Emerald Ridge High’s athletic administration went into last fall knowing that it would enter the summer looking to fill the position of athletic director after former AD Lyndell Dittus announced he would be retiring from the position.
It was a tough position for the school to be in, especially after Dittus helped established an aura around the athletic programs that bred success — both on and off the field.
To fill the vacancy, the administration decided to hire ER junior varsity football and Glacier View Junior High teacher Jesse Kase.
“It was just a crazy sequence of events, as I couldn’t have drawn in up any better,” Kase said. “(The position) was right there in front of me … and when it presented itself, I jumped on it (and) the learning started.”
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Some might see Emerald Ridge taking a big gamble on someone as young as the 27-year-old Kase, who’s entering his fifth year of teaching since graduating from Western Washington University. There isn’t a lot of experience heading into the AD position a year after the Jaguars won six league titles last fall.
“There’s a lot of expectations coming in after the fall we had last year,” Kase said. “Right now it’s about finding a way to continue that success here, and winning helped put us on the map. There’s an incredible group of coaches here that have helped me get acclimated (here).”
Football co-coach Troy Halfaday has been once of Kase’s biggest supporters since he joined the junior varsity staff.
“I think ER really scored here,” Halfaday said. “From the standpoint of he’s going to be around the games and establish the relationships with the kids … he’s such an all-in guy that he has the ability to really serve people behind scenes.”
With a strong support structure in place, Kase doesn’t believe that he’s in over his head with the position. After all, he has Rogers High athletic director Peter Collins and a several others in the ER athletic department to help guide him where he wants to take the school’s athletics.
“(Volleyball co-coach Jill) Fox-Mullen has been really helpful, and so has the entire football staff,” Kase said. “They’ve really helped me get acclimated into the role this summer. And I’ve reached out to Peter Collins at Rogers for help as well.”
With the fall season rapidly approaching, and with practices getting underway this week, the focus has never been about what happens during the games. It has always been about creating the type of student-athlete who inspires the community at large. Dittus and the coaches before Kase’s arrival had established a foundation in creating the best kinds of students possible.
“I really want to make the ‘student’ athlete the focus during my time here,” Kase said. “It’s continuing what was established before with the coaches and the entire athletic program — it’s not about the score at the end of the game. It’s about creating great people.”
“He’s going to obviously put school first before athletics … the nature of the job is to do that,” Halfaday said. “I think he’s done a tremendous job in showing to kids the importance of the academic piece. But he understands that athletics is an (incredible) thing for kids to find success.”
Academics and athletics must find a coexisting place within Emerald Ridge, and it’s Kase’s job to make sure that happens.
It’s tough for any AD to walk into the situation Kase faces at Emerald Ridge. In the midst of creating a winning culture, Kase isn’t about to take any shortcuts to continue the school’s recent successes.
“Winning brings in more talent,” Kase admitted. “Once you establish a culture of winning, that can take care of itself. What I want to focus on is making sure Emerald Ridge has the best student athletes we can have.”