As the state prepares to induct a new class of luminaries into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame, the Kenai Peninsula will have the chance to celebrate two of its own as they are recognized for their imprint upon the history of high school athletics.
Dave Schroer and Roger Steinbrecher are two of nine new inductees that will be honored tonight at the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage. With a combined 48 years of dedicated service to the Kenai Peninsula Borough — and years more of immeasurable success — both men have played critical roles in establishing and growing their community. Schroer made his mark as a Nordic ski coach in Homer, while Steinbrecher provided the genesis of high school football in Seward and the Greatland Conference.
Schroer’s influence reaches back into the days before Alaska was even a state. Nominated this spring by the Homer booster club, Schroer coached alpine and Nordic skiing for 25 years, as well as a track and field.
Sixty-two years after arriving in Homer as an eager young man with a teaching degree, Schroer said he never believed he would lay down his roots and call the sleepy fishing village his home.
“No, not in my wildest dreams,” he said via phone from his home. “Homer was only about 500 people then, with only about six teachers in the whole school. It was just a good place to be.”
Having been born and raised in Pearl City, Illinois, a town of just less than 500 people at the time he left it, Schroer had an opportunity in 1953 to teach in Kobuk, a small village in the southern foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska, but passed it up in favor of teaching in Homer.
Shortly after settling down in the town, the 25-year-old discovered that there were no interscholastic sports on the Kenai Peninsula. While bigger cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks had established programs, the local scene was without big-time help.
“I had an athletic background in high school and college, and I saw the need for starting something,” Schroer said.
The first thing, Schroer realized, was to expand the Homer ski program. The town had an established program that began in the 1940s, and every Friday afternoon, students from first grade on up were outside for ski lessons.
Homer was also where he met his wife, Beth, a physical education teacher at the school. The pair were married in 1966 and have been together ever since.
Schroer was there when the community finally saw its efforts rewarded in 1958 with the building of its first indoor gym. He was also there when the ski team came together. Schroer, who admits he had limited ski experience when he began, helped organize a high school team with the help of his wife and other friends that would compete against West Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, the only other big schools in the state.
With Schroer at the helm, the Homer high school team won three state championships in 10 years, claiming titles in 1962, 1965 and 1968. All four boys team members of the 1968 squad qualified to Junior Nationals.
Schroer explained that the Mariners learned and soaked up every bit of knowledge they could when the team traveled for ski meets. Mingling with some of the state’s best in competitions provided the baseline for Schroer’s success.
Among the Alaskans that have helped Schroer was Jim Mahaffey, coach of Alaska Methodist University, now named Alaska Pacific University, which churns out some of the top caliber skiers in the nation on an annual basis. With a dearth of financial support from the school district until the mid-60s, the Homer ski team benefited greatly from AMU.
Dave Schroer added that the value he stressed most was discipline. Teaching skiers to focus on a sport and work hard to excel at it kept legions of kids out of trouble, Schroer said.
“The kids just learned from others and coaches helped us, it was wonderful,” Schroer said.
In the classroom, Schroer taught social studies at the junior high school. Outside, he’s inspired multiple generations of student athletes to reach their goals.
One shining example of Schroer’s dedication is that of Larry Martin, a former Homer athlete that ended up competing at two winter Olympic games. Martin, who now owns and works at Lake Shore Glass in Homer, competed in the men’s 15 kilometers at the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, as well as the men’s 4-by-10-kilometer relay. Martin added an appearance at the 1976 games in Innsbruck, Austria, as well.
When he wasn’t racing among the world’s best, Martin was duking it out with the nation’s best. Martin finished third in the national 15K championships in 1971 and second in the 50K championships in 1975.
Of course, when asked about Martin’s success, Schroer deflects the credit.
“He was the kingpin of our team,” Schroer said about Martin. “It was just something I kind of fell into, as a lot of kids had previous ski training.”
Schroer retired in 1982, but his work in the community did not end there. Working with the Homer Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides funds for the community, Schroer has donated an untold amount of help and financial support, many times as grants, to local sports activities. As the foundation’s motto goes, “Connecting generosity to community need,” Schroer has continued to keep local athletics going strong.
“That’s probably the biggest thing that I’m most proud of,” Schroer said.
Frank Schroer, Dave’s son, reflects upon his father’s career with the utmost respect of the numerous generations of student athletes that were molded by his father’s ideals.
“I just think that in 30 years, there was a couple hundred kids that benefited from his coaching,” Frank said. “He touched a lot of people, and it showed.”
Right about the time Schroer was winding down his coaching career, Steinbrecher was beginning his.
He arrived in Sand Point from Minnesota in 1977 and stayed for 13 years, leading the girls hoops team to a 3A state championship in 1983 with a 47-38 victory over Northway, and a Class 2A title game appearance in 1990, losing to Anderson 41-37.
When he moved his family to Seward in 1990, his impact was quickly felt.
As a coach and athletic director, he took the Seward girls to successive 3A state championship games, losing 39-38 to the Ward Romans-led Nikiski girls in 1997 and winning it in 1998 with a 41-34 victory over Valdez. That triumph remains the only state basketball championship for either boys or girls at Seward.
But his accomplishments on the playing field go much further than what simple stats suggest. Steinbrecher was one of the key proponents to establishing a Seward high school football team, doing so from essentially nothing.
As he and fellow coaches at the time continued to grow the sport at the smaller schools level, it naturally produced a need for a separate division within the state. With 60 students on board in hopes of forming a team, Steinbrecher contacted athletic directors and coaches across the Peninsula, calling out a need for equipment, which proved to be too expensive to purchase for a small school.
It also gave way to the ultimate creation of the Seward boosters club, which Steinbrecher was involved with, along with his coaching duties, until 2005.
Steinbrecher passed away in July 2009 at the age of 56 due to cancer, but his legacy was cemented one year later. In 2010, the full scope of his work came full circle when the Seahawks opened their season with a 27-0 shutout victory over Monroe Catholic on the newly dedicated Steinbrecher Field, named in his honor with a dedication ceremony that included his widow, Noreen, and daughter, Lisa.
After his retirement from teaching in 1997, the man credited with bringing football to Seward High School won a Golden Apple Award from the Kenai Peninsula Borough in 2009, just before his passing.
Prior to his success in the little town at the head of Resurrection Bay, the Princeton, Minnesota, native was co-captain of his high school football team, graduating in 1971. He followed it up with four years at Valley City State University in North Dakota, where, again, he presided as co-captain of the football team.