NASELLE - Just when one thinks the downward spiral of disappearing Naselle Comets athletic coaches has reached its nadir, another coach hangs up his whistle. The latest casualty in the list of recently retired, resigned, or "non-renewed" Comets coaches is the boys JV basketball coach Paul Jarrett, who resigned last week.

What in the name of John Wooden is going on? In a short time, the roster of departed veteran NHS coaches reads like a casualty list from a bad accident. Gone: track coach Steve Tolva (retired). Gone: girls basketball coaches Rob Dalton and Tim Wirkkala. Gone: volleyball coaches Doug Rogers (retired), Candy Johnson and Krista Bocker. Gone: Softball coaches Rogers (retired) and Diane Mattson (retired). Gone: football coach Matt Scrabeck. Gone: boys basketball coaches Ryan Bjornsgard and Paul Jarrett.

Who's left? Can experienced baseball coaches Pete Donlon and Randy Lindstrom and veteran track coaches Debbie Denny and Scott Smith assume they will not be joining the list of departed athletic mentors?

Why now? What is happening to cause so many coaching departures? Is the current school and community atmosphere not conducive to successful high school sports programs?

Times are tough right now in the athletic halls of Naselle High School. The athletic teams are generally not achieving success, at least as measured by wins and losses. Teams are not experiencing the "thrill of victory" or even the joy of competition to the extent they have experienced in the recent past. Participation is down. Kids are quitting, not turning out, saying they have other things to do. All of this is happening while the school population is dropping and fewer students are available for participation.

Are the coaches the reason for the athletic malaise which is present? They are a part of it, to be sure, but is just changing coaches the answer?

One has to look deeper to uncover the causes behind the decline in athletic participation and achievement at NHS. To paraphrase an old quote, "We have found the enemy and it is us."

The evidence abounds. Adult attendance at high school athletic events is but a pittance of what it once was. Student attendance at these same events is usually a small scattering of students. With a couple of exceptions, students are opting not to turn out for teams, or they quit when a coach's expectations conflict with their view of what they will need to do in order to be members of the team.

The attendance at and participation in athletic events is the window where one can observe the decline of the NHS sports programs. Look behind these symptoms and one sees deeper issues. Those issues fall into the laps of the adults in the community, including school staff and administration, and the students in the school, not just with the coaches.

How many adults and students take part in such things as the Comet Booster Club where only a handful of people provide the support structure for Comets teams? How many adults find it easier to sign a petition rather than work to support a school program which is struggling, at least on the athletics end of things?

How many adults volunteer a few minutes of their time to participate in a study of the general management and operational review of the school district? (At last count, a total of TWO people had volunteered to devote a small amount of their time to an anonymous one-half hour interview process!)

How many adults provide encouragement and structure for students to turn out, take part, stick with it, instead of complaining about the coaches and letting the kids quit or not even start to take part?

How many kids would rather just do their own thing which does not include much of any form of physical activity, let alone organized sports?

An inexperienced and new high school administrative team of principal Karen Wirkkala and athletic director Jon Tienhaara have been at the helm of an athletic program which has seen the program continue to flounder. The front-line administrators are part of an administrative structure which includes the superintendent and current board members.

This administrative team has made most of the decisions about many of the coaching changes which have taken place. Have they been consistent in their support of the coaches in the district and in the majority of their decisions about the future of the coaches and athletic programs in the district? Is the administrative team working to provide the climate, support, and structure that encourages both coaches and athletes, alike, to excel?

As one of the retired coaches said, "There has to be a commitment to improve. ... The board and administration have to continue to hire good coaches and support them when things aren't going so well. ...The Naselle coaches are trying to make a commitment, to prepare kids for the future, to prepare them for being successful somewhere in life. ... In order to continue to do that, the coaches need to have the support of the school administration and the public."

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