SVSJ commentary: Mount Si athletic director hire should be a longer-term process for school, district as it deals with effects of COVID-19

This week’s stunning news of the resignation of Mount Si High School’s athletic director has created a key void in the school’s administration for next school year. And it couldn’t come at a worse time either for the school or Snoqualmie Valley School District, as both continue to address the fallout from the closures and other things impacting the district as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is this timing that we think needs to influence greatly how the school and district proceed with hiring a replacement for outgoing AD Darren Brown.

Mount Si High School athletic director Darren Brown (right), who here was seen after being presented with an award for his 250th coaching win as a Mount Si soccer coach last year, earlier this week announced his resignation from his AD’s role he has held with the school for the past three years. He will be returning to his longtime role as a teacher at the school. (File, photo courtesy Kirk Harris)

Brown, as we reported Monday, announced late Sunday night in a letter to Mount Si students and parents his resignation so he can better focus on supporting his 11-year old daughter. Brown, a longtime fixture at the school as its soccer coach and who previously taught physical education and sports marketing before assuming the AD position three years ago, has told us he will be resuming those teaching duties at the school this fall and also expects to assist current boys’ soccer head coach Ben Tomlisson on the Wildcat boys’ soccer squad next spring. Tomlisson replaced Brown as head coach following last spring’s state runner-up finish.

So, what should fans and the community look for in terms of a potential replacement? Well, this is a job that, once it is opened up, will be among the most desirable for any high school athletic director in Washington and as such it’s expected to get a strong field of candidates. However, the Snoqualmie Valley School District, like all school districts in Washington, will at some point be forced to address financial impacts resulting from reduced tax revenues all forms of local and state government are currently dealing with thanks to the closures of businesses around the state amidst Governor Jay Inslee’s current stay-at-home order. What impacts the SVSD may see are not clear to us at this point, so we do not know what the future holds. But what we will say is that to us, the idea of the school perhaps hiring a current out-of-building, out-of-district person to head the athletic department in a period of potential belt-tightening for the district as a result of COVID-19’s impact may be a tough sell for teachers, staff and the community at large.

With that in mind, we would call on Mount Si administrators, headed by principal John Belcher, and SVSD superintendent Dr. Rob Manahan, to at least for this coming school year find an in-district option as an interim choice. That in-district option we believe should be Mount Si administrator – and former longtime AD – Greg Hart. Hart’s experience in that role, in which he spent over 25 years, combined with continued association with top high school athletic leaders around the state, should make a return to that role seamless, albeit with a higher workload for him in addition to his other current administrative duties at the school.

For the permanent hire, which we suggest should not be made until prior to the 2021-22 school year, as we just discussed, the job will be highly coveted we expect. Why?

-Facilities. You know about them, you know how they are perceived. Coaches love them, athletes love them, and college coaches envy them. We’ve told you that here in the past. Mount Si High School’s athletic facilities are considered to be if not the best in Kingco, then among the best at the high school level in the state. To lead a department with that in your back pocket would be gold, that’s for sure.

-Coaches. In general, Mount Si High School’s coaches have been around the programs a long time, helping build stability. Football coach Charlie Kinnune is approaching 30 years at the helm at MSHS, having built the Wildcat program into one of the best in the Northwest, while volleyball coach Bonnie Foote is going on 20 running Mount Si’s volleyball program, and she has been instrumental in helping grow the sport locally in the Valley through her Ridge Valley club program, which lasted for 10 years before shuttering last fall. Brown coached soccer – both boys and girls – for around 15 years, and his replacements with both the boys (Tomlisson) and girls (Sophie Rockow) continue to build on the traditions, culture and expectations he set with the programs.

-Resources. Parent booster support, financial and otherwise, has been among the best in this league for many years, and Mount Si is one of the few high schools in the state that has dedicated media and web coverage, with the help of both the Wildcat booster club and this blog. With cuts happening around the state at local newspapers, there is a real likelihood that high school sports coverage this fall at the local level statewide could be greatly reduced. For Mount Si, as long as we are here and the website the boosters run is still around, that’s not going to be the case, so the ability for an athletic director to be able to effectively market and expose his or her program and its student-athletes will be something many of them will not ignore.

