Kurt Lange can teach you how to land a perfect layup, toss a football, or pass a hockey puck. As Mid-Pen’s Athletic Director for more than twenty years, he is well known for the encouragement and straightforward instruction he provides to his PE students and players on his teams. What he enjoys most, though, are the spontaneous moments during the school day, like when a group of students is shooting hoops during a break, when he can offer a student a quick pointer.
“They are the most rewarding moments and often the most successful,” said Kurt. While he might not know it at the time, the sage advice he offers to Dragons during athletic activities sticks with them off the court.
“Kurt has taught me to be more calm and collected and think about what my actions will be before I do them,” said Taylor Young ‘21, who played on Mid-Pen’s soccer, basketball, and tennis teams. “He always tells us to look up and keep our eyes up, always looking around, always moving.”
Taylor was channeling Kurt’s advice during the last game of the 2021 basketball season. In the final minutes, senior Aaron Poternack was sent onto the court, and the team's goal was clear: get the ball to Aaron so he could shoot a basket. “We always like looking for Aaron when he’s on the court,” said Taylor of his good friend, who didn’t have much playing time this season.
With just seconds left in the game, Aaron missed a shot. Taylor quickly got the rebound, and although he was in the perfect position for a clean layup, he passed the ball to Aaron and blocked him from the opponent’s reach. Aaron landed the final shot of the season while his team and a small gathering of parent spectators jumped to their feet and cheered. It was a storybook ending for Aaron, Taylor, and the entire team.
Kurt’s positive impact on students mirrors the lasting imprint he’s made daily at Mid-Pen since he first joined the faculty in 1989. Hired to teach PE, Algebra, and Core, he also ended up being the de facto coach of the school’s only team: boys soccer. Students, however, were more interested in starting a boys baseball team.
“Kids kept coming to me saying, ‘Can we have a baseball team, please? We've got this field, and we have all these guys that want to play.’ So we made the pitch to [then Head of School] Phil Bliss, and he said, ‘If you get ten games, we'll let you try it. We'll get the uniforms and all that.’ So I did. We had our first ever baseball team that spring, and we played against a lot of the small schools in the area that we play now [in other sports].”
The baseball team’s success gave Kurt an opportunity to help Mid-Pen join the area’s high school sports league for small private schools. In short order, Mid-Pen’s athletics program was born and included girls volleyball, boys soccer, boys and girls basketball, baseball, and girls softball.
“I coached every team, both seasons,” recalled Kurt with a chuckle. “Sometimes, I was pretty busy.”
Mid-Pen’s no-cut policy is rare for high school sports and also a reason why so many students are willing to participate. “That’s why I always try to have a JV team,” said Kurt. “JV is a stepping stone into varsity, and helps players develop skills and realize they are better than they think. With a JV team, players get experience, and they get to play often. The wins and losses don’t say anything about the team or experience.”
Kurt’s PE classes also serve as a stepping stone for life. Through sports like badminton, indoor baseball, archery, and ultimate frisbee, he teaches individual skills that help students get a feel for spatial awareness and help them learn how to use their bodies. The underlying message, though, is all about play.
“Fun is the deal in PE,” said Kurt. “I want them to have fun. A lot of students don’t know how to play games. They’ve been in front of a computer screen or don’t get together with other kids in the neighborhood and just play.”
Kurt emphasizes creativity in sports and helps students develop their own ideas for games or different ways to use skills they’ve learned. If a group of students doesn't have enough players for a game or to field two teams, he challenges them to look for alternative options to still play.
“You can have your own games and your own rules,” explained Kurt. “That’s what I did as a kid. For some kids, it’s complicated. It takes them a while, but like any class, when it clicks, it clicks, and it’s very cool to watch.”
Physical and emotional safety is always a priority, too. It’s not uncommon for students to arrive at Mid-Pen with negative PE experiences from middle school or other high schools. Aside from learning how to avoid injuries, Kurt makes sure all his students feel welcome to explore sports at their own pace, in their own space.
“I’m not recruiting you to play sports. I’m meeting you where you are at now, and I’m trying to help you get better.”
Kurt’s Life Before Mid-Pen
- Played varsity basketball while an undergrad at Occidental College in Los Angeles
- Drove a tour bus in Denali National Park in Alaska
- Interned as a cardiac technician/ exercise leader at a cardiac rehab program in Chicago
- Played semi-pro baseball for a team in Menlo Park
- Started his own painting business in the San Francisco Bay Area
- Taught PE to K-8 students at a small Catholic school in San Francisco
- Moved to Oregon in 1995 and later rejoined Mid-Pen in 20