So long, coach Steitz


— When I arrived in Steamboat Springs more than 11 years ago looking for a job, the editor wanted to know what I knew about skiing and rodeo.

I had grown up in the suburbs of Denver far away from the historical slopes of Howelsen Hill. However, I had spent my weekends in Winter Park skiing (when I could afford it) and had experienced ski jumping as a child thanks to the television cameras that brought the Wide World of Sports into my parents' living room.

Lucky for me, I knew enough to bluff my way through the interview and enough to be offered a job as a sports reporter the next day.

Now that I look back on it, I'm glad she didn't ask me what I knew about the sport of Nordic combined the truth is, if she had asked me, I would be collecting unemployment checks today instead of working.

But that was before I was introduced to a guy named Tom Steitz and the team he believed in when nobody else in the country and the world, for that matter did.

I can't remember the first time I met Steitz, or the exact reason for our meeting, but I have to thank him for his patience as he introducing me to the sport of Nordic combined.

I've been thrilled to follow his teams, in both the good times and the bad, for more than a decade. In that time I've learned more than I can remember about combined and have long since discovered that Steitz was a man with an agenda.

It never really seemed to matter to the coach if his team was on top of its game or trying to find answers to what went wrong. He was always looking to the future and ways to improve his team while promoting the sport in America.

That was until this week, when the coach shifted his focus from the team to his own personal life.

You see, being an ambassador for the sport of combined means a never-ending cycle of winters in Europe (he has made some 102 trips to Central Europe in his life), summers spent at training sessions (most beginning before sunrise) and sacrifices that go well beyond most 40-hour-a-week jobs.

So last week, the coach resigned that position, but before he walked out the door, he wanted to make sure he thanked the community of Steamboat that has supported him and his team over the years.

It's kind of funny, but as I listened to him talk, the only thing I could think about was how much this town owes him.

He, along with the help of guys like Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong, Dave Jarrett, Tim Tetreault and Ryan Heckman, helped put combined on the map in the United States.

At the same time, the team brought attention to the area's long Nordic history and carried on a tradition that began with Howelsen.

It's been a long and demanding journey for Steitz and the others, but the payoff is just starting to be realized.

Who knows what will happen in the future?

Chances are a new coach will move the team to the plastic-covered facility in Park City in an effort to keep up with the rest of the world.

Chances are that after next season, the U.S. Ski Team will pull out the checkbook and bring Nordic Combined World Cups back to the United States because of those same plastic-covered jumps in Park City. Hopefully Steamboat will be able to host a stop as well.

But I also know chances are that Steitz will find a new role where he can continue to support the program he has built and still find time to watch his son toss a baseball and his daughter cross country ski.

It's easy for the community of Steamboat to sit back this week and think about what it lost.

But thanks to Tom, this sport has gained at least one diehard combined fan that grew up hundreds of miles from the snow-covered jumps and cross country trails of Howelsen Hill.

Today if somebody asked me what I know about the sport of Nordic combined, they had better sit down, because it's going to be a long conversation thanks to a guy named Tom Steitz.


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