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Mark Prothero: Defending Gary Ridgeway, defeating the Chargers | GUEST COMMENTARY
By Mark Moschetti
Courtney Eronemo stood on the water-splashed deck of the King County Aquatic Center, basking in the glow of her first state girls swim meet.
Having just bagged a bronze medal in the individual medley and snared a silver in the butterfly, Eronemo, then a freshman at Kentwood High, had plenty of it in which to bask on that 2002 November night.
But as Eronemo was glowing, Conquerors coach Mark Prothero approached her, his face flush with a decidedly different feeling.
“He was crying, and he came up and hugged me and said, ‘This is going to be a fun ride, kid,’” Eronemo recalled. “I could see his emotion, and every part of him was invested in what he was doing.
“I remember that phrase,” Eronemo continued, her own voice choked with emotion last week, just a few days after Prothero died following a two-year battle with lung cancer. “I think of that phrase in (coaching) club swimming and whatever else I need to do.”
For Eronomo, now finishing up her nursing degree at Pacific Lutheran University, Prothero’s prediction was prescient. She would go on to win five state championships, each of them in a different event.
So it was indeed a fun ride.
But for hundreds upon hundreds of other swimmers who never tasted a title, the ride was just as fun.
Mark Prothero made sure of it.
He was just as passionate about the aquatic advice he offered to his athletes as he was about the legal advice he offered to his clients.
Opposing attorneys respected him. Opposing coaches did, too.
The courtroom was his love.
So was the pool.
“One thing I take from him ‚Äì and I never thought about it at the time ‚Äì was when he would coach summer league and end a team meeting, he would always say he had two rules: Have fun, and swim fast,” said Chris Veraya, who won the boys state backstroke title under Prothero in 2003. “One leads to the other.”
Veraya did more than swim fast. He’s now an attorney, as was Prothero. While his former coach didn’t specifically push him toward that field, Veraya acknowledged that “it’s hard growing up with the man and not thinking in that direction, (at least) in an indirect way.”
In fact, Prothero would become best known as one of the lead defense attorneys for Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer. But in the midst of the high-profile, highly scrutinized case, Prothero acknowledged after a meet one afternoon that keeping his passions separated wasn’t always easy.
“You know, it’s kind of funny,” Prothero said in his usual articulate, well-thought-out tone. “I’ll be standing on the deck thinking about the case. But then I can be at my desk in the office trying to figure out how we can beat Kentridge.”
One could almost see Dave Wright smiling through the phone as he heard that story. Wright was KR’s head coach during a decade-long stretch when the South Puget Sound League North Division title usually came down to the dual meet between his Chargers and Prothero’s Conquerors.
“I always knew both of our teams were going to be good, and he was going to plan a meet as well as he possibly could,” said Wright, now the head girls coach at Tahoma. “I didn’t win ‘em all, and he didn’t win ‘em all. But it was always friendly. It’s just amazing when you think how the two teams stayed even-keel with each other the whole time.”
Wright also got the perspective of watching Prothero from a parent’s point of view. Daughter Erica Wright swam for Prothero as a Kentwood freshman.
“It was cool as a dad to watch him coach Erica,” Wright said. “The team was huge. But he knew everybody, he was fair to everybody, and he would acknowledge everybody. Erica was JV at the time, and she went to the non-qualifiers meet. But she still got attention from him, and that was great.”
The swimming community, the legal community ‚Äì and the community at large ‚Äì lost one of its giants all at the very same moment when the 57-year-old Prothero passed away on the morning of April 19.
A giant because Prothero’s priority was always someone other than himself.
He helped spearhead the successful drive to keep the Kent-Meridian Pool open when it was threatened with closure as King County got out of the swimming-pool business.
He was there to congratulate and pose for a photo with Renton High’s Steve Sholdra at the 2010 state meet when Sholdra broke Prothero’s 36-year-old school record in the 500-yard freestyle.
Whether he was coaching a local club team or during his decade-long tenure at Kentwood, Prothero’s knowledge and guidance helped turn good swimmers into excellent swimmers, and excellent swimmers into state title contenders ‚Äì and sometimes, state champions.
“He wasn’t worried about money, time, and all those other issues,” Kent School District athletic director Dave Lutes said in a Reporter article about Prothero last week. “He was there for the kids.”
He was indeed.
And Mark Prothero always made sure it was a fun ride.
Mark Moschetti is a former sports editor and sportswriter for the Valley Daily News and King County Journal.