|Story by Connie McDougall|
The working title of his memoirs is Just Call Me Coach, but there have been many other descriptions of Seattle Pacific University Head Track and Field Coach Ken Foreman during his 50 years in athletics: "pioneer," "scholar" and "author" among them.
So far-reaching are his accomplishments that on June 6, 1998, 200 people gathered in Bellevue to honor Foreman -- not only for his contributions to athletics at Seattle Pacific, but also for his influence nationally and internationally.
As the guests at the dinner and roast testified, his achievements are epic. In addition to developing a highly competitive track and field program at Seattle Pacific, he's been head track coach at all the premiere athletic venues, including the Olympics, World Championships and Goodwill Games.
But it's his pioneering work in women's sports for which he is best known. Alan Bonney, former University of Washington coach of women's track, agrees: "Ken was there when no one else was, standing up and saying 'we're going to do this.' Ken set the standard for everyone in this country when it comes to women's sports."
Foreman is also an acknowledged master storyteller, which may be the secret of his success. His stories are parables in which he takes abstractions like excellence and commitment and hides them inside a good tale.
"I was spellbound by his stories when he was my coach," says Mark Stream '75, an All-American in the 400-meter hurdles who still holds the SPU record in that event.
"In the beginning, I took some hard hits to coach women's sports," admits Ken Foreman. "I spent a lot of days shaking in my boots. But I believe you should accept a challenge for which you're not fully prepared. And that's what I did."
"Dr. Foreman told us about a trip to the Soviet Union, where even though athletic teams were strictly controlled, he'd sneak out anyway," Stream says. On one of these "escapes," the coach saw people slipping into a building, so he followed them in. "It was a church meeting," recalls Stream. "The authorities had said they could have one more service, then they'd be shut down. So, they held a continuous meeting that never stopped."
This story about faith and grit, plus other Foreman parables, redirected Stream's life. "Through Dr. Foreman's example, I realized that everything I wanted to do as a Christian could be done in athletics," says Stream, now assistant women's track coach at the University of Oregon.
Foreman's silence speaks to people, too. Kelly Blair LaBounty, a world-class heptathlete who won the bronze medal at the recent Goodwill Games, currently trains with Foreman for the 2000 Olympics. However, the day they were to begin working together, he called with shocking news. He'd just been to the doctor, he said. And he had cancer. "His first concern was for me, because he knew this would affect my life," LaBounty remembers.
She stayed with Foreman's coaching despite his illness. "He's strong, determined and he's the best. I had faith it was going to be OK."
The two continued training even as Foreman underwent debilitating chemical and radiation treatments. "Ken never missed a day of practice," La Bounty says with wonder. "I could see he wasn't feeling good. He'd bring a chair and sit down and just watch me. He wouldn't say a word."
But his silence spoke volumes. "It just pushed me even harder," she says. "I looked at him, struggling for his life, and I thought, 'if he can do that, I can run around this track.' He was a big motivation to me."
Now in remission, Foreman puts LaBounty through her paces while she thinks about her future. "I never considered coaching before, but I do now. I see what a caring person he is and what an influence he has on others."
That influence is legendary in women's sports, although Foreman admits he wasn't always a believer. "It was pounded into your head that women couldn't compete," says Foreman about his doctoral study at the University of Southern California. "Everyone thought that if a woman ran more than 100 meters, her uterus would fall out," he laughs.
Foreman changed his mind when he coached 1956 Olympic qualifier Marsha Cosgrove. "She was fast," he recalls, "and I learned that women don't come apart."
At Seattle Pacific, he coached women on his own time, including Doris Brown Heritage '64. She came to Seattle Pacific in 1960 as a 17-year-old freshman, and remembers how little support there was for her ambitions then; in fact, a few people were openly hostile.
"Sometimes I'd run around Green Lake and people would push me into the water!" she recalls. A former Olympic coach and now SPU track coach, Heritage is grateful that Foreman recognized women's athletic talents. "Ken made us believe it was important," she says. "He told us that God gave us these abilities and we should pursue them."
In 38 years, her awe of him remains. "He says I should call him Ken, but I still call him 'Dr. Foreman' or 'Coach,'" Heritage smiles. "To me, he is coach and he always will be. He's been the coach of my life and the lives of so many others."