Clatskanie is surging. From fall to spring, its programs across the board are on the rise.
That’s happened before, but what’s unique about the current crop of underclassmen is the girls and boys are peaking at the same time, something athletic director and baseball coach Ryan Tompkins said is unprecedented since he was hired.
“We’ve had stretches with really talented girls’ programs,” Tompkins said. “And then we’ve had some talented boys’ teams like the group that graduated in 2015. I don’t know that we’ve had really talented groups at the same time.”
Freshmen Shelby Blodgett and Olivia Sprague helped lead the girls’ basketball team to Clatskanie’s first state appearance in six years. The Tigers’ football squad won the Lewis and Clark League for the first time in three years and made it to the first round of state with contributions from several young bucks, namely sophomores James Helmen and J’Kari Combs.
Now the softball team is 11-1 with 10 freshmen on the roster.
“We have a lot of talented athletes, but we have so many freshmen coming up that we’re going to have a really solid team,” Blodgett said. “I think there’s always the expectation that it can go our way.”
On the gridiron, the expectation is the same after the Tigers’ second Lewis and Clark League title in the past seven years.
“It’s just another level of competition,” Helmen said. “A lot of the underclassmen are playing all year, and it just helps when you have experience.”
The veterans are being pushed by internal competition, too, which usually spawns increased success. There’s still growing pains, something Tompkins expected. His baseball team is just 2-5 despite some young talent.
His philosophy is to let the younger players make mistakes and take their licks without harping on them. By the time they enter junior year, there’s the expectation of increased performance.
“Young kids can play free knowing that you’re not criticizing them and instead trying to build them up,” Tompkins said. “Once we get to where they want to be, then expectations change.”
Tompkins said the baseball team isn’t quite where they’d like to be, noting a few close losses, but feels confident that Clatskanie’s time will come. He’s not the only one.
“We’ll be good for a while; we have a lot of young people coming in,” sophomore Chase Baker said. “I think (the younger group) ups the level of competition.”
Baker admits the baseball season has been a learning experience and said that a lot of the young guys have made mistakes. But a winning culture is developing at Clatskanie.
“It’s definitely a big help winning games from last (football) season,” Baker said. “It really carries over to the next season.”
One of the philosophies Clatskanie utilizes is to work hard, but have fun while doing it.
The baseball team may have exemplified that after a wet practice on Wednesday, as they finished by playing “upper hand” — the age-old baseball game where you stack hands up the barrel of a bat — and the losers were sent to slide into a very muddy second base. Winners decided to give it a try, too, as did Tompkins.
One field over, the girls aren’t any different.
“We like to have fun,” Blodgett said. “We never take anything lightly, but we still have fun while doing it.”
That youthful excitement, spliced with loads of talent, is a recipe for success. And with the oven set just right, Clatskanie appears to have something special cooking.