ILWACO — Tim Harrell has resigned as Ilwaco High School boys basketball coach, and Justin Russell, previously the assistant girls basketball coach, has taken over the boys head coaching position. Harrell, who coached Ilwaco from the 2014-15 season through 2019-20 and has been the athletic director since 2018, wanted to spend more time with his young children. He announced his resignation in June.
“It was not an easy decision, but my life has changed in the last few years in a lot of ways,” Harrell said. Taking on the athletic director position, which he will continue to hold, weighted him with added responsibilities. He has a three-year-old son and now a two-month-old daughter. The death of his four-year-old niece, Dylan, earlier this year reinforced the importance spending time with his kids while they are young, he said.
“The time commitment [in coaching basketball] is a lot. You miss evenings with your family. I do hope to get back into it someday, maybe when my kids are older.”
Harrell took over a program that had gone 0-18 playing in the 1A Trico League the previous year. The school dropped down to the 2B classification the following season, and in 2015-16 started their current streak of six straight winning seasons. The team had a second-place finish and two third-place finishes in the Pacific League during Harrell’s tenure.
Russell steps up
Russell has coached the girls junior varsity basketball team since 2015-16, a tenure that included undefeated seasons in 2015-16 and 2018-19. He also assisted Ned Bittner on the sidelines of the powerhouse varsity program. Harrell said Bittner will likely seek out a new assistant coach.
The boys team he takes over was already moving into a new era. Most of the playing rotation for last year’s team, which went 12-6 in league play, graduated, the second straight year of big waves of graduation for the program.
“I like [that I’m] taking over a young team,” Russell said. “It feels good. We get to grow together.”
Russell is glad for the opportunity at a head coaching position.
“[Harrell] knew what I wanted. I’d been behind Bittner for six years, and I always wanted a head [coaching] spot.”
Russell, who previously coached junior varsity basketball at South Bend, cherishes his years with the Ilwaco girls program.
“We had fun. [Bittner] had a really nice system that works for his girls and obviously has achieved extraordinary success.”
He is taking over in a year when sports programs at every level face constant uncertainty related to covid. The Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has allowed an open coaching window, which began Sept. 28 and has been extended to Dec. 19, for coaches to work with players in most sports, during a time when virtually all high school competition state-wide has been suspended.
The WIAA has basketball scheduled to start in late December, a delay from normal years. But whether games can actually be played in a given region at a given time will depend on the health situation. Harrell and other athletic directors are preparing to make rapid adjustments and give their athletes as much competition as they can.
“I’m pretty confident there will be competition for moderate-risk sports,” Harrell said. “But our league includes five counties, three of which are a covid nightmare right now. There’s been talk of competing at the county level.”
Russell acknowledged the unusual challenge of taking over in such circumstances.
“It’s weird, but at the same time the kids need something to look forward to, something to strive toward, even if it’s not a normal year.”
Junior Jaden Turner, the team’s most prominent returning player, said the players heard “through the grapevine” of the coaching change within a couple of weeks of the season.
“I feel like the program was going through a big change anyway. We lost six seniors,” he said. “But it’s always sad to lose a coach…. He was a fun coach a lot of times. Every once in a while of course after a game he was mad at us. But overall, he stayed mostly positive. He brought a lot of good energy to practice.”
Alex Kaino, a starting varsity guard for four years who graduated in 2019, looked back fondly on his time in Harrell’s program.
“Tim knows how to build a family, a program where players care about each other.” Kaino recalled the aftermath of his last game, a playoff loss to Adna in which a frantic Ilwaco comeback attempt came up short.
“We had been playing together since we were little, and we came into the locker room we were just sad, with our heads down. Tim came in with tears in his eyes but a smile on his face and said ‘I love you like family.’ And everybody looked up. We knew it had been a good run.”
Additional coaching resignations
While the boys basketball vacancy was filled immediately, the school finds itself with volleyball and golf openings.
Bob Enos stepped down as coach of the golf program. Enos, who at one point assisted in football, basketball and golf, is keeping his position as boys junior varsity basketball coach. But Enos, who takes care of his 94-year-old father, is leaning toward taking a leave of absence from basketball this year out of caution over coronavirus, Harrell said.
Michaela Eastham, volleyball coach in 2018 and 2019, has moved to Arizona to work on her PhD. She coached the long-struggling program to a winning season last year. The Ocean Beach School District also has openings for junior varsity and middle school volleyball.
Those who believe they are qualified for the golf or volleyball positions should apply at the Ocean Beach School District website.