Ilwaco, Naselle coaches motivate athletes for two noble reasons

By PATRICK WEBB

Observer correspondent

Why do coaches coach?

Creating memories and adding another element to the educational process are the most popular answers.

When asked, some articulate with the eloquence of a Greek philosopher; others seem genuinely puzzled by the question, because it’s in their DNA.

The simple answer for all is, “it’s for the kids.” The cliché of coaches trying to relive or recapture their former glory through their student athletes exists mainly in the movies.

For Ilwaco football coach Kevin McNulty, it’s education while building memories.

He serves as dean of students and athletic director at Ilwaco High School, and he coaches wrestling and football.

Sports teach valuable lessons, he said.

“When I began, it was to give something back to the game — some of the things the game has afforded me and how the game has helped me as an adult.”

McNulty played at Naselle High School then Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore.

“Athletics is a vehicle for educating kids that is an extension of the classroom. You develop a relationship, get to know a kid.”

The lessons of teamwork, dedication, and coping with losing — and winning — are universal.

“It’s how they are going to handle stress in the adult world. I want this to be a learning situation.” said McNulty. “And also memories. We might forget about the score, but we remember the games, and the bonding lasts for a lifetime.”

In the early 1980s at Naselle, he played fullback, a year ahead of their high school’s future coach, Jeff Eaton, who blocked for him.

It’s a toss-up whether their school contests, or backyard games with their brothers, were more memorable. They remain close, and served as best man at each other’s weddings. (Oddly, they share the same birthday — Halloween.)

“It was great memories,” said McNulty, “although you learn a lot of things, lifetime skills, and how to get up when you are knocked down.”

Sarah Taylor is the one fall coach who still performs her sport: running. She took part in the Great Columbia Crossing in October, placing second in her age group (35-39) while completing the 10K race across the Astoria Bridge in 48 minutes.

She enjoys coaching cross country and track at Ilwaco, in part to instill a life-long fitness philosophy. Her team talks cover nutrition and the importance of drinking plenty of water, as well as stretching and warming up properly.

“I love running,” she said. “It’s really fun to expose other people to the lifetime joy of running.”

It’s a myth that cross country is an individual sport. Five runners’ finishing positions determine team victories. But participants are invariably self-motivated; many dance to a different drummer (one boy brought his knitting to a team meeting this fall). In the case of the boys, many don’t have the physique for football or just prefer not to suit up in pads and helmet.

Like track, boys and girls train side by side; in races, they cheer each other home.

Taylor encourages team bonding through family-style social activities and games.

“I really enjoy the athletes. They are a lot of fun,” Taylor said. “They keep me laughing — they are goofy.”

Comets’ head football coach Jeff Eaton spends his workdays helping troubled young people as a staff member at the Naselle Youth Camp, a juvenile detention center. His assistant coaches, Matt Scrabeck and Pete Riley, work there, too.

While they are diplomatic when asked about the contrasts, it’s clear that they are invigorated by the more positive community atmosphere at the high school.

Eaton, a former lineman, played at Naselle then at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He and former next-door-neighbor McNulty even played in the same college game — on opposing teams.

Eaton has been involved with the NHS program for 26 years, occasionally stepping aside for someone else to be the head coach, but always remaining involved. “I just do it because I enjoy working with the kids,” he said, surprised at the question. “I just like football.”

Naselle volleyball Head Coach Kim Eaton graduated from Naselle High School, then attended Washington State University in Vancouver before returning to the community. She has coached since 2000 and has been with the Educational Service District since 2006, working with special education students.

“For me, coaching is a way that I can combine my love for athletics with working with kids,” she said. “My focus has always been on trying to use athletics as a way to teach life skills.”

At Naselle, she was guided by coaches Lyle Patterson and Doug Rogers.

“Both integrated life skills of dedication, perseverance, integrity, hard work, as well as many other skills, into athletics,” Eaton said. “They also cared for their athletes off the court, always checking in and seeing how things were going out of season.”

After nine years as head coach, she retired this month after her team won its League and District titles and advanced to the WIAA state championships for the second consecutive year. Leading them on the court was her daughter, Taylor, a motivated three-sport athlete who will graduate in June.

Kim Eaton does not like to be in the spotlight, preferring the focus on her athletes’ achievements. “I just like being a part of the volleyball program and being a part of the girls having success,” she said. “It’s not about me.”

Her players might disagree a little.

Freshman Hailey Weston, whose mom Andrea played NHS volleyball with Eaton in the 1990s, savored the experience this season, even though it ended with two losses at state. “I’m just thankful to be a part of Kim’s last year,” the teenager said. “She’s taught me a lot.”

Ashley Muessig was in tears after playing her last game under Eaton Nov. 13.

“It’s incredible having Kim Eaton as a coach,” said the NHS junior. “She taught me everything I know in volleyball. She’s the best!”

It wasn’t so long ago that Ilwaco volleyball coach Rachelle Ridout was starring on her high school soccer and softball teams at Montesano or playing collegiate softball while studying at Linfield. She teaches mathematics at IHS; this fall was her first season as a head coach.

Her team’s success was measured in her players’ progress and learning, rather than the win-loss record. Her girls won just two games, but she is looking forward to working in the off season and coming back strongly next year.

“The most rewarding thing is being able to create relationships with the players that you don’t find in the classroom, and to have them create relationships and bonds with each other,” she said.

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