Black History Today: Mike Bethea, a leader of men on and off the court

This post is part of an ongoing Black History Month series written by Marcus Harden, a truly unsung hero of South Seattle, as he honors the living legacy of Black history in his community and beyond, and recognizes the people who are shaping the future.


“I came to coach basketball players, and you became students. l came to teach boys, and you became men.”- Coach Ken Carter

As a society, we have become fascinated by sports as entertainment. Particularly in the black community, while cliched, sports is often seen as a way to create a better opportunity for your family and community. They say sports sells either success or hope, yet for those who have participated, you know that sports are so much more. It is real-time feedback that teaches, success, failure, progress, and teamwork.

To be a coach is to be a steward of all of those values and maybe more importantly to embody those values. The ultimate job of a coach is to be a leader of men/women and there may be no greater example of that in the country than Coach Mike Bethea. Coach Mike has been an institution as the head coach of the nationally known Rainier Beach Viking High School Boys Basketball team since 1994 when this writer was a freshman in Highschool.

There have been many articles written about Coach Mike, many laments his success as a head coach, winning eight state championships (1998, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016) and runner up (2001, 2004, 2015, 2017, 2018). As of this writing, Rainier Beach is back in the state Semifinals looking for State Title number 9.

While Rainier Beach High school is known for its sports, what’s little known about the school and its alumni is its commitment to the community, especially for those whom others didn’t believe in or give a chance. If the building of Rainier Beach is the body than the community is the heart and Coach Mike Bethea is the soul.

The high profile lives he’s affected get plenty of attention, yet what people don’t see is his commitment to the troubled youngster who needs basketball, not for a scholarship or even to display their talent, but because they need a safe space to be and positive peers to be around. While many watch Basketball to see the players' positions 1-8, play close attention to the players 9-12 (sometimes 13/14) and the young JV/Freshman players, the ones who need to be on the RBV basketball team may be more than the team needs them.

Coach Mike’s commitment to his team is just like a father would his family, if you attend an RB Basketball game, it’s more akin to a family reunion than it is a sporting event, his impact ranges from making sure his players get home all the way to make sure they have a home to stay in, period.

Coach Mike is as committed to his team as he is his family, a proud husband, prouder father of three adult children, Dion, Deedee and Angie who are all successful in their own right and now all coach on some level, paying forward what’s been paid to them. His heart is probably best on display as a grandfather of his six grandchildren (with two more on the way).

Coach Mike’s success pales in comparison to his true impact off of the court, he has truly impacted the lives of an entire community, seen and unseen. Whenever he decides to hang up his clipboard and polo/suit jacket, they will need to rename the gymnasium the Mike Bethea Complex because it is truly, the house he has helped build. Mike Bethea is the definition of a legend, the leader of men and a glowing centerpiece in the Crown Jewel of the Southend. Coach Mike Bethea is indeed, Black History, today!