By Aaron Swaney and David Krueger Herald Writers
DARRINGTON — A little over a month ago, the Darrington High School gym was the site of a hotly contested battle between the Loggers girls basketball team and Auburn Adventist.
This week the gym has transformed into a disaster relief station for the Red Cross.
Many of the same basketball players who battled so hard in that victory over Auburn Adventist have volunteered at the gym this week and around the town in the aftermath of Saturday’s Oso mudslide. The girls aren’t alone. Darrington athletic director Cory Ross said he couldn’t think of a Darrington athlete who hasn’t helped volunteer in some way.
“These kids are going out of their way to help,” Ross said Wednesday as a number of athletes unpacked food boxes and counted items in the gym. “I’m not surprised; their parents instill that in them. That’s how this community works.”
Two of those volunteers won state wrestling championships in February. Wednesday, Mason McKenzie and Lane Monteith were at the Darrington High gym, helping wherever they could. It’s something they’ve been doing all week.
“Being a coach — and working with these guys daily — and then watching them come over here, you melt,” Ross said. “It makes you proud of how they want to step up and help and how they’re making themselves a part of all of this. It’s amazing to see. I’m really, really proud of these guys. It’s really neat to see.”
The athletes have packed food boxes destined for relief workers, made meals for nightly community dinners and helped coordinate distribution of items like diapers, clothes and other relief items. They’ve helped wash emergency vehicles at the Darrington Fire Department and sort food at the food bank.
All the athletes are incredibly eager to help.
“A food truck pulled up last night and the baseball team was there and they said, ‘We’ll help you,’” Darrington softball coach Sue Howard said. “So they took it down and they unloaded it one place and it needed to go to another so they loaded the whole truck back up and then they took it over to the other place. Just whatever needs to be done.”
Weather permitting, the Darrington baseball team is scheduled to play the first varsity game since the mudslide on Friday against La Conner at 4 p.m.
Some athletes, like Loggers baseball player Trent Green, have helped in the search and rescue effort. Green traveled to the slide area to help his good friend Quinton Kuntz, who lost his home in the mudslide, look for his dog and other family items.
“It blew me away. Everything is crushed,” Green said. “The house is not even close to where it was. You can’t recognize where you’re at. We found some picture albums and other important things.”
There was such an outpouring of help from the students at Darrington High School that there was an announcement this week during class that there were too many volunteers, and requested students stop coming over to the gym to help.
The Loggers promptly ignored that message.
“There’s too many. Everyone wants to help out. We’re all (crammed) so close together,” said junior Tayler Hoftell, who plays volleyball for the Loggers. “We all want to help out and do all we can. That’s why we’ve been able to gather this much food and get all this done.”
On Wednesday, Hoftell arrived and started helping at the gym at 11 a.m. She figured she would be leaving to go home around 9 p.m.
“We’re there for each other,” Hoftell said. “We were already close before but now with this happening it’s unified us even more and we all have each others’ back. I think we’ve done a good job getting through this together.”
Outside of Darrington, Ross said he’s received phone calls and encouragement from every school athletic director in the Loggers’ athletic league. He also mentioned that some schools like Concrete, which held a bake sale fundraiser, and Orcas Island are raising money to help the relief effort.
Next week the athletic teams are off for spring break. Ross hopes to take a quick two-day trip with his family to get away from it all, but plans to resume helping as soon as he returns.
“My family and I were going to go to Whidbey Island but I think we’re going to pretty much be here and be involved as much as we can be,” Ross said. “We might try to go do something for a night or two just to kind of clear our heads and take our minds off of things. But then we’ll be back.”