The waiting game

High school spring sports put on hold as officials hope for a change to salvage play

Auburn Riverside baseball coach Tim Kuykendall had eagerly anticipated his return to the game he loves, but the game abruptly was put on hold.

The pandemic has paused play – globally, nationally and close to home.

All Kuykendall, his players and student athletes throughout the Auburn School District have been told to do is wait – and hope – that some semblance of a spring season can be salvaged as efforts continue to stem the tide of the coronavirus.

For departing seniors, it’s especially difficult. Will they get a chance to play again for their schools?

“It’s tough,” Kuykendall said of the situation. “As coaches, we get to coach again, but for the seniors this is their last game. It’s a serious situation but you do feel for the players. …. You’re getting geared up for a season, you’re starting to connect. You’re preparing and feeling like things are coming together then out of nowhere, boom.

“But we’re just part of the equation, like a lot of people right now.”

April 24 is a crucial day for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. If schools reopen on that date – the conclusion of the six-week statewide school shutdown ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee — then the state championships will go on as planned.

Any further delays, the WIAA said, could put the season and state championships in jeopardy.

“Right now the NPSL (North Puget Sound League) has each spring sport commissioner working on possible options for scheduling after April 24,” said Rob Swaim, Auburn School District director of athletics and activities. “If the WIAA continues with state championships as scheduled, leagues and WCD (West Central District) 3 will need to come up with a plan for NPSL postseason allocations. So much unknown and work to do.”

Katie Henry, Auburn athletics director, remains optimistic.

“As of right now, we are planning on returning to spring sports on April 27,” she said. “Everyone involved will work to salvage the spring season for our athletes. I am confident we can come up with a plan, challenging as it might be, that is both safe for the return to the sport and allows us the opportunity to get enough competitions in to move into postseason.”

Tough times

Just as Kuykendall was getting to know his players, the practices and scrimmages ended March 13.

Final team meetings were somber. Players scattered, told to work out on their own and to wish for the best.

“It was emotional … a tough talk,” Kuykendall said following a sun-splashed practice March 12, the day before schools officially closed. “From talking to the seniors, they’re hurting.”

Kuykendall was looking forward to the season after a six-year hiatus away from the prep diamond. He left high school coaching for the office and other community work – for a nonprofit organization he co-founded, as league baseball commissioner and as the athletics director at Todd Beamer High School.

In addition to his AD duties, Kuykendall mentored professional athletes for the Tacoma Rainiers, a role he has filled since 2004.

“Once I left teaching I went into the nonprofit world with Reality Sports (sports training and mentorship foundation), which was great and loved it,” Kuykendall said, “but when I tried to get back into teaching, it was hard to find a P.E. or coaching job.”

So Kuykendall waited for the right opportunity to come along. The AR job opened last year. He was hired in June.

“It was a great fit for me and it gives me a chance to come back to the Auburn district,” said Kuykendall, who succeeds Marcus Evans, who became an assistant coach at the University of Puget Sound. “I always loved it (in Auburn). It’s where I started and where I knew I wanted to finish.”

The Ravens are getting a proven winner in Kuykendall.

At Auburn, Kuykendall’s teams won four league championships, made seven state playoff appearances and were part of the state final four four times, finishing as state runner-up twice. He was named South Puget Sound League Coach of the Year four times.

Playing for the legendary Bobo Brayton at Washington State University, Kuykendall was named Pac-10 North Player of the Year in 1989. He was an All-Pac-10 outfielder and one of the “top 50 players in WSU baseball history.”

While he enjoyed his role as AD and mentor, Kuykendall the coach and teacher wanted a chance to do what he does best.

“I did love the role as an AD. You saw a lot more sports. It was fun to see that part of it, but at the end of the day I am a baseball coach,” he said. “I was born to be around the game, coaching and helping other coaches, the kids, the game itself, and I get a chance to do it in Auburn.”