NASELLE — Cut an Eaton and they bleed Naselle blue.
But after five children have graduated, the dynasty appears over.
The last was Jacob, who turned 18 then donned cap and gown earlier this month. His amusing speech to an appreciative graduation audience in the gym capped a stellar high school sports career paralleled by academic success that earned him a host of scholarships.
The family’s participation in the Naselle community has that flag-and-apple-pie quality often missing in today’s world of impersonal cities with transient populations.
Not so in zip code 98638.
These moms and dads work tirelessly to help student-athletes succeed, coaching or supporting with inexhaustible vigor.
Jacob is a three-sport athlete following in the footsteps of his sister and three cousins who all excelled in Comet uniforms. And while he has demonstrated his consistency in academics, his passion is evident.
“Between baseball, softball, basketball, football, volleyball and soccer, we’ve spent countless hours practicing whatever sport was in season together,” he told fellow graduates. “I have to say, playing sports with all of you, whether it was a game of soccer in P.E. or a team sport for the school, was definitely the best part of high school for me.”
Jacob’s success has been paralleled by that of Cole Dorman, the quarterback who passed him the football and an equal standout in their basketball successes. They were together winning science fair awards way back in fourth grade. And June 8 they joyfully led the Class of 2019, with Dorman as valedictorian (4.0 gpa) and Jacob as salutatorian (3.97).
Jacob continues a family tradition of leadership. His sister, Taylor, was valedictorian in 2016 and alongside her was Salutatorian Kendra Leeland. The two, friends since grade school, were teammates in basketball and co-captains for their final two years playing volleyball and softball, where they were pitcher-catcher and earned all-league honors.
Both women received numerous awards for sports; as the academic leaders of their class, their overall grade-point averages were separated by 2/100s of a point.
Taylor’s skill under pressure was evident early, winning the state Elks hoop-shoot contest as a young teenager.
This summer, Taylor, who will complete her studies to be a nurse next March, will marry Hayden Gudmundsen, who was quarterback on the Comets’ football team in their senior year.
Mom and Dad contribute significantly to the school-centered Naselle community.
Lonnie Eaton, a 1985 Naselle graduate, earned his bachelor of arts degree from Eastern Washington University, venue for his son’s final events at the state track meet. He is a long-serving trooper with the Washington State Patrol assigned to Pacific and Wahkiakum counties, based in an office that is walking distance from the school.
He coached middle school football for 15 years and youth basketball and baseball for many years. In 2015, he stepped up to fill a vacancy on the Naselle-Grays River Valley School Board, and tearfully presented Taylor with her diploma the following June. He was all smiles when he gave his son his diploma earlier this month.
Kim Eaton works as the special education teacher at Naselle High School and had a long career as the Comets’ varsity volleyball coach, concluding after seniors Taylor and Leeland led the team to the 2015 district championship and their final two games at state. She had earlier been league coach of the year and in her final year was selected to coach the 2016 1B state all-star volleyball team with Taylor, the Coastal League MVP, chosen for the squad. She hung up her coaching hat, in part, so she could attend Jacob’s football games because volleyball duties always clashed.
Lonnie’s brother, Jeff Eaton, laughs at the label, but he’s well on his way to becoming a legend in Naselle sports history. As coach of the football team since 1990, either as head or assistant, he’s has enjoyed repeated accolades and seen significant postseason success, especially after the Comets transitioned to an 8-man team a while ago.
With nephew Jacob in the squad, they qualified for state in Jacob’s freshman and sophomore years, then reached the quarterfinals as a junior. Jacob earned captain and coaches awards as a senior and was All-League for his final two years.
With Dorman as All-Northwest League quarterback, Jacob’s pace, strength and handling skills as a receiver were key to advancing the Comets to the semi-finals last fall where they ran into a buzz saw called Almira-Coulee-Hartline.
The same Warrior athletes proved equally unstoppable a few months later at the 2019 state basketball tournament (and would have been waiting in the 1B baseball championship game, had Naselle progressed that far).
Like football, Jacob earned his varsity letter in basketball all four years, heading to state in his final two years. As a 6-3 center, his rebounding and interior scoring proved significant as the Comets won the district championship for the first time since 1993; he was named Columbia Valley League player of the year, both as a junior and senior.
The one negative was a serious elbow injury from Little League that spoiled his high school baseball dreams. While Dorman went on to star as a leader and pitcher, Jacob’s painful arm was too much, despite surgery after his freshman year of basketball. As his final Comet sports season began, he belatedly switched to track, where jumping and running events benefited from his height and pace.
He qualified for state in triple jump, high jump and ran on the 4x400m relay team.
