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New gym dedicated and named after Henry J. Sarlatte

By: Lanny Lowery
March 15, 2019

The Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Trustees unanimously approved naming the new gymnasium after Henry Sarlatte (1942-2010), former business teacher and athletic director at Rancho Cotate. The Board resolution reads: “The Board of Trustees dedicates the new gymnasium on the campus of Rancho Cotate High School by naming it the Henry J. Sarlatte Gymnasium and that a plaque will be installed in his honor.”  Sarlatte will be honored in mid-April at the open house for the new Theater Arts Gymnasium.

“Henry would not approve of a building being named after him,” declared his widow, Gayle Sarlatte, as she and her son, Henri, shared thoughts and memories of the former teacher, coach and athletic director of Rancho Cotate.  Mr. Sarlatte, as I thought of him during my first years at the high school, probably glared sideways from some ethereal sports arena as he heard the school board decide to name the new gym after him.

Henry, or Hank, left the board little choice but to select him.  No one did more for Rancho sports than he during his thirty-six years at Rancho.  Former athletic director, one of Sarlatte’s protégées, Mark Alton summed up Sarlatte’s worth:  “Henry Sarlatte set the bar as athletic director.”   He accomplished much as Athletic Director between 1983 and 1999 and as Athletic Director Emeritus between 1999 and his retirement in 2004.

Gayle remarked, “All of his years as athletic director, Henry was always glad for each team’s success.  A greater joy was the number of scholar athletes and scholar teams that the Ranch produced.”  Sarlatte was a teacher first and a coach and athletic director second; he saw that sports and academics should go hand in hand.  His philosophy for teaching extended to sports.  

Sarlatte taught business, math, accounting and English.  He believed in equal opportunity in the classroom as well as on the playing field.  He advocated the belief that “every human being is entitled to an opportunity to learn and grow intellectually and emotionally.”  He supported diversity even as a young teacher in the 1960s.

Long before the word “transparency” became popular, Sarlatte saw truthfulness as a key factor to student success.  He asserted, “If education is to be successful and meaningful, honesty must be an essential component.”  He realized that ethics must be a force in the method as well as the outcome.

Sarlatte, the complete educator, participated in many of the extra-curricular activities besides sports.  He was a department chair for seventeen years.  He advised the early student yearbooks and newspapers.  He was the sports’ publication advisor for twenty years as well as class and club advisor for nearly the same period of time.  Early in his career, he was the cheerleader advisor.

He impacted athletics closely while being the athletic director.  Sarlatte was the head basketball coach for eight years, junior varsity coach for five, assistant varsity coach for ten and women’s assistant varsity basketball coach for three years.  He devoted twenty years to coaching varsity and junior varsity football and he worked with the varsity baseball team for sixteen years.  Sarlatte even coached wrestling for a time.  This all adds up to sixty years of coaching added to the years of other extra-duty activities.  Understatement:  Henry Sarlatte was instrumental in the development of Rancho Cotate High School.

Many of Sarlatte’s former students and colleagues spoke about his skills, integrity, and passion for Rancho Cotate.  1970s’ student Kathy Nakagawa Fell remained in contact with her favorite teacher for more than forty years.  She said that he inspired her to pursue her career in business, and she saw Henry Sarlatte as family.  

Former Rancho Cotate Head Baseball Coach, Jim Dougherty, recalled his colleague and very good friend as a man who put academics ahead of athletics.  He recalled that Sarlatte “all of his years as athletic director was glad for the teams’ successes but a greater joy for him was the scholar athletes and the scholar teams.”

Former star athlete Ron Kamaka saw Henry Sarlatte as a father figure.  Kamaka, who played Cougar basketball and ran track and went on to compete at Arizona State University.  Sarlatte reflected, after Kamaka had a tragic accident that made him a quadriplegic, that Kamaka’s attitude was very positive and perhaps this was because of his experience as an athlete.  Sarlatte hired him to coach Cougar basketball.  Now coaching in Southern California, Kamaka insists that he will attend the dedication ceremony naming the new gym after Sarlatte, no matter when it occurs.  

Many former coaches recall fondly the support they received from Sarlatte as the athletic director.  Golf coach John Gulbranson remembered how organized he was.  Former Head Basketball Coach, Mike Freitas attested that Sarlatte could always place his fingers on whatever was needed at the moment it was requested.

Heather Hunter, the first girl to play on a Cougar football team, recalled Sarlatte’s many good qualities in a letter read to the school board.  She remembered him as an athletic director, a teacher, and a friend as she cited his generosity, service, integrity and passion.  For students, athletes and colleagues, Sarlatte was unselfish with his time.  Indelible in her memory forever, Henry Sarlatte walking around the campus in his Hawaiian shirt, bike shorts and Birkenstocks looking after his school and students.

1979 Rancho Cotate graduate, former football and basketball player Phil Jehly and 1994 graduate Gabe Duran spoke to the school board about Sarlatte’s integrity and generosity.  Duran revealed that Sarlatte had personally bought basketball shoes for five players on Duran’s team.  Jehly told how Sarlatte often purchased lunch or dinner for the team when it travelled.  Both saw him as a teacher, coach and friend.

Donna McKenna, volleyball coach in the school district for more than forty years, cites the impact Sarlatte had on girls’ sports as he carefully implemented Title IX rules.  He always made sure that girls’ teams were just as well equipped and supported as were the boys’ teams.

McKenna recalled, “Hank focused on girls’ sports receiving equity across the board.  He did more to elevate girls to equal status with the boys’ sports than anyone in the history of Rancho Cotate athletics.  His sense of fairness and equality will continue to benefit generations of athletes.”

No surprise, the school board voted unanimously to name the gym after Henry Sarlatte.  A pioneer in developing sports, fields and facilities at Rancho Cotate and a champion of women’s rights, no one deserves this honor of having the new gym named after him more than Henry J. Sarlatte.  The dedication of the gym to Mr. Sarlatte will be part of the TAG Building opening ceremonies in mid April.