Bob Bath isn’t even sure how he got to this point.
At 63, he is in the thick of his 40th year coaching the Douglas Bearcat wrestling squad, having served as the head coach since 1985 after beginning as assistant coach in 1981.
His long-standing tenure as the head coach of the team means that in the past 60 years, the high school has only had two head wrestling coaches. Before him, it was Melvin Nelson.
Turnover is a known problem in the teaching profession; an estimated 16 percent of teachers either quit or change schools every year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Those figures, apparently, do not apply to the wrestling program at Douglas High School.
“In high school I had no aspirations of coaching or teaching,” Bath confessed. Still, Bath has a hard time identifying the genesis of his path.
“I don’t really know what drove me to it,” he said, pondering the question. “Maybe it was by accident, but I’m glad that I did.”
One thing, however, is clear: Bath has always loved wrestling.
Because if his 40-year tenure as coach seems like a lengthy time, the number of years he’s been tied to the sport in any capacity, either as an athlete or a coach, is an even bigger one.
Growing up in Rock Springs, he started wrestling in the seventh grade.
“Wrestling has been a part of my life every season since then,” he said with pride.
After high school he matriculated to the University of Wyoming on a wrestling scholarship, where he eventually decided to major in education.
It was a path he forged on his own; neither of his parents were educators. His father was the county attorney for Sweetwater County. His mother worked in the medical lab at the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County.
After college, in 1981, he headed straight to Douglas High School, where he began teaching health, physical education and drivers ed.
And, he began coaching.
He started out as an assistant coach, both for wrestling and football. Over the decades he has also served as the assistant football coach for both the high school and middle school teams.
But his loyalty has been on the mat, and it shows.
The team has won two state championships under his helm as head coach: first in 1999, when they ended Star Valley’s eight-year winning streak; and again in 2010, when they broke Powell’s four-year streak. Douglas won both tournaments by less than two points.
“Every single person on the team contributed to those championships,” he pointed out.
But what Bath enjoys most about coaching wrestling is not necessarily the wins: it’s getting the chance to work with kids and teach them lessons that go beyond the sport.
“That’s what’s kept me going.
“I hope they gain a sense of hard work, a sense of working with each other and helping each other get better. Wrestling is an individual sport and a team sport.”
The sense of community and family the sport provides has also kept him going, both figuratively and literally; Bath’s grandson Kagan Lenzen is a senior on the team.
Bath admits that he has “coached” Lenzen, in one way or another, since his grandson was 5 years old.
Now as a wrestler, “I want to see my grandson through,” he said, referring to Lenzen’s final year on the team.
The many years of Bath’s coaching has paid off for Lenzen. He placed sixth in the state his sophomore year and third his junior year.
“Its been great to spend so much time with him; he’s taught me maybe all that I know,” Lenzen said.
“I will miss him next year.”
Bath too acknowledges that he has enjoyed some very special years with his grandson.
“A lot of dads coach their sons, but not a lot of grandfathers,” he chuckled.
Will he continue coaching when this season ends?
Bath said he hasn’t committed yet either way; he will decide after this current season is over.
“This is possibly my last year,” he said, noting that he would like to have a little more time to care for his family.
“When it’s time, it’s time,” he said.
He paused and reflected.
“But I wouldn’t mind helping out in the future.”