Dogs were barking. Planes were taking off, and birds were singing.
Whatever sound a cellphone can make, it was emanating from the bag that held the phones of all the Hermiston High School girls basketball players.
Coach Steve Hoffert would collect all 34 phones when the players got on the bus for a road trip. A couple of years ago, McKenzie Byrd got a little payback.
She had her teammates set the alarms on their phones to go off at different intervals with a variety of noises during the two-hour ride from Hermiston to The Dalles.
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“You have to sit back and laugh about moments like that,” Hoffert said. “That ranks right up there in my top 10 moments.”
Hoffert has a stockpile of memories to look back on now that he has retired. He turned in his paperwork Tuesday after 30 years in the classroom and just as many on the basketball court.
“I always said I would go out on my terms,” Hoffert said. “It took a few of the girls by surprise, but I felt it was the right time. The program is in a good place.”
Hoffert, 53, who also will retire from teaching math at the end of the school year, spent 21 years with the Bulldogs. He was an assistant for Mike Royer for 13 seasons, and head coach for eight.
During his time at the helm, he amassed a 159-57 record. The Bulldogs were 59-1 in league play between the Intermountain and Columbia River conferences, and Hermiston is in the midst of a 29-0 winning streak over rival Pendleton.
“I feel pretty good about that,” Hoffert said of his record. “My first year, we had 12 wins. After that, we averaged at least 20 wins a season.”
Hermiston was 22-9 in the postseason under Hoffert. In eight seasons, his team reached at least the round of 16 at state. The Bulldogs placed second in 2015, third in 2013 and 2014, and fourth in 2010, 2011 and last season.
“We had some great players go through the program,” Hoffert said. “The girls saw the success and the excitement. Tradition never graduates. We adopted that motto five years ago, and they want to be part of that. The school and the community have been very supportive.”
Hoffert, who grew up in Tillamook, Ore., played high school basketball and baseball for the Cheesemakers. He played four years of basketball at Eastern Oregon University and majored in math and physical education.
His first coaching job was the men’s junior varsity team at EOU. He left midseason when Condon (Ore.) called and offered him a job after it let a teacher go.
He coached the Blue Devils for six seasons, winning Oregon state B titles in 1987 and 1990. The last two seasons in Condon, he coached the boys and the girls teams.
“My years with the boys in Condon were my young years,” Hoffert said. “I was advised to quit coaching because it was too stressful. At the time, I was asked to help with the girls. They are just as competitive as the boys, but there is more on the emotional side that you have to manage.”
When he arrived in Hermiston, he helped with the boys program for two seasons until health issues started to arise once again.
“It was a wake-up call,” Hoffert said. “I had to take care of myself.”
Royer asked Hoffert to help with the girls team, and he accepted the offer.
“I told myself I can coach the same way but keep my stress level down,” Hoffert said. “With the girls, I learned to take things down a notch, but still be able to coach and be competitive. I truly loved it. The X’s and O’s are the same. The girls were competitive, and the program was on the rise. I was able to coach my daughter Jeni, and I loved that. I was blessed to have the staff and the players I had. It’s a great program to be involved in. It was an amazing job.”
Hoffert isn’t sure who will take over the program. He said he will push for assistant coach Juan Rodriguez, who has been with him the past four years.
“They gave me an opportunity when I was with Mike,” Hoffert said. “He deserves a chance, too.”
While he will technically be retired, Hoffert will continue to run the home inspection company he started in June 2007.
He also will have the time to watch his daughter play at Northwest Christian University in Eugene, and visit his oldest son, Tyler, who is a deep sea welder in Florida.
With Hoffert’s 9-year-old twin sons, Jaydon and Payton, getting involved in sports, he will have the time to help.
“It’s nice to know they still want their dad around,” Hoffert said.