Bakersfield College ‘legend’ retiring

Victor Garcia

Memorial Stadium has been Robert Covey’s office for the past 42 years.
Covey, 66, the men’s track and field coach, will be leaving his office and taking with him many memories when he retires at the end of this semester.
“He’s never in his office, he’s always working with his athletes,” said Athletics Secretary Barbara Hobbs.
Seventh-year Athletics Director Jan Stuebbe, 53, who pole vaulted for Covey in 1969, said that Covey is a legend.
“Bob Covey is the ultimate coach. He’s a legend,” he said. “We’ll replace him, but we won’t replace him.”
Stuebbe said that Covey acts as if he has only been at BC 10 years instead of 42 years.
“BC owes him a lot,” he said. “I’ll miss him.”
Assistant Track and Field Coach Jason Faast, 28, who was one of Covey’s students in 1997-98, agrees.
“He’s real genuine. He genuinely cares about the well being of his athletes,” Faast said.
“He wants people to graduate here as good men, not just good athletes.”
Faast also said that Covey is one of BC’s legends.
“There have been some great coaches before him, and he continued the legacy,” he said.
Covey’s first visit to Bakersfield College came when he was 19 years old, when he hitchhiked 1,500 miles from Ames, Iowa, for the national track and field championship in 1958.
“I ran the 440, placed ninth in the nation,” said Covey. He said that he mistakenly took a different route on the way back that was 2,300 miles.
“I was a freshman at the University of Kansas. At that time a freshman couldn’t be given any kind of support from their university.”
After the championship, Covey sat in the stands of Memorial Stadium and talked to Rex Grossart, the person who was to be his predecessor at BC.
Grossart, who was his assistant coach at Kansas, told Covey that BC had just offered him the assistant football and head track coaching job.
“I said, Rex, if I had a job like this, I probably would never leave.”
Covey said that five years later Grossart had to leave his coaching job because he had valley fever.
He said Grossart told him to apply for his job, right after Covey graduated with his master’s degree from Oregon State.
“I said sure, yeah right, no chance a 24-year-old kid is going to get this job. But I got it. I figured I’d stay maybe five or six years, but I loved it so much I didn’t want to leave and I hate to leave right now. … Nine months of work adds up after 42 years.”
“I’d like to be able to have the chance to play some golf, which I haven’t played for 16 years, do some stuff like that.”
When Covey came to BC, Ed Simonson was president of BC, and Gil Bishop – who the gym is named after – was athletic director.
“My first year coaching here I had a team that was good, and they developed to get better. We had the conference championships here and we surprised Long Beach City College, which was supposed to win it. L.A. Valley was supposed to get second, and we were supposed to get third. We won it.
“I was so excited. About a month later, the joke is, they started putting (the) BC (letters) up on the hill (of Memorial Stadium.) So I said I have hit it big now, they put my initials on the field.”
Covey’s teams have won 24 league track & field titles, 10 league Cross Country titles, six Southern California Regional Track & Field team title, one Southern California Regional Cross Country title and two California State team titles. “We’ve had 32 state (individual) champions.”
His current students have nothing but good words to say about him.
“He’s real experienced … He gives everybody confindence to help them push harder,” said business major, Jeremy Miller, 25.
“He loves all his athletes.”
Physical education major Jose Magana, 20, also said that Covey is an excellent coach.
Covey was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd”, on July 19, 1976, for the success of his BC track teams. He was inducted into the local Bob Elias Sports Hall of Fame in 1989 and was selected five times as California Coach of the Year.
John Chapman, Covey’s assistant, 55, said that he doesn’t think California junior college track and field, “would have its identity” without Covey.
He said over the years he has taught over 24,000 health students and over 2,100 track and field athletes.