At North Creek High School, the trophy cases are empty. The walls of the gymnasium are bereft of championship banners. The Jaguars’ athletic programs have no culture, history or traditions.
Not yet, at least.
The school, located in north Bothell, is the newest high school in Snohomish County. It officially opens its doors for its first academic — and athletic — year next month.
“We’re pioneers, in a way,” Jaguars athletic director Tim Bursey said. “At (established) schools, people say, ‘Well, the last guy didn’t do it this way.’ We have none of that here. There was no ‘last guy.’ This is a great opportunity for people who want to leave a legacy. They can start those traditions. Their names will be in the annals of history forever.”
The first and most significant challenge of building an athletic department from the ground up is hiring coaches, Bursey said. Normally, an athletic department might have to replace, say, three or four coaches at the end of a school year. North Creek had to fill every single coaching position for every single sport.
“You have to go through the entire system and figure out who fits your philosophy and who can reach your kids,” said Bursey, who served as Cleveland High School’s athletic director before taking the North Creek position. “Since I’ve been in this arena for so long, I was able to reach out to guys who used to coach to see if they’d be interested, or maybe they knew somebody else who might want a shot. It was a long process, and it’s not done, but we’re ready to start the school year and move forward.
“The challenging part for us is not knowing what type of kids we actually have. You have to try to find coaches to fit your kids’ style, but that’s hard to do when you don’t know the style.”
Bursey is pleased with the caliber of coaches he was able to bring in, however. For instance, Torrey Myers, the Jaguars’ football coach, spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons as an offensive staff assistant on the Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff, and previously coached at the University of Washington from 2008-12.
“They’re all going to do a great job,” Bursey said. “My only fear is that I don’t want them to be discouraged if they don’t have the type of season they’re accustomed to having. Don’t get me wrong — I want to win. But right now it’s a building process.”
The coaches have had to work to overcome obstacles on their end as well.
“The biggest challenge is getting to know the kids as they get to know us,” Myers said. “They have expectations and traditions from their junior programs (or other schools), and we’re in the process of (building) those things. But the parents have been fantastic, and the booster club has really helped out. We’re drawing kids from good schools, and they’ve been well-coached. We’re behind (other schools) in a lot of things, and that’s to be expected, but we’ve made up more ground than I would’ve anticipated.”
“We don’t have a culture for kids to get excited about yet, so as a result we’re flying blind,” said Shawn Tacey, the Jaguars’ girls soccer coach. “We’re developing a training session for the first 12 days, but we don’t know how to train because we haven’t met the players yet. At other schools, the coaches have been working with their players for years and know the players’ families. Those relationships are established. Here, those relationships are starting right now. We have a lot of work to do; other programs are way ahead of us in that regard.”
North Creek, which will compete in Kingco 4A, drew most of its students from Bothell and Woodinville high schools. All of the Jaguars’ teams will be without seniors. North Creek will house only freshmen, sophomores and juniors in the 2017-18 school year. The Jaguars’ teams will play varsity schedules, however.
“Some younger kids will have to step up (into leadership roles),” Bursey said. “The expectations are high, but also realistic. We know we have kids that haven’t played a lot before. For example, our football team had 80 kids out on the first day, and of those, 50 to 55 were freshmen. The inexperience will show up in the wins and losses, but that’s not how we’re measuring our seasons anyway.
“If we didn’t play varsity, a lot of (community members) would probably understand, but at the same time, they’re looking forward to (us) playing games on Fridays and Saturdays, not Thursdays or Mondays. (Not having varsity teams) would’ve been a difficult sell to the community and the incoming athletes.”
The athletic department does have a few easy sells, however. The school’s state-of-the-art facilities include a gymnasium, baseball and softball fields, six tennis courts, a weight room, several utility fields and a track that circles a field to be used for soccer and sub-varsity football games. The Jaguars’ varsity football team will play its home contests at Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell.
Bursey and his coaches spent a good amount of time ordering all of the athletic equipment they need to be competitive — everything from basketball uniforms to air pumps. Bursey said the school hasn’t quite completed its purchases for the spring season, but is about 90 percent done with its orders for the fall and winter.
“I was involved in everything, from designing and ordering all of the uniforms to assembling the goals to building a communication system for offseason workouts,” Tacey said. “There was a lot of work to do from February to August.
“It’s like that first voyage from England to the United States — there’s great promise ahead, but it’s a ton of work. This first generation of players will set the tone and the standard and value system and define what it means to be a Jaguars player. One thing we feel excited about is that we’re not inheriting history. We’re writing history.”