-The athletes in general are hard working, caring, and committed not only to success on the field, but in the classroom in general. With players getting opportunities to attend colleges left and right, including some in the Ivy League and MIT, this is a program that has a track record of getting things done and keeping kids on the right track. Some schools in this league have historically had a harder time sending athletes to the next level. Mount Si, on the other hand, does not, and that is because the athletes are committed, both on and off the field. Discipline, for academic or other violations (alcohol, drugs, etc.) has never been a significant issue within Mount Si’s athletic program, and that will make the job of the athletic director a lot easier to not have that extra concern to deal with.

-The Mount Si administration is a very hard-working and supportive group, led by a principal in Belcher who has really shown his strength during this school closure with his communication skills to students, helping keep them on track and calming their fears about their academic futures resulting from the current pandemic. As we discussed earlier this year, Belcher assumed the role of principal as the school was dealing with fallout from a highly-publicized incident involving a fight at the school and issues stemming from that incident involving gay and lesbian students. He has made this community his home and has helped to rebuild the school and its image; MSHS’s recent inclusion once again into the US News’ list of top high schools in the United States shows this to be the case. Belcher is a regular attendee at athletic events, and assistant principals Hart, Brian Ferguson and Sana Tariq have also made appearances supporting student-athletes at their games.

So aside from Hart, who do we see as possible candidates for the position?

Inside Mount Si
Kinnune: We don’t know if Kinnune has administrative certification, which would be needed for this longtime teacher and coach at Mount Si to assume this role, but if he has it or is intending on getting it, Kinnune would be a tremendous choice to become the full time AD at Mount Si. He is the longest current-serving coach in Kingco football, and his one-time assistant Tom Bainter has achieved national prominence as the head coach of Bothell High School’s football team.

Kinnune’s players were also praised by the WIAA for how they handled the halftime incident during the Mount Vernon playoff game in November 2018, and he has a tremendous amount of respect among fellow coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and the entire Valley community. Kinnune would carry some huge influential weight within Kingco if given the opportunity to be the AD, and that could benefit Mount Si and its student athletes in the long run.

Outside Mount Si
Dirk Hansen, Walla Walla School District athletic director: Hansen cut his teeth at Mount Si, serving as the school’s longtime head girls’ basketball coach and as a physical education instructor, also assisting on the football coaching staff with Kinnune. About 10 years ago, he left MSHS to assume a role as the athletic director down at Fort Vancouver High School in southwest Washington, and has been in his current position at Walla Walla, dubbed “WaHi,” for the past few years running this 4A high school’s athletics out of the central district office in the southeast Washington city.

With his longtime involvement in high school sports in Washington both as a coach and an athletic director, along with the fact that most of the key movers and shakers at Mount Si athletically are still around, returning to Mount Si, especially with the new campus in mind, might be a doable proposition for Hansen, whose transition back into scarlet and gray should be relatively seamless should he apply for and get hired to the position.

All current Kingco athletic directors: With the resources, parent support and financial resources available to Mount Si athletes, this is a job any and all current Kingco Conference athletic directors will certainly be interested in, as for many, this might be a “step up” so to speak from their current situations, not that those current situations are inferior. It would be like the general manager of a mid-market pro sports team, say the NHL’s Nashville Predators or NFL’s Tennessee Titans, both of which are located in Nashville, TN, ranked as the 29th-biggest market in the country, assuming the role as the GM of a team in a market like Houston or Philadelphia, in that 5-10 market size ranking.

A couple of current AD’s we would especially find having good fits here at Mount Si are Inglemoor’s Lance Gatter and Skyline’s Brent Kawaguchi, both of whom have piloted high school athletic departments with similar resource, facility and demographic advantages in this league for many years – Gatter with the Vikings and Bellevue and Kawaguchi with the Spartans and neighborhood rival Eastlake.

While the void left by Brown’s return to teaching will be fairly easy to fill, it is how the school plans to fill it which will be key we believe to helping maintain continued strong community support for both the school and its athletic programs. A more drawn-out, longer-term plan for filling this position we believe is preferable at this time until such time as it is clear to the district and community that the worst of the pandemic and its resulting impacts are past it, and full normalcy can return for the kids, their parents and teachers.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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