Even after 21 years coaching South Whidbey cross country, Doug Fulton is still learning.
Whether it be from the kids who teach him how to be a better coach, or from the experiences that define each season, there are always ways to improve. Being the high school’s longest tenured coach doesn’t change that.
In return, he helps the runners reach their goals — whether it be winning a state championship or reaching a personal best in a league meet — and develop skills that can help them break through life’s obstacles.
“Every sport can be thought of as a metaphor for life, and cross country is no exception,” said Fulton, who is also a biology teacher at South Whidbey.
Fulton and the Falcons runners are gearing up for the postseason, which is set to kick off with the class 1A District Cross Championships beginning at 1:20 p.m. on Oct. 28 at South Whidbey High School. State berths are on the line.
Finding the right balance for training the runners in the crucial week leading up to the district championships has been honed by Fulton over the years. Fulton has plenty of experience to rely on.
Fulton’s coaching career began in 1990 when he became a volunteer assistant for Cliff Nixon at Interlake High School; Nixon was later inducted into Washington State Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame. Fulton later spent six years as Hoquiam High School’s head coach.
His journey to South Whidbey was somewhat accidental. He was traveling across the island on his way to Seattle in April 1997 when he happened to pick up a newspaper that said a science teaching position was available at the school. Carl Westling, a longtime coach who started the cross country program in 1976 and won a state championship in 1979, persuaded him to take the position and invited him to co-coach the girls team. Fulton became the girls coach after Westling suffered a stroke the following year.
Fulton later took over both the girls and boys teams in 2001. They’ve seen success under his tutelage; the boys and girls teams have won a combined seven league championships, four district championships and seven top-five finishes at the state championships from 2001-2017. Fulton, 55, said his goals have been twofold: maintain Westling’s legacy and to provide a “great experience” for his runners.
“I love this school, the students and the community and I am happy to have been involved for so long,” Fulton said. “I hope I’ve made a difference along the way.”
Chantal White, who ran for the Falcons from 2007-2011, considered Fulton to be one of the most dedicated coaches in the school. She remembered Fulton running alongside the Falcons during early morning workouts at 6 a.m., as well as during the summer. White later ran cross country at California Lutheran University, but it wasn’t the same experience as being at South Whidbey.
“I realized a lot of the reason I was good in high school and went to state was because of Fulton,” White said. “He’s not only a good coach, but he actually cares about all the athletes.”
Another alumni, 2007 graduate Nick Rovang, found Fulton to be either strict or a “goof ball,” but ultimately a coach with good intentions. He also appreciated the fact that he didn’t let runners compromise their potential.
“He was a good coach because he would not allow you to make more excuses than you should have,” Rovang said. “I think at the time, that’s hard to deal with. In the long run, it definitely resonates.”
Current Falcon runners also hold him in high esteem.
“He definitely knows what he’s doing,” senior Elizabeth Donnelly said. “He puts in the time for each individual athlete, he’s very careful about workouts and he’s always trying to do what’s best for everyone.”
Senior Joe Davies added that cross country is an individual oriented sport, and that Fulton spends time on each and every athlete.
“A lot of coaches only focus on their top athletes and leave the rest,” Davies said. “He really focuses on everyone down the line and really makes you feel like you should be out there running.”
Fulton says he doesn’t plan to step away anytime soon.
“I’ll keep going for a few more years, but I don’t want to over stay my welcome,” Fulton said.