a registered athletic administrator and then a certified athletic administrator.
“I’ve always had the philosophy in athletics that I’m going to work super hard,” Meyer said. “I’m going to be very diligent and smart about learning as much as I can about whatever I was doing. And I’m also going to be me. … I am a person who cares about people and likes to help people.
“Those have been my guiding principles in my career. Those three things have served me very well.”
Others took notice. Meyer was named an at-large member of the executive board for the WIAA. While running Heritage athletics, she also spent six years with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
“It was an experience to help me understand better how our state works and how decisions are made,” she said. “I really enjoyed my time on the board.”
Back at Heritage, she has a lot of great memories from big victories on the field or on the court. She still has a piece of the net from Heritage boys basketball’s surprising run to a district title in 2009, which was held at Heritage that year.
It is the victories outside of competition that really matter to her, though.
If an athlete wanted to quit, perhaps from a conflict with a coach or playing time or for whatever reason, Meyer often found success in turning around that feeling.
“Your time in high school is very short,” she would say. “My time in high school was very short. Your opportunities that you have to participate in all of these different activities and athletics, I never had. Don’t let someone or something ever stop you from ever doing something that you love.”
She would note that we are always going to have to deal with people we don’t always get along with in life. The lesson is to adapt and find a way to peace and happiness.
“How can you make it work better for you to have a better experience?” she would ask, and then she would offer advice to the student.
If a student was not getting it done in the classroom, Meyer would meet with the student and come up with a path to remain or regain eligibility.
At the age of 62, though, she said it is time to head to her next chapter.
Both knees have been replaced so she will return to hiking. She loves to play golf. And she is a “boater” who gets great joy just being out on the river. Meyer wants to travel, too, but on her schedule, not the fall, winter, and spring sports schedules.
Meyer also said it is a good time to leave because Heritage is in such great hands. Meyer has worked with numerous principals in her career, and Derek Garrison, she said, is one of the best. He knows the value of athletics when it comes to education.
Erik Gonzalez, the school’s wrestling coach, is set to take over for Meyer as the AD.
“I’m a phone call away,” Meyer said. “I’ll help.”
Helping is all she ever wanted to do when she first got into teaching, into coaching, and into athletic administration.
Today is the last day of the school year. The last, last day of Leta Meyer’s career.
And while she has fond memories of Mountain View, there is something special about Heritage.
“This is my stamp, my footprint,” Meyer said. “I took ownership from the beginning.”
Some 20 years later, she will step away from her office, but a part of her will always be at Heritage.
“I’m proud to be a Heritage Timberwolf,” Meyer said. “I love this school.”