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Dynasty hits finish line

For first time in 46 years, Grant runners won't have a Coach Cotton
by: JIM CLARK, Greg Cotton (left) will retire this year as both math teacher and track coach at Grant, posts once held by his father, Mark Cotton (right). One or both of them has been teaching and coaching at Grant for four and a half decades.

When people say it's a marathon, not a sprint, they're obviously talking about one thing -the combined career of the Cottons.

Mark and Greg, father and son, ages 77 and 52, have compiled a 46-year streak. That's how long one of them, or both, has taught math and coached track and field and cross country in Portland, mostly at Grant High.

Now the finish line is in sight; Greg will retire after this school year.

'I'm definitely getting sentimental about it,' he says.

In recent years, Mark has enjoyed attending Grant meets, advising Greg on occasion and staying quietly close to the Grant scene.

'I've missed coaching very much,' Mark says, 'and Greg's going to miss it, I'm sure.'

Mark and his wife, Jan, moved from Hermiston into a home across from Grant Park in 1962. Mark coached the Generals through 1990 - for 37 years. Greg was a first-grader at Hollyrood Elementary when his father started the long run.

Greg competed for his dad and then was a successful decathlete at Linfield College. In spring 1979, Greg began coaching at Oregon City. After seven years there, he spent five as head coach at Marshall. In 1990, he returned to Grant, first as a volunteer coach, then for six years as the chief assistant to Gary Noble, who had been his father's assistant.

Since '98, Greg has headed up Grant cross country and track and field -a Cotton spittin' image, in many ways, of his father.

The most noticeable difference -how they operate during a track meet.

'You don't see me standing long in one place,' Greg says.

Mark was more reserved, almost semi-stoic while in deep concentration.

'Greg is more vocal than I was,' Mark says.

'And he's better at the PR and communication with the parents. I was more involved in the technical aspects, but he's a wonderful fundraiser.'

Both Cottons -along with Greg's wife, Nancy, who also is retiring after this school year -are math teachers and loyal Grant fans.

'Greg's about as blue and gray as you can get,' his father says.

Nevertheless, Greg and Nancy are looking forward to living full-time in their getaway home in Sunriver.

'I'm going to enjoy taking a vacation after Labor Day, or skiing on a Wednesday, and playing golf and taking some motorcycle trips,' Greg says.

Grant will celebrate the Cotton eras at Friday's annual Cotton Invitational, a 4 p.m. meet involving teams from Grant, Beaverton, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Hillsboro and Thurston. It'll be Greg's final home meet as coach.

A reception for the Cottons will take place in the Grant cafeteria from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Former athletes are encouraged to attend. Both Cottons believe in numbers (in track and cross country, not just in math). They've had plenty of champions and individual success stories but consistently sought out and attracted large turnouts, 'and we always tried to treat everyone the same -it's never been a star program,' Mark says.

'I'm proud that I gave 150-plus kids a year a place to be and feel happy about themselves and learn to love a sport. A lot of kids found a place and a family.'

In a few weeks, Greg will pass the track and field coaching baton to current assistants John Mears and Jim Tucker, who will become co-head coaches. Tucker will work primarily with the girls, while Mears takes the boys. In cross country, Geoff Henderson will be the head coach; he's the man Greg replaced.

'They'll keep the Grant traditions going well,' Greg says. 'After 46 years of continuity, when it's working, why would anyone want to change?'

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