Keith Maurer has been running for most of his life. From growing up in San Jose and attending Leigh High School, to eventually finding his way to Angels Camp, Maurer has always been on the move.
But after 30 years at Bret Harte High School as a science teacher, as well as a track and field and cross country coach, Maurer is ready to finally cross the finish line. At the end of the 2019 school year, the longtime teacher and coach will retire from Bret Harte.
“Working with kids outside the classroom and doing something that they’ve chosen to do and to see the improvement and the camaraderie that comes with it, that’s what I’m going to miss,” Maurer said. “I’m going to miss going out and running with the kids.”
Maurer has been running with the Bret Harte students since the fall of 1989, when he accepted only his second teaching job. After teaching and coaching at Piner High School in Santa Rosa, Maurer began looking for a place to call home. He knew what he was searching for and found it at Bret Harte.
“When I got my credentials, I said, ‘So, where do I want to live?’ I wouldn’t have minded staying in Santa Rosa as it’s a really nice town, but I didn’t want to go into the Bay Area,” he said. “So, I blanketed the state for mountain towns and coastal towns for places I thought would be interesting to live. I fit the bill here in Angels Camp.”
While Maurer always enjoyed running, teaching wasn’t something that was part of the original plan. After being part of Leigh High School’s National Championship cross country team in 1973, Maurer continued his cross country and track career at West Valley College in Saratoga. He then transferred to California State University, Chico, and hung up his competitive running shoes. After graduation, Maurer entered the workforce, but couldn’t shake the thought that he was meant to do something else.
“I decided instead of sitting behind a desk, I wanted to stand in front of 30 desks,” he said.
Three years after receiving his teaching credentials from California State University, Sonoma, Maurer became a Bullfrog. Having ran track and cross country in high school and college, as well as teaching at Piner, it was only natural that Maurer continued his coaching career at his new school.
“Back then, it was almost expected that besides teaching, you are going to do something else,” Maurer recalled. “You are going to get involved.”
Maurer began his Bret Harte coaching career as an assistant track coach in 1989. From 1992-94, he was the head track coach, and his girls’ team won section titles in 1992 and 1994. After the 1994 season, Maurer stepped away from coaching track until he returned in 2010. He helped coach the girls’ team to a section title in 2017.
“Mr. Maurer is going to be irreplaceable,” said Bret Harte head track and field coach Jon Byrnes. “He’s been fantastic for the kids for decades. He’s got more blue section championship banners than anyone else that I’ve encountered. He knows what he’s doing, the kids love him and he forces them to work hard and they still have fun. But you can’t replace him and I’m going to miss him a lot.”
In 1991, Maurer began coaching cross country with Tony O’Geen. In his 27 years of coaching cross country, the Bret Harte girls’ team has won 11 section titles (1995, ’96, ’97, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’11) and finished second five times (1991, ’94, 2003, ’04, ’10). The boys’ squad won the section championship three times (1991, ’94, 2009) and also took second three times (1995, 2010, 2014). Between cross country and track, Maurer has been involved with 17 section championship teams.
Maurer took some early lessons learned from O’Geen and made sure never to forget the main goal of coaching.
“Working with Tony O’Gene really made a difference,” Maurer said. “He had a philosophy that this has to be fun. The kids need to have fun, and it can be hard fun. Winning is fun, but you have to make it enjoyable for them. You can’t just make it drudgery all the time, or they won’t be out there.”
Maurer kept that mindset of having fun and running for the love of running and it still sticks with former Bret Harte runner Kaela Dishion, who won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section individual championship in 2017.
“Personally, I would tend to get caught up in stressing over points or setting a personal record or hitting certain mileage or winning races and Maurer constantly reminded me to take a step back and consider why I was actually out there,” said Dishion, who currently runs cross country and track at St. Mary’s College of California. “And at the end of the day, he was right. I was out there to run, because I found joy and pleasure it, and this simple love for running may have been lost for me if Maurer wasn’t there to guide me.”
After 27 years of coaching cross country, a lot of things have changed. But one thing for Maurer that has remained the same is that once they get off the beaten path, there’s always an adventure to be had.
“When you are in shape, it just feels good and you can say, ‘Hum, let’s go see where this trail goes. We may get lost, but we know where we are and it may just take us longer to get back,’” he said. “So, when we go on a long run and the kids get back it’s like, ‘Ah, that was great.’ It’s just a fun time, but you have to be in shape.”
After teaching and coaching thousands of kids and logging thousands of miles, Maurer is ready to take it easy. While he will miss being around the track and hitting the trails with the students, there are many aspects of retirement that he is looking forward to.
“I enjoy coaching and it’s going to be one thing I’m going to miss,” he said. “I’m not going to miss getting up every Saturday morning at 4:30. It’ll be nice just to go somewhere in the fall. My plan is to go backpacking the first day of school. It’ll be nice to be somewhere in the springtime when the flowers are blooming and not be at a track meet. But I’m definitely going to miss it. I’m going to miss working with the kids who really enjoy it. You see them improving and that’s a neat thing. You get the most improvement from the kids who are just beginning.”
After 30 years of standing in front of 30 desks or leading a fall run through the back hills of Angels Camp, Maurer has left an impression on countless students who followed his lead and tried to keep up.
“He always wanted his athletes to enjoy it before anything else, and he believed that from this would stem the want to do well,” Dishion said. “He cultivated a great team culture, which allowed every team that I was ever on at Bret Harte to be very close and uplifting and enjoy the sport more because of each other. I think with this sport it is very easy to get selfish at times, and Maurer tries to get his athletes to stray away from that. Sometimes it’s not about points or winning or how many miles you run a week or who beats who; sometimes people just need to run to run and that’s something that Maurer taught me.”