NASELLE — Soon-to-be graduate Warren Wirkkala wasn’t coy when he was asked why he wanted to pursue a career as an electrician after graduating from Naselle High School in just over a month’s time.

“It pays really well,” he said. And for someone who plans to stay in south county after graduation, good-paying jobs are a must-have.

For Wirkkala, the pandemic has presented its challenges over the past year, particularly when it comes to school. As someone who considers himself to be very hands-on when it comes to learning, he said the switch to remote learning for much of the past year “kind of sucks.”

One thing that has brought some sense of normalcy in recent months has been the return of high school sports this spring. That includes football, where Wirkkala, as Naselle’s starting quarterback, helped lead the team to an undefeated season alongside friends and teammates he’s had since kindergarten.

Some of his favorite high school memories have come on the football field, most notably the team’s appearance in the 1B state championship game in the 2019 season.

“That’s the biggest [memory from high school], in my books,” Wirkkala said, adding that great coaching helped take them to the final game of the season, “but also we grew up together, we know how each other plays.”

Wirkkala was also on the NHS baseball team that won the 1B Pacific League Championship last month, where he broke a 2-2 tie with Mossyrock by hitting a two-RBI double that gave the Comets the lead for good. His high school sports career will come to a close as the basketball team’s shortened season gets underway this week.

Along with his high school coaches, Wirkkala counts Justin Laine, now in his first year as principal at the Naselle Grays River Valley School District after serving as the district’s counselor for many years, as someone who’s had a positive impact on him throughout the years.

“Throughout my childhood I’ve had a lot of downs, and he’s just a person I could talk to and trust and help me through it,” Wirkkala said. “He’s family to me.”

Laine is effusive in his praise of Wirkkala, calling him one of the most polite, humble and respectful students at NHS. He remembers coaching Warren in middle school basketball, and that while there were other players who’d score more points and stand out more on their undefeated team, it was Warren who was the team’s linchpin.

“Things didn’t always click unless he was on the court. He was one of those kids who was always in the right place at the right time, chasing down loose balls, making the extra pass or setting a screen to get his teammate an open shot. That is the type of kid Warren is — very unselfish and unassuming,” Laine said in an email.

Wirkkala feels like he’s matured since those middle school years, saying he’s grown up and is doing stuff more on his own outside of school. That involves a healthy dose of fishing and hunting, whether it be elk, deer or “everything.”

As for wanting to stay in the area after graduating, his reasoning was simple: “It’s home” to him and his extended family, including his brother, sister and three cousins.

“Most of my family lives here,” Wirkkala said. “If they didn’t live by me, I wouldn’t be this athletic. Every day after school we’d always play baseball and basketball outside until I had to go to bed.”

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