By Ray Hamill — Few people have had a bigger influence on the history of McKinleyville sports than Dale Cash.
And he continues to do so.
The living legend of McKinleyville youth football is still going strong at age 69, although he says next season will probably be his last.
Not everyone believes him.
In part because they’ve heard it before, and in part perhaps because they just don’t want to see him walk away.
Cash has been a head coach on the local youth football sidelines for 43 years, and has been shaping the minds and bodies of young McKinleyville football players since he first moved to the area from SoCal back in the early 1970s.
In all that time, he has taken just one season off.
“That was a mistake,” he said. “The kids were all on me about it. Really, it was the kids that made me come back.”
He has coached probably close to a thousand Mack football players in his time here, perhaps even more, introducing many of them to the game, and leaving a lasting impression on most.
This weekend, Cash will reunite with some of his former players while coaching the McKinleyville High team in its annual alumni showdown with arch rivals Arcata.
“All the McKinleyville players have played for Dale Cash at one point, and they all love to come back to play for him again,” said current McKinleyville High head coach Keoki Burbank, who is organizing Saturday’s alumni game as a fundraiser for the program.
Cash first got into coaching while still in high school, after suffering a season-ending knee injury while playing DB for Long Beach Poly.
“I actually got into it because of one of my coaches,” he said.
His secondary coach at the time also coached a local youth football team, and when Cash got injured he was brought along to help out one day.
And Cash immediately took to it.
“After a couple of years, I found coaching more exciting than playing,” he said. “You find yourself looking at the whole thing, and you start seeing the game differently.
“It made me a better player.”
Cash, who admits he didn’t have the speed to play college ball, moved to Humboldt in 1973 as a professional musician and decided “it was a great place to raise my kids.”
He wasted little time taking up a coaching role locally, applying to the youth program after seeing an add in a local paper.
“I figured I’d get involved, and I just wanted to see what the program was like,” he said. “Two years later I was the head coach.”
Cash has coached all three levels with the McKinleyville youth football program, starting out at the pee wee level, as it was called back then.
After more than a decade coaching the youngest team, he took a season off, and when he returned he moved up the ladder to AAA, because of one player in particular.
“In my last year, I had Elijah Gildea on my team, and then when I came back I had his brother Isaac, and I kind of followed Isaac up the ladder to triple A,” he said.
It’s the interaction with the players that drives the longtime head coach.
“The relationship with the players is what’s special,” he said. “And having dads that played for you on your staff. Your success is really predicated on who you surround yourself with and who you want to expose yourself to.”
A fun game
Cash is back coaching the single-A team these days, and enjoys watching his players grow on and off the football field.
“When they’re that young, they make it fun,” he said. “They make you laugh. They’re bummed when they lose, but two hours later they’re running around and you have to chase them out of the end zone.”
And that’s one way his players have taught him something about the game.
“It kind of keeps it real,” he said. “That’s what the game’s about. It’s supposed to be fun.”
Saturday’s game will be played at McKinleyville High at 1 p.m.