The unsung heroes of any successful athletic program usually are the volunteers. They make programs run smoothly and give their time and expertise without being financially compensated.
Mike Stelle, a pastor at Harbor Covenant Church, has volunteered for the past eight seasons with both the fastpitch team and the girls basketball program at Peninsula High School. He says volunteering is an easy decision.
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why do you do it?’ ” Stelle said. “I go, ‘Why wouldn’t somebody do it?’ ”
Stelle was asked to help as a pitching coach for the fastpitch team eight years ago, and he jumped at the chance. His oldest daughter, Kayla, was a four-year starter for the Seahawks and played third base. Stelle also coaches his younger daughter, Maddie, who plays for the varsity basketball team.
With basketball, Stelle spends most of his time with the varsity, but he’s happy to help in whatever way he can.
“I’m an assistant with wherever I’m needed,” he said.
Stelle works with head coach Steve Jacobson, as well as the junior varsity program.
“Steve’s the coach, which frees me up to work with individual players,” Stelle said. “I just get to be another presence in their life, which is a cool thing.”
Stelle said he read a study several years ago that said a kid needs at least five significant adults in their life in order to grow into a healthy adult.
“The way I figure it, as a coach, I get to be 20 percent,” Stelle said. “I get to be one of those five people in a kid’s life. And if I can help them overcome something athletically, great. If I get to be just somebody else in their life that lets them know that, guess what, you’re important — awesome.”
In the past, kids in most families would have two parents in their lives, as well as grandparents nearby, but that isn’t always the case any more, Stelle said.
“If a kid has one parent that’s invested in their life, OK, that’s a start,” he said.
But it’s not enough. That’s where coaches and teachers come in, and Stelle is happy to fill that void.
Stelle talked about a particular situation during a fastpitch practice a year ago. One of the girls was in tears before the practice started, so Stelle approached her and asked what was wrong. The girl told Stelle one of her pets had been put down.
“I go, ‘Rough day,’ ” Stelle said. “She said, ‘Yeah,’ and kind of teared up. I put my arm on her shoulder and said, ‘All right, let’s just get through this day, and we’ll see what happens next.’
“I remember coming home that day and thinking, ‘That’s why we coach.’ ”
The girl showed improvement during the season and eventually became a starter on a team that played in the state tournament.
While Stelle was thrilled with her accomplishments on the field, he said that wasn’t what was the most important.
“She knew she had someone else that was going to make her smile and make her feel important,” Stelle said. “It was a good day on the fastpitch field that day.”
Stelle plans to volunteer as long as he has the opportunity to do so. He said Peninsula High School is a special place, and he enjoys being involved.
That wasn’t always the case.
“When I moved up here 16 years ago, Peninsula had a bad reputation,” Stelle said. “It was the not-good school, and Gig Harbor was the good school. Peninsula is a special place right now.”
It starts at the top, and Stelle credited principal Tim Winter with fostering a positive culture.
“He’s just created a culture around here, that mediocrity is not OK,” Stelle said. “OK is not OK. We can do better. We desire more for the students here than just living into a mediocre story. There’s a better story in life that they can live into, and that runs all the way through teachers I’ve interacted with here, to a number of the coaches.
“Let’s help these kids live in a bigger and better story than just kind of that narrative that culture throws at them.”Sports reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.