One last curtain call

Having seen the last race run and about to see the final curtain fall this month, Mike McInerney is bringing an end to his long run at South Whidbey High School.

For 25 years, McInerney — or Mac or Mr. Mac as he is known to his students — has been the school’s drama teacher, head track coach and, on many days, the friendliest face.

McInerney came to Whidbey Island in 1979, having graduated from Western Washington University and later Central Washington University with degrees in the fine arts and in education. South Whidbey High School was his second teaching job; he started his professional teaching career at Kittitas High in 1971.

A man of contrasts — as he might appear one night on stage as a character in a high school production, then show up the next day in full Davy Crockett apparel to start a cross country race with a muzzle-loading rifle — McInerney has made his biggest impacts at the high school in the director’s chair, and trackside with a watch in hand and a clipboard under his arm.

McInerney has produced over 100 school plays and musicals at South Whidbey High School. He has even acted in three musicals, back in the years when there were to be adult roles in the cast. He took over the drama job in 1986, after longtime drama teacher Jean Shaw left the district to teach elsewhere. Shaw came back a few years later to collaborate with McInerney on scores of productions.

“I think he’s a Renaissance man,” Shaw said. “It’s going to take two or three people to replace him.”

That would seem true enough while teaching thousands of drama students over the years to put on near-professional stage productions, McInerney has been a jack of all stage trades by directing, co-directing, lighting and crewing productions, creating special effects, and — for the past three years — working as the drama department’s technical director.

As an actor, he has made cameo appearances ala Alfred Hitchcock in every school musical he has produced, excepting last fall’s “Bye Bye Birdie.” He could hardly help it, as he brought a unique bass voice to the stage.

“I’ve been a singer most of my life,” McInerney said. “My interest remained with me after that experience and I became involved when I started teaching at South Whidbey.”

The other side of McInerney’s at-school persona was that of the athlete. A former jumper and hurdler, McInerney took the head coaching job for the boys and girls track teams five years after coming to South Whidbey. He stayed in that job for 14 years, retiring in 1999 after taking athletes and teams to the state meet almost every year.

He stayed on as an assistant coach through this season, working specifically with hurdlers — his specialty. His most recent hurdling protege, freshman Jason Fitz, said Mac’s coaching was the difference between him running at the state championship meet this season and just being an also-ran.

“He took a very complicated sport and made it easy,” he said.

Becky Gabelein, one of McInerney’s former hurdle runners, is just as complimentary.

“He was very knowledgeable and had a lot of experience,” she said. “He was very motivated and inspiring.”

Doug Fulton, who stepped into the head track coaching job after McInerney’s semi-retirement from the sport, credits his predecessor with handing him a top-rank program.

“Coach Mac is mostly responsible for building up the track program to its current level,” he said.

With his retirement coming on June 16, McInerney attended his final track meet as an official team coach last weekend, and is directing his advanced drama class in his final stage production at the high school this weekend.

At the same time, he is beginning to reflect on more than a few memories accumulated over the past quarter century.

Several years ago, former teacher Carl Westling taught biology across the hall from McInerney. Westling, who also coached the track team with McInerney, decided one day to use one of his pets to play a practical joke on his friend and colleague.

“He wrapped his 12-foot python around his neck and held his breath until he was beet red,” McInerney said, laughing. “Knowing my fear of snakes, he stumbled into my room during class screaming ‘Help Mac! It’s got me.’ I was reaching for my knife when he busted out laughing along with my entire class.”

Known outside of class for riding a Honda motorcycle or driving a souped-up 1957 GMC pickup to work, and for being and outdoorsman, McInerney will have plenty to do in retirement. While he is still making plans, his fellow teacher and track coach, Mark Eager, was certain recently that he knew exactly what his friend would be doing over the next few years.

“He will sell his home, move to an Alaskan island and cut down trees. Trees with families, but that doesn’t seem to matter. He will then build a cabin far from anyone. He will do target practice against trees, relatives of the other trees. As well as practicing shooting salmon, because he proved that he can’t fish worth a darn with a regular hook.”

In reality, McInerney said he will be busy with “lots of projects to do, going on a few trips, and working at growing my business.” He owns and operates owns a small gun shop adjacent to his home on Brooks Hill Road.

McInerney will not disappear from the school entirely. His youngest son, Tanner, is a junior this year and will be back next year as a student and varsity athlete on the football, basketball and track teams. McInerney said he looks forward to “just be a senior dad.”

His son will miss seeing him at school during the day, for many reasons.

“I have enjoyed seeing my dad around campus,” Tanner McInerney said. “I will miss being able to hit him up with lunch money.”

McInerney will also be around the school next year as the official voice of the South Whidbey Falcons, announcing football and basketball games.

Record editor Matt Johnson contributed to this article.

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