In many ways, Kim Beer and Kent Wieber could not be more different.
Beer moved nearly a hundred miles to take over a struggling La Pine High girls basketball program — one he led to a Class 4A state championship in 2009. Wieber, who guided the La Pine girls from 1997 to 2001, took only a short walk to the La Pine athletic office — he teaches at the high school — to accept the boys basketball coaching position.
Beer assumed control of a Hawks program that was spiraling downward, from 21 wins in 2009-10 (Beer’s fifth and final season) to nine, eight and seven victories over the next three years. Wieber took the reins of a team that, after posting six and seven wins in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively, booked 11 wins last season, the Hawks’ most in 20 years, according to Wieber.
Then there is the stark age difference between the two coaches’ current rosters. Seven seniors are at Wieber’s disposal, while Beer’s girls team includes just five upperclassmen — three seniors and two juniors.
Yet both first-year (second-stint) coaches were primary choices for La Pine athletic director Rusty Zysett. And both have their teams in the thick of Sky-Em League races this season.
“They’re both top-notch guys, and we knew what we were getting with them,” Zysett says. “It’s not like we had to look too hard. … It felt like it was the right time for both of them, and I don’t think there is a wrong time for either one of them to come into our program.”
In 2009, Beer guided the La Pine girls to the second state championship in program history, and his team followed that up with a third-place finish at the state tournament in 2010.
For a coach, Beer’s journey was about as smooth as could be. But health issues with his mother-in-law pulled Beer and his wife, Glenda, to Pleasant Hill.
Fortunately, Glenda’s mother was admitted to a memory care facility in Eugene, where her well-being has since improved. And last spring, Beer’s interest in returning to Central Oregon was piqued.
Zysett says Beer’s initial inquiries regarded the head coaching position for the boys team, which opened after Kyle Kalmbach stepped away after last season.
But Zysett figured Beer would prefer to stick to what he had done for 20 years — coach girls basketball. And as luck would have it, La Pine’s girls basketball coach at the time, Rene Houle, was leaving for Salem Academy, confident that in Beer he was leaving Zysett and the Hawks in good hands — hands that a few years earlier had turned a three-win La Pine team into a state champion and that took a winless Pleasant Hill group (in 2009-10) and transformed it into a state playoff team.
“I knew coming in (to La Pine for the second time) that it was going to be a building process,” Beer says. “But for some reason, I enjoy that. When I went to Pleasant Hill, the year before, they had lost every single game. For me, that’s kind of a challenge. I’d rather do that than go to a team that just won the state championship — ‘Now I’ve got to follow that.’ It’s fun the other way.”
Despite his recent string of success, at both La Pine and Pleasant Hill, Beer entered the 2013-14 season without high expectations. He did not want to draw an opinion of his squad too soon.
“I wanted the girls to be the best they could be. That was my goal,” Beer says. “I didn’t want to push them and have expectations beyond what they were capable of. I wanted to get as much out of them as I could.”
That is just Beer’s coaching style, and it has helped the Hawks so far this season to a 10-8 overall record and a 3-1 mark in Sky-Em play. He does not try to force a square peg into a round opening. Instead, he takes a saw to the circular hole and makes it into a square.
“Even this year, we’ve changed our plays and changed a lot of things throughout our season to try to find something that matches this group,” Beer says. “I didn’t come in going, ‘This is how we won state, and this is how we’re going to do it.’ That just may not work with this group. They’re different. We’ve got to do something different to make the girls successful with who they are.”
Seven seniors anchor the La Pine boys roster. And Wieber has a coaching history with them all.
Wieber was with six of those players at La Pine Middle School when they won only one game in sixth grade. He was with all seven four years later, when the La Pine junior varsity team’s lone loss was the final game on the schedule.
Last year as juniors, Sam Wieber, the coach’s son, and Adam Ramirez suited up for La Pine’s varsity squad, breaking up the septet. But the seniors have reunited this season, and Kent Wieber returned to finish what he started.
“They’ve improved all along,” Kent Wieber says. “When you look at classes that go through La Pine, they’re not the most athletic group that has ever come through La Pine High School. But in basketball, they’ve had some success because they’ve stuck with it.”
Last spring, after Kalmbach stepped down Zysett’s first action was a short walk to Wieber’s classroom at the high school, where he teaches AP history.
Zysett wanted to gauge Wieber’s interest in taking over the boys basketball program. Wieber’s response, as Zysett recalls it: “I’ll do it if you guys feel like I’m the right guy and there’s not someone that you’d prefer to have in that position.”
Zysett opened up the search, and eventually told Wieber he was the top candidate.
There was hesitance, sure, but Wieber accepted the position. He agreed to coach the Hawks again.
“I don’t feel like a rookie,” Kent Wieber says. “We haven’t had to learn a whole new system. Usually when new coaches come in, there’s a learning curve — we didn’t have one.”
The 2012-13 Hawks, under Kalmbach, put together one of the best seasons in recent memory, narrowly missing out on the state playoffs by falling in a league tiebreaker game against Sweet Home.
This season’s group, one that currently stands at 9-9 overall and 1-3 in Sky-Em play, could break the mold and secure the Hawks’ first state bid since 1992.
“I didn’t know how good we could be this year,” Wieber says. “But our point guard was back (Sam Wieber) … and my JV team could score last year. We did not have a problem scoring. It was our defense that was a problem. We’ve really worked on that, and they’ve gotten better. Now, we’re winning some games.
“The kids have bought in to our system,” Wieber adds. “Once you start winning a couple games, you start to believe, and confidence is really huge. I’m really blessed. I think there would be a lot of coaches out there who would be jealous to come up with a team from sixth grade on.”
Zysett, the longtime A.D., is grateful for his good fortune in getting both Beer and Wieber back into the La Pine coaching fold.
“I hope our kids realize what both these guys did by stepping in and saying, ‘Hey, we’re willing to do this. We’re willing to take another swing at it and come back and do this for the kids,’ ” Zysett says. “If I could emphasize one thing, that’s what they did — they did it for the kids and not for themselves. It was something they wanted to do for our community.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org .