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Retiring Kent School District athletic director tells story of monumental decision

Dave Lutes retires after nearly 30 years as Kent School District's athletic director. (Kent School District Facebook page)

After a nearly-30-year run as athletic director and years as a coach before that, David Lutes’ time in the Kent School District is coming to an end — but his legacy as an athletic role model will endure.

For KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson, who coached basketball at Shorecrest High School, it is Lutes’ actions at the 1988 state football championship game that stood out for all time.

In the days before the big game, Kentwood High School in the Kent School District, where Lutes at the time worked as football coach, was favored to win the state title.

“We were very confident going in with the team that we had and the season that we’d had,” he said.

Dori announces he is retiring as basketball coach

But after the second-to-last practice, several of the team’s best players went out behind the school buildings to smoke marijuana. King County Sheriff’s Office deputies caught the teens in the act, and called Lutes back to the school to give the verdict.

For Lutes, there was no question as to his choice. There would be no postponing the punishment until after the championship game — as per Kent School District code, the players were out.

“I always believed in rules and I believed in what we were teaching kids,” he said. “I just felt that there was no way that we could walk away from this situation or delay it. That just would never sit well with me.”

Despite the boys’ tears and their parents’ anger, Lutes held firm. At that point, there was just one practice to go until the state championship. Lutes had to rebuild a team missing its star athletes.

“All seven that we suspended for the game were key players — five of them played both ways, and one of them was the all-league quarterback,” Lutes said.

It didn’t come, therefore, as a great surprise when Kentwood lost 21-0 to North Seattle’s Ingraham High School. However, the Kentwood players felt no anger toward their former teammates’ actions, instead choosing to honor them in that final game.

“We dedicated the game to those players who weren’t going to be with us, who helped us get there,” Lutes said. “We talked about forgiveness … It just didn’t work out on the scoreboard.”

It was a learning experience for the Kentwood community. After the championship, the governor came to the high school for an assembly that Lutes called “a real healing process” that served to bring everyone together.

The next year, as the new team worked harder than ever as a way to put the disappointment of the year before firmly in the past, Lutes had his favorite year ever of coaching.

“There was a lot of pride for the program itself, and that has continued on,” he said.

Lutes’ bold move on the eve of the championship made an impact on Dori, who repeated the story every year to his basketball players as a way to encourage them to avoid drugs and alcohol.

“I would tell that story to my girls every single year, Dave, and it probably helped,” he said. “It helped a lot.”

Over three decades later, Lutes still hears from people who admire him for making the tough decision.

“This thing has legs — I don’t know how long it will last, but it did have an impact on people,” he said.

He has a piece of advice for high school athletes who may find themselves tempted to try illegal substances.

“That’s what we talk about all the time, about being accountable to your teammates, to your school, to your community — just make good decisions that don’t put us in these type of positions, to have to make these types of decisions,” he said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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