Mike Drummond: Teaching an old Bulldog new tricks

  The kids Mike Drummond teaches occasionally find out he played college basketball.

  Their world is LeBron and Steph and Giannis. “How come you didn’t play in the NBA?” they’ll ask.

  Well, for starters, he’s 5-foot-8. As it was, it was fairly remarkable that he carved out such a worthy career as a point guard for the Oregon Ducks from 1974-78. He did things like lead the team in minutes played as a senior, with a 3.28 assist-turnover ratio; shoot a Ducks-best .559 as a junior; and yes, initiate more delay games to satisfy the martinet head coach, Dick Harter, than defenses would care to remember.

  He was the Bulldog, a guy who found a way to get the job done. By almost any measure, it was a fulfilling college career, but Drummond wanted more. Not more basketball, more to life.

  “I’ve worked very hard on not every dwelling on the fact that I played,” he said over coffee recently on Seattle’s north side. “It’s part of what I did at one point in my life. It’s not my life, and it took me a while to figure that out, too.”

  To anybody who might have read my book, “Mad Hoops,” on the chaotic 1970s run of Oregon’s “Kamikaze Kids,” it was obvious that the era hadn’t aged particularly well in Drummond’s eyes. And at least some of that was due to the example set by Harter, who was infamous for his nighttime escapades.

  As luck would have it, it was Drummond who hit the final points of the Kamikaze era, a pair of free throws at Oregon State in a 54-51 Oregon victory just days before Harter left for Penn State.

  At that point, the “more” that Drummond wanted was more money – “because I never had any.”

  Mike was the youngest of four Drummond kids born four and a half years apart. It was a working-class family; their father sold farm equipment.

  Harter was off to a new challenge and Drummond went to work as a stockbroker for Smith-Barney in Eugene. The names of the Kamikaze Kids were magical in that town, and that helped, but he struggled with the job. He and his wife Mary, an architecture grad at Oregon, were seeking something bigger, something different, so they pulled up stakes for Minneapolis, where he became a bond salesman. Drummond was risk-averse – “I was deadly afraid of losing people,” he says – and he left that job within 18 months to return to his old haunt in Racine as a stocks-and-bonds trader.

  But work was scarce there for Mary, and the Drummonds left Wisconsin in the mid-‘80s for Seattle. For about 15 years, Drummond was a bond salesman. Toward the end of that run, he was slowly being squeezed by improved technology; what had been his position’s province was gradually more accessible to everybody. As he puts it, “I was being displaced by the computers. I’m like the coal miners; I was put out of business by technology.”

  An option was to swing over to selling mortgage bonds to investors, but Drummond – by this time, he and Mary had a couple of teenage kids – had had enough.

  “That’s where all the money was, that’s where the big markup was,” he says. “But I didn’t have the drive anymore. It takes a lot of energy to do that business. I didn’t like getting up at four in the morning to do my job.”

  Without a lot of discussion with Mary, he admits, Drummond decided to go back to school, seeking a master’s degree at Seattle University so he could teach. At 50, it was a fairly pronounced professional turn. It was while at Seattle U that he took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality assessment that relates to likely occupational slant.

  “You look at what jobs you might be good at,” Drummond says. “My two were stockbroker and teacher. I remember going up to the teacher and saying, ‘This is crazy, this is absolutely nuts.’ ‘’

  Drummond taught middle-school math for four years. The inflexible, one-size-fits-all nature of education touched him. He remembers curriculum nights, and telling parents how it was the lowest quartile of students that would draw his greatest attention.

  “That’s probably not a good philosophy for a general education teacher because you’ve got to teach everybody,” Drummond says. “But these kids, they’re traumatized, they’re living in cars, they’ve got tough family situations, they’re living in poverty – they need more support.”

  So it was a natural fit when, through his daughter Natalie’s work, Drummond grew to know Interagency Academy, a network of small high schools in Seattle. It caters to students who otherwise might fall through the cracks – “students who have been displaced from the comprehensive high school,” Drummond says. “They’ve either left the school, or the school asked them to leave.”

  In a 2012 story, the Seattle Times described Interagency as the city’s “last-chance high school” for “some 500 of the city’s toughest to teach – students who have been jailed or expelled, homeless or pregnant, gang-involved or learning-disabled.”

  Drummond stresses to his students, just show up. Be there, and the intensive relationship with teachers will be of benefit, toward a credit, toward a diploma, toward something better. He’ll fulfill 90-100 days this school year, about half-time.

  “I’ve learned more from them than they’ve learned from me,” Drummond says. “Everyone has something at which they shine and my job is to help them find it, be quick to empathize and slow to judge, never take it personally and never give up on them even if they’ve given up on themselves.”

  For Drummond, it’s the sweet spot of education.

  “It’s much more satisfying (to) me,” he says. “I don’t have to stand up in front of the group and say, ‘Today we’re going to learn about multiplying exponents.’ I don’t have the energy . . . I can do it for a day or two, but to teach, correct papers, enter them into the computer, communicate with parents, go to all the teacher meetings . . .

  “Teaching is the hardest thing I ever did. If you’re gonna be a good teacher, it’s really, really hard. They’re hugely underpaid and unfortunately in a lot of places, they’re really underappreciated.”

  The Kamikaze Kids? It’s clear Drummond has learned to compartmentalize. It wasn’t the stuff of the old Chip Hilton adolescent sports books. Nor was it an endeavor to be forgotten.

  “I think I was conflicted,” Drummond says. “I struggled . . . about what we did, how it all came out in the end. You know, you pour yourself into something, you believe a certain way. (Then) you kinda find out it’s not . . . I mean, I wasn’t that naïve that I didn’t think it was gonna be the way I dreamed it to be. I guess I was disappointed in some of the people around me that were in leadership positions. I guess I’ve gotten over all that, knowing that people are people, and people are gonna make mistakes.

  “Coach Harter, for all his faults and indiscretions, gave me a chance when most people weren’t willing to give me a chance. I think I surprised him and a lot of people that I was actually able to play at that level. I’m grateful for that . . . I look back at it not so much from the basketball part, but from a human connection, from the human interest part of it.”

  Drummond brightens, maybe remembering the thunderous nights at Mac Court, the lemon-and-green streamers floating above the floor, the band blaring out the fight song. The good guys he played with.

  “It was great, man, what can you say? It was friggin’ awesome.”