The Journey

An Unlikely Volleyball Coach Creates a Legendary Team
By Shelby Simmons

Davenport Project

Davenport High School volleyball coach Pete Schweiger has never played a volleyball game in his life.

"I'm no better than the man on the moon," says Schweiger of his volleyball skills.

A quarter-century ago, Schweiger decided his life needed a change. He was the basketball coach in Kahlotus, Wash., and was frustrated. Parents of his players were too involved and knew too much about the game. He asked a friend to teach him how to coach volleyball. He enjoyed learning about the sport, but he had no idea when he moved to Davenport in 1984 the type of volleyball success he would meet in the years to come. In the last 16 years, the Davenport Gorillas have made 15 appearances at the state volleyball tournament, placing in the top eight 13 times.

"I take pride in my team and pride in my coaching. No coach ever wants to be out-coached," Schweiger says. As it turns out, Schweiger has not been "out-coached" very many times in his career. He has won 482 matches at the varsity level and has brought home four state championship titles.

Schweiger's 22 years at Davenport have been a building process. When he arrived, the school's volleyball program was weak. Since then, the Gorillas have become a Washington state "B" volleyball legend. They have earned statewide recognition, and Schweiger was nominated for the Washington State Coaches' Hall of Fame in 2006. He turned down the nomination, though, because he felt that the honor should only be given to retired coaches.

Success over such a long period of time is more complicated than simply working with good athletes year after year. Commitment from students and parents is crucial. Schweiger makes sure his players train during the off-season, entering them in summer camps and tournaments to keep their skills fresh and their bodies in shape. His coaching staff tries to establish a foundation for the program by offering volleyball-training camps for girls as early as fourth grade. The goal is to get girls in the area to start playing and acquiring skills at a young age.

Schweiger's reputation and that of the program have attracted numerous girls in the area who want to take part in this tradition and keep it alive.

"We always trusted that Mr. Schweiger knew what he was talking about," says former Davenport volleyball player Elesha Johnston, now a junior at Whitworth.

The tradition that so many want to be a part of does not come without hard work and dedication. During volleyball season, players spend hours each day training to be the best, and Schweiger has his own style in helping them get there. His players usually can be found running drills to the beat of music in their gymnasium.

"He always brought in his sixties music," Johnston says. He was serious, but he always made practice fun, she says.

Twenty-six years of experience taught Schweiger a few things about effective coaching techniques. Young coaches tend to get too passionate and to over-coach, he says. "If anything I under-coach." He's learned when to speak up and when to let the girls figure things out on their own. His expectations are clear to all of his players. They know when he gets mad, and they usually know why he gets mad. His job is to coach the team in practice, he said.

"When you get to a match, you're either ready or you're not," Schweiger said.

On the court, Schweiger knows his athletes well. "I do a pretty good job at defining roles," he said.

As a coach, it is his job to know each player's strengths and weaknesses. However, as well as they may all know each other in the gym, Schweiger says it's important to separate volleyball from the girls' personal lives.

"I'm probably a distant coach," he says. "Not unfriendly, but not close."

The players' personal lives should be left off the court, Schweiger says. Although this standard applies to all of his players, it has not stopped him from involving his own family in his coaching career.

Like Schweiger, his wife and two children never played volleyball, but the three took turns keeping score at all of the matches, including as many away matches as possible. Most coaches' families find that during sports season, they get to spend very little time with each other. That's not the case with the Schweigers, though.

"Volleyball was always a family experience," says Schweiger's wife, Leslie.