TONASKET There are going to be some big shoes to fill as several longtime coaches in the Okanogan Valley have announced they are retiring.
Perhaps the smallest shoes but the largest loss will be Tonasket wrestling coach Dave Mitchell, who after 39 years of bleeding blue as a Tiger will call it quits.
Omak’s Dewy Ives, who has coached at Omak for 32 years at one time or another in wrestling and football, announced earlier this year he was turning over the wrestling coach reins to assistant Dean Agee.
Okanogan’s Aaron Nickelson is retiring after 19 years as the Bulldogs’ golf coach. He plans to continue to teach.
Tonasket is coming off its first state championship under Mitchell. The Tigers have placed second three times, third five times and fourth once during his tenure.
Tonasket, which has mainly competed as a 1A school, also has been in 2A and B classifications.
“We have had 33 kids win a state championship in their weight class and 85 other guys win a state medal,” said Mitchell. “It is all about attitude and the hard work to back it up. Having good, tough kids turning out is also a key. I have had a great support group over the years.”
Those assistants, all state champions, include Chris Williams (14 years) and Cole Denison (14 years), who will become the new Tiger head coach.
“They, and their families, are all very special to me,” Mitchell said. “I have had great support from my athletic director, Kevin Terris. I put in a lot of time coaching high school, middle school, little league, freestyle wrestling, and I couldn't have done it without the help and support I got at home from my wife Brenda and my three sons Martin, Patrick and Kevin.”
Mitchell says he works for “hugs,” from little league kids to the state high school arena.
“There is not much in life more rewarding than an excited hug after a challenging match,” said Mitchell, who saw the practice turn into wrestlers leaping into his arms.
Williams may well have been the first to do the leaping “hug” after winning a title in 1983.
“Some kids need wrestling, they need the discipline, work ethic and to learn to set priorities and make sacrifices to obtain goals,” Mitchell said. “I like to think that Tonasket wrestling is good at teaching this to kids.
“So, I'm not moving or going anywhere. I plan to work on the farm and maybe do a little traveling. I'm still pretty close to many of the wrestlers and the coaches, so I still hope to be involved with the wrestling program in some capacity. I think I'd go crazy if I wasn't around them a little bit.”
Denison and Williams work together for the Forest Service out of Tonasket.
“I have been involved with wrestling since I was 6 years old,” said Denison. “From this time until I graduated high school, I was fortunate enough to have Dave Mitchell as my coach. With the help of such a great coach and role model I was able to accomplish my long-time goals of winning two state championship titles in 1995 and 1996.”
Denison also became an All-American in freestyle wrestling after finishing fifth at the Junior National Tournament in 1996.
“Wrestling also became my main reason for pursuing a college education,” Denison said. “While in college I earned All-American status by placing fifth at the NCAA Division II National Tournament in 2002. I became Academic All-American as well for my GPA combined with my wrestling accomplishments.”
After graduating from Central Washington University, Denison knew he wanted to coach wrestling and do it in Tonasket.
He started as a volunteer in 2002. The next year he was hired as an assistant high school wrestling coach and head middle school mat coach.
“In my 14 years of being in these positions, I have really learned what coaching is all about,” Denison said. “For me it’s about providing young adults with the tools to be successful in life and doing everything in my power to make sure they reach their potential by the time they graduate high school.
“Wrestling has been such an amazing journey for me, and Dave has been there for just about every step of the way. I can't really put into words what it means to me because he has had such an influence on one of the things that I love the most. He has taught me how to have that kind of influence on others. I am very much looking forward to carrying on the traditions of an excellent wrestling program.”
“He’s been the most inspirational person in my life,” said Trampas Stucker, a former Tiger wrestler who has been another assistant for many years. “He taught me to get up and not give up. I try to pass that along to the kids I work with.”
“I can’t imagine how many hours Dave and Dewey put into the practice room, bus and van trips, tournaments leaving early and getting home late,” said Okanogan coach Andy Knutson, who said he has the utmost respect for the retiring wrestling coaches. “How many Saturdays (were spent) at high school and youth tournaments?
“I’ve joked that if I had a nickel for every pushup I’ve done I would be a rich man and I’m sure they could say the same. There is pleasure in a hard workout and seeing the athletes get into the good shape and how they improve throughout the season and their careers.”
Knutson said Mitchell and Ives had “coached many great athletes and helped so many others to be the best they could be. They both were and are great guys and coaches. They both had tremendous programs and affected the lives of many youths from kindergarteners through high school.
“They believe, like I do, of the attributes wrestling tries to instill about hard work, commitment, dedication, discipline and much more. I wish them well and leave them with a Henry Adams quote: ‘A teacher effects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.’”
“I know that we have been thinking about this time for quite a while now,” said Agee. “I am sure that Tonasket has been doing the same. We are both involved in the youth wrestling programs as well.”
“Dewy coached for 32 years,” said Agee, a former Omak wrestler who graduated in 2004. “It was great working with Dewy. I learned a lot from Dewy, not just about wrestling. I coached with Dewey for 12 years, three of which were as his high school assistant.”
“We are very grateful for all the time and dedication that Dewy has given the wrestling program over these many years,” Omak athletic director Joe LaGrou said. “Dewy graduated from Omak High School and is a proud Pioneer. He takes a special interest in all of his wrestlers and has encouraged them to be focused (and) give their best effort. A rich and proud culture of wrestling tradition has continued under his leadership. We wish him the very best in all of his future endeavors.”
“Dewy and Dave are wrestling icons not only in the valley but in the state,” said Oroville coach Chuck Ricevuto, who this winter wrapped up his 43rd year coaching wrestling. “They both have given so much to so many young men and women over their wrestling coaching careers. Coming from a fellow coach, I have learned a ton of wrestling from both of these guys and have prospered from their friendship and advice.”
“It's just been an honor to serve as Dave's AD for the last 12 years and friend for over 20,” said Terris. “He is the epitome of a what every community wants in a head coach in any program. He's been devoted to his own family and the families in our community for nearly 40 years, providing a pathway for our kids to experience what perseverance, discipline and excellence can get you in life.
“He is a champion and showed our kids how to be a champion as well. He is really going to be missed.”
On the links, Okanogan has returned with three state titles and 22 flags since 1998 to be put up in Dawson Gym, Nickelson said.
“But the real value here are the kids,” he said. “Coaching golf in Okanogan has allowed me to work with some of the finest people I know. These ‘kids’ are now engineers, lawyers, dentists and two are PGA professionals in Walla Walla (Tanner Kelly) and Louisiana (Cortney Shrout). I will miss this a lot, but time is time and the kids need someone who has a little more energy.”
Nickelson, 53, will continue to teach U.S. history 2 and contemporary world problems.