After 16 years of coaching the Homer High School Mariner football team, Head Coach Camron Wyatt has decided to focus his attention in other areas. This also wraps up six years of working with the Mariner team for Assistant Coach Pete Swanson.
Currently teaching social studies, auto shop and wood shop, Wyatt laughingly said he has discovered the role of being a parent doesn't end when children leave home.
Freeing up the many hours he spent coaching football means he will be able to help daughter Brittney relocate from Colorado State University, where she is graduating with honors, to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., where she will pursue a doctorate in microbiology. Wyatt's son, Mitch, a former state wrestling champion, was recently named to the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic second team as a part-time starter for the University of Colorado Mesa Maverick.
"My wife (Becky) and I have talked about it and want to be there for them, want to share in this part of their lives," said Wyatt. "Just because they're out the door doesn't mean they don't need a little loving, too. That's part of a parent's job."
Swanson began assistant coaching the Mariner football when his son, Karl, was on the team. Donna Peterson, who was superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District at the time, gave the go-ahead for him to continue as principal at McNeil Canyon Elementary School and work with the high school team. He also had the support of McNeil Canyon's faculty and staff, the site council and Wyatt.
"We were very lucky to have the district allow him to come as an administrator and help," said Wyatt. "That's not really done on other parts of the peninsula, so we felt really blessed."
When Karl graduated from HHS three years later, Swanson continued to coach.
"We figured out where we wanted to take the program, but we never figured out an exit plan," said Wyatt of his and Swanson's coaching plans.
Then came the 2011-2012 school year and Homer making it all the way to the state championship playoff, with the Mariners taking second to the Kenai Kardinals in a 26-14 game.
"Last year was pretty amazing and nobody expected us to do anything with 16 kids graduating," said Wyatt. "There was no way a small program could regroup, but we made it back to state again."
In the 2012 medium-schools championship game against the SoHi Stars, Homer took second with a score of 62-20.
The two-time show at state means "the foundation's there," said Wyatt of the Mariners' strong base. "We were amazed at how these kids put out and got back to state."
Wyatt's interest in coaching surfaced when he coached Tiny Tot Tumbling at a YWCA years ago.
"They did somersaults, cartwheels, round-offs, all that stuff that makes little kids feel good about themselves," said Wyatt. "That's where I realized I probably had a knack for this coaching thing. I really enjoyed being around kids."
His football-coaching career spans more than 20 years, the last 16 at Homer High School.
"For me, the greatest achievement has been watching the kids evolve, watching the program evolve from recreational to a competitive program," said Wyatt. "That's the greatest thing, for them to know they can go against those bigger schools and be successful."
One of the greatest challenges he has faced is dispelling the myth that Homer is a school at the end of road, not worthy of consideration.
"We battle constantly for our recognition, all the way from facilities to transportation to our game schedules," he said. "I don't know how many times I've said we're from Homer and someone has said, 'Oh, you've got a football team there?'"
Swanson said he was born into coaching.
"My dad was a football player and coached high school ball," he said. "I grew up on the football field. One of the primary reasons I got into education was to be a coach."
He coached high school and middle school football programs before coming to Alaska. After becoming a school administrator, he set coaching aside, until his son began playing for the Mariners.
For Swanson, the challenges of coaching "are the things we come up with that aren't pertinent to football, but to adolescence and the decisions they make that affect others around them. Those are always the difficult things, but they're certainly part of the learning process."
The connection between life and football is a key for both coaches, and will continue even though they are no longer on the field.
"Like I tell my kids at football, they're practicing to be good people. It's not about a coach and it's not about a player. It's about how we work together as a team and help others out. You've got to role model that," said Wyatt. "I'll still be in my blue and gold and rooting them on."
Vacancies for both the Homer High School varsity football coach and assistant football coach are listed on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's website. Visit www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/jobs.aspx?all=1.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.