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SNOQUALMIE - Snoqualmie Middle School (SMS) football and basketball coach Brad Hillard knows that a year this good does not come around often.
Hillard's football team went undefeated this season, as did his boys' basketball squad. His girls' basketball team lost only one game. Overall, Hillard compiled a 24-1 record.
Hillard, as modest as a successful coach can be, would be the first to point out that his athletes were the ones who produced the successful seasons.
"The coach can yell and scream all you want," Hillard said, "but the kids have to have the passion to compete. The kids in this valley, when we play these schools we have a disadvantage in numbers. These kids either take that role 'not being expected to dominate' as something to help inspire them to beat these other teams."
That inspiration helped the Eagles to three league championships this year.
"My two basketball teams, they just refused to lose," Hillard said. "They didn't really care about who they were playing. When the going got tough, they just had that competitive desire to not lose. It's a testament to these kids in this valley."
They are kids that, playing for a smaller school in the Seamount and Foothills leagues, should be underdogs. Hillard once used Snoqualmie's underdog status as a means to motivate. Now it is defense of championships that motivates the Eagles.
"My philosophy starts with the kids and ends with the kids," Hillard said. "In between you try to teach some fundamentals and get them to reach their potentials. In the end, it's going to be the kids that either rise to the challenge or not."
Hillard, who played a season of basketball for the University of Washington in the days of the Pac-8 before knee injuries hampered his career, remembers the lessons of his coaches and mentors in order to relate with his athletes.
"I think the passion that I had as a kid playing the sport and competing as a kid carry into my coaching," Hillard said. "The kids can sense that through the way I interact with them, playing against them, or in the huddles or in the timeouts. What comes across is that passion I had as a kid and the enthusiasm."
It is enthusiasm that has earned the coach the respect of many more than just his athletes.
"Brad is a very relational teacher and coach with his students," SMS Principal Ruth Moen said. "He has goals with them and he hooks sports into real positive character traits."
Hillard also teaches math, science and reading at SMS. He admits that juggling his coaching duties and his teaching duties is sometimes tricky.
"It's tough to balance the time," Hillard said. "You have to devote time to each and try to do it appropriately. There are times when you have stacks of papers on your desk because you have a big football game coming up."
Hillard struggles to keep his football plays off of the whiteboard in his class. He makes a concerted effort to keep his mind off the upcoming game when there is school business to be done. It's a challenge that Hillard uses to drive himself toward success.
Moen sees traits that make for both a good coach and a teacher.
"He's passionate," Moen said. "One of his favorite sayings is that emotion drives learning. He really taps into that relational part of the student. It's not all about winning, but it is about being your best, doing your best and being a team player. He just has a great relationship with the kids and is always supportive of their behavior and their respect and their diligence."
With such success, it seems as though a higher level of coaching would look attractive to the 10-year coach. Hillard, though, is happy coaching the Eagles. While he holds the utmost respect for high-school coaches, he simply can't rationalize the time commitment required to coach at a higher level.
"I enjoy the interaction with the kids in this level," Hillard said. "It's a little more emotional out there. I get to see what kind of character the kids have. To see them at that level, that's what makes coaching fun."
And while Hillard manages to have fun while coaching, he is also making impressions that will last a long time.
"Three championships," Hillard said with a voice of accomplishment. "For these kids to do that, that's pretty unique. I tell them that now, but I'm not sure they have a clue. They'll look back on this year and it will be something that they never forget.
"And I won't, either."