His sports achievements have been paralleled by success in multiple classroom subjects like math, science and history dating back to kindergarten, plus awards for citizenship and elocution. He was a lock on 2019 class speaker.
Quinn Donlon admires Jacob for the example he sets. “He’s a great kid and a great role model for our students,” the NHS principal said.
Jacob signed up for Running Start through Grays Harbor Community College and completed 40 credits doing online classes en route to an Associate’s Degree. Once attained, he plans to study forestry and complete a bachelor’s degree at a Northwest university and perhaps a master’s afterward.
Jacob and Taylor followed in the footsteps of their cousins, who are still key members of the Naselle community. Though Uncle Jeff’s three children are grown, their sports exploits filled the pages of the Chinook Observer some few years back.
Oldest son Robert, now 25, works as an oysterman for his grandfather. A three-sport athlete at NHS playing football, basketball and baseball, he was an all-state football player who played in the east-west all-star game in 2012. Dustin, 24, who has worked for the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office for three years, had a similar successful three-sport career on NHS fields and courts, receiving all-league recognition at quarterback, all-state football honors and selection for the all-star game, although he split his springtimes between baseball and track.
Their sister Abbie, now 22, was equally active in sports. Like Taylor, she played volleyball, basketball and softball. She now works in Astoria at TJ Maxx and at a day-care facility.
Completing the family is Jeff’s wife, Amber, a keen Comets sports fan, especially during football seasons. She has baked countless batches of chocolate chip cookies for home and away games during their 26-year marriage.
For Justin Laine, counselor at Naselle, it’s no surprise the kids turned out well.
“I would describe the Eaton parents as hard working, honorable and selfless community servants,” he said. “I would also say that they have very successfully imparted those attributes to each of their children in various ways.
“They are all fairly quiet and unassuming people who deflect attention away from themselves and let their actions — or lives — speak for themselves. Those lives have spoken very loudly in our school and community.”
The continuity of connections is mind boggling. Jacob’s track coach, Rob Baker, was on an NHS Knowledge Bowl team called the “Minotaurs” with Robert Eaton back in 2009, the year Jacob and Dorman were ball boys during Robert’s football success. They performed the same duties for Lonnie Eaton’s junior high teams, beginning in fourth or fifth grade.
Baker was delighted, but not surprised, to be at Cheney this spring commenting on how Jacob qualified for the state championships in his first year participating in track.
“He has some good running form and he made it in the jumps,” Baker said. “He has high expectations of himself and really he’s just a competitor. He wants to compete and he likes winning.
“He always shows up for practice and he’s naturally a leader, in basketball, in anything. We all enjoy having him out here.”
For the record, Jacob’s athletic career ended in ninth place in the high jump — one place off the state championship podium for all the 1B schools in the state of Washington.
Brian Macy, NHS athletic director, just gave up basketball coaching after many years. He has positive memories coaching Robert and Dustin, and said his final year with Jacob was fulfilling.
“Jacob was focused and tried to fill that leadership role for us on the basketball court,” he said. “He kept the group organized, focused and upbeat — he could always raise enthusiasm.”
Macy, who attended EWU with Lonnie and Jeff Eaton, is delighted that they and Kim Eaton have coached for Naselle.
“They are just good, Naselle people,” he said. “And with them it’s all always for the kids — to make them better.
“They are just good people and do what’s right for the kids, and they happen to be really good at what they are doing. Lonnie did a good job with middle school football, Kim was great with volleyball, and Jeff with our football, of course. Their kids are just chips off the block.”
The last chip, Jacob, is as eloquent delivering his views on the importance of his school sports uniform as he was teasing his classmates at graduation.
“There is a weight that is put upon your shoulders to maintain the reputation that is Comet athletics,” he said.
“There is a pride in what you are doing while in the Comet uniform. There have been great teams that have come and gone before you, and there will be great teams to come after you, but it is your responsibility to continue that.
“If you want to play, suit up or even have your name on the roster, there is a price to pay. It is hard work and dedication. Getting up for 6 a.m. practices or practicing so late in the evening that we are turning the lights on over the field. It’s being at practices every day and working to be the best player on the field of play.
“Playing your hardest and never giving up is an expectation that is set by those watching — and you have to fulfill that expectation as a Comet.”
So Jacob goes off to college to become a forester, Taylor gets married and qualifies as a nurse, and Jeff and Amber Eaton’s three kids continue to do good work in the community.
This NHS sports dynasty is over, then.
Jeff and Amber Eaton are grandparents. Abbie has a 1-year-old son, Grayson, and Robert Eaton and his partner, Emily, have a baby named Ivy, just 9 months.
Watch this space.