Benefield: Longtime Empire coaches Doug Courtemarche, Danny Aldridge a pair like no other
For three decades, Doug Courtemarche and Danny Aldridge have led cross country and track and field programs in Sonoma County, coaching state and national champs and developing in thousands of student-athletes a love of running.
They have been co-coaches and competitors over the years and are nearly without peer in their longevity and scope of influence.
Courtemarche took over the track and cross country programs at Santa Rosa High in 1992 and is retiring at the end of this track season. After stints at Cal Poly, Sonoma State, Santa Rosa High, Maria Carrillo and now Sonoma Academy, Aldridge, too, is pondering his future.
For their unparalleled impact on the sport and dedication to thousands of student athletes, The Press Democrat honored Courtemarche and Aldridge last week as the All-Empire 2019 Coaches of the Year.
Guiding a star pupil
Longtime peers in the track and field and cross country worlds, Courtemarche and Aldridge worked side-by-side from 1993-1997 when Courtemarche invited Aldridge to join Santa Rosa’s coaching staff to help guide a young phenom by the name of Julia Stamps (now Julia Stamps Mallon).
Aldridge, a Petaluma High grad and one of the greatest runners ever to come from Sonoma County, had the know-how and background both men felt would benefit a runner with the natural abilities of Stamps. And in Courtemarche, Aldridge had a partner in philosophy: Make it fun, keep kids coming back and give those who are motivated a way to get better.
“Doug made it so much fun,” Aldridge said. “He coached the right way.”
And together, they gave Stamps the foundation from which to take flight.
Aldridge, who as a runner was a six-time NCAA All-American, a national champ twice, a national team champ four times and a two-time Olympic trials competitor, crafted workouts for Stamps while Courtemarche would help guide her at meets. Under their partnership, Stamps became a Foot Locker Cross Country champion, won eight state and four national track championship titles and competed at Stanford.
And perhaps most importantly, Stamps Mallon, 40, said she still loves running.
“They became more than just coaches,” she said. “They were really just influential, pivotal individuals in (my) life. Literally, I can look back and I can think I may have been a good runner, but I would not have been the same runner without their guidance and support.
“I owe them everything,” she said. “I owe them my whole career.”
An early love of running
As a kid growing up in Long Beach, Courtemarche remembers saving up for a coveted piece of sports equipment. It wasn’t a mitt or a ball or cleats.
“It was a stopwatch,” he said. “I saved up and saved up. I finally got enough to buy a stopwatch.”
He lined up the neighborhood kids and set them to racing. The start line was in the Courtemarche kitchen. So was the finish line. The route was out the door, through the gate, around the block and back into the house.
It seems he was born for this coaching thing.
His co-head coach for the past two decades, Carrie Joseph, said Courtemarche is part Yoda, part Gandalf and part Dumbledore - a guy with innate wisdom and a gift for imparting it to every kid in the way they need. And it’s an apt description in another way, she said, because Courtemarche is an avid reader who can geek out with the best of them when it comes to the fantasy genre.
He connects with people, Joseph said.
“There is a power and magic to him,” she said. “It’s a force. That can rub off on a lot of people and allow them to rise to the occasion.”
And not just athletes. At every step in his coaching career, Courtemarche has opened the doors to up-and-coming coaches, at times readily acknowledging that others might have more or different knowledge. His athletes’ growth came first, not his ego.
When Joseph joined the Santa Rosa High coaching roster in 1997, she was relatively fresh off a record-setting career at the University of Michigan. Courtemarche gave her the green light to write workouts and guide runners. It’s an openness that can be rare in coaching.
“He’s very generous in that respect,” she said.
Courtemarche is giving and almost without ego. And yet he’s a competitor.
“Doug does a good job of balancing the heavy with the light,” Joseph said. “He is really competitive. As easygoing and lighthearted and optimistic as he is, he hates to lose. That is one reason I think we have gotten along so well.”
Beloved by many
When Aldridge left Santa Rosa High for Maria Carrillo, it wasn’t to compete with Courtemarche - it was to coach his daughter, Jenny, and later his son, Ryan.