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A Tribute to Coach Rich Unterseher
By Matt Shepard
Published: Summer 1999

If you ask any coach why they enjoy their job so much one might quickly reply, “I enjoy the unmatched feelings I get with a victory over a tough competitor”. Another might say,”I like the constant need to devise clever strategies” or “I like to see well thought out plans perfectly executed.” Whatever their initial reaction to the question and despite how tough they may act, deep down, virtually every coaches’ favorite part of their job is being able to make a difference in the lives of young people and having a chance to see those changes happen right before their eyes. And even if they don’t act like it, they all believe it.
Coaches are in a unique position. They are in the prime spot during the prime time of a young persons life to teach worthwhile skills and life-long attributes that can ultimately make that youth’s life so much better. These skills include some of the hardest self-defining, personal skills a person can acquire such as self discipline, team spirit, compassion and diligence. Through the guidance of a coach, these youth also learn the unmatched benefits of hard work, goal setting and commitment. Quite often, an athlete will even refer to their coach as their second father/mother, best friend or even a trusted confidant(e).
This article will hopefully help us all reach deep down inside and find a little more that we can give to make even more of a difference in each of our athlete’s lives.
To help us discover other ways we can increase our impact on the lives of others, I will relate a model story of an incredibly compassionate man, a coach who’s greatest goal has always been to make a difference in the lives of the youth. His name is Richard (Rich) Unterseher (pronounced Unter-sayer) of Shelton High School in Washington.
The story began when Rich was single and living in the basement apartment of a psychology professor at the U. of Northern Colorado. Rich thoroughly believed that a positive, goal oriented activity like weight training could have an outstanding effect on youth suffering from a poor self-image. A grant from the Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare gave him the means to put his theory to the test. In recollection of the program Rich established, he proclaims, “Needless to say, the weight program was a huge success! The Junior J.C.’s of Colorado entered my program as their project and it won the state award and went on to receive national recognition.” Rich was then listed in Who’s Who in America in 1965 and received a medal awarded for outstanding contribution to the health and fitness of Americans in support of the President of the United States and his Council on Physical Fitness. With this incredible beginning, Rich has spent the last 35 years in endless service in an effort to make a difference in the lives of everyone he meets.
After the government grant, Rich went on to coach wrestling in Greely, Colorado for ten years; and the final six years went undefeated. About these years Rich fondly recalls, “I coached 22 undefeated wrestlers largely due to a weight program well ahead of it’s time.”
Rich then headed to Montrose High School in Montrose Colorado and established a weight program, which, of course, had an outstanding positive effect. “During the time I taught at Montrose,” Rich proudly states, “serious injuries were at an all time low.” Rich also credits the low injuries to the weight program and the positive impact it had on the students.
In 1979 Rich moved from Montrose to where he is today, Shelton High School in Shelton, Washington. Since then, Rich or “Coach”, as he prefers to be called, has added weight equipment to the weight room every year (at his own expense). About this equipment Coach states humbly, “I have purchased 90% of my equipment from BFS and the rest I have had the great fortune to have donated to us by friends in the community.”
When I asked Rich why he enjoys his job he thoughtfully replied, “because my purpose in life is to serve others.” Coach feels there are four qualities that make an athlete successful, he calls them the “Four Pillars of a Champion”. They are: commitment, self-discipline, attitude, and character. He firmly believes that strength training helps people develop these four pillars which will ultimately help them have a better life. About these life-long qualities so faithfully taught by Coach Unterseher, football player, Steve Norris, remarks, “He has taught me a lot of things in and out of the class room. He has taught me how to be committed to something, how to shoot for my goals, and never give up even if they seem impossible. Most importantly he has taught me how to be a champion! He has changed my attitude toward life and myself. If there was someone who I can say inspired me the most it is Coach Unterseher.”
Amazingly, Coach’s day starts at 5:30 a.m. and he doesn’t go home until after 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. His program helps over 100 students, athletes and non-athletes alike, in regular classes throughout the day. Coach finds it especially rewarding to help some special education students in the weight room during the day as well. That’s not all, Coach has also opened his gym to the community. He has approximately 50 adults coming regularly to his gym seeking help, many of whom have been referred by doctors in the community. About this weight room, which he calls “The Blacksmith Shop”, Coach Unterseher exclaims, “As you can see, the program benefits the community as well as the school and equips participants for competition as well as for life, and teaches them basic life skills that will enable them to become strong, independent young individuals.”
Spending a lot of time, energy and money is not what really makes Coach Unterseher so respected, it’s the way he lives his life. About Rich’s life, Nic Buser states, “He is the most inspirational man in my life. Not only does he give inspirational talks but the way he lives his life is an inspiration. I can’t imagine all of the time and thought he puts into his talks before football games. His inspiration is not the rah rah inspiration but is the kind that sticks with you and will drive you throughout the game. There is no way I could ever thank this man enough for all he has given to me in emotional and physical strength as well as inspiration for life.”
Coach Unterseher has a lot of admirable traits worth emulating. Some of these characteristics are outlined in this quote from one of his former students and current strength coach Jackson L. Coots. “Coach Unterseher has the unique ability of finding the positive aspects of a person or an athlete instead of focusing on their limitations and the negative aspects. He combines his enthusiasm, knowledge and faith to not only teach students, athletes and the general public how weight training and exercise can improve their health but also teaches important values such as dedication, commitment, faith and hard work.”
Continuing on Coach Unterseher's character former student, Andrea Thorton, says, “He is a man who can help you with anything. If you are not in the mood for lifting he makes you in the mood. His words were and continue to be an inspiration to me and many other people. I know that if it were not for Coach I would not be where I am today. He is one of the most inspirational people in the world. With out him I would not have gotten my track/field scholarship to WSU and I thank him greatly for it.”


“The strength of our team has always been the strength of our players and this is directly attributed to Coach ‘U’.”

Matt Hinkle
Head Football Coach,
Shelton High School

“Coach ‘U’ has helped a broad scope of students at Shelton High School in every facet of their life. His dedication to people and his profession is unequaled.”

Bill Hicks
Athletic Director, SHS


Coach Unterseher discussing the weightlifting program with one of the Shelton High students.
Coach “U” has personally paid for many items in the Shelton weightroom. Here he spots Curtis Steen on the bench.
The weightroom is full of charts, record boards, motivational sayings and more. Coach “U” has done all he can to make this room great.
Doug Sells snatching with coach Unterseher spotting in the distance. Coach “U” is in the background supporting, encouraging and helping like he has done for many years.
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