Shuksan Middle School Wrestling Coach James Hayes has been named the Middle School Coach of the Year for District One during the recent winter season, recognized by the region’s high school coaches for his positive impact and commitment to students.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) organizes the state into nine district regions, with district one composing schools and districts across Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties. High school coaches vote on the award to honor outstanding middle school leaders.
“James is an incredible coach because he balances meeting student-athletes where they are at with challenge and positivity,” said Laurel Peak, Bellingham Public Schools Director of Athletics and Activities. “In addition, James goes out of his way to bring in other leaders and coaches as inspiring adults to help students connect with their passions.”
Middle school students in Bellingham Public Schools have the opportunity to participate in track & field, soccer, dance & tumbling, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, cross country and football, as well as unified bowling, unified basketball and unified soccer, during the school year.
Coaches such as Hayes play an important role in introducing athletics and activities to many first-time participants.
“What’s awesome at the middle school level is that you often have people who have never wrestled at all before,” Hayes said. “So, it’s their first exposure to wrestling. My number one job as a coach is to help them fall in love with the sport, so they then want to continue on in high school.”
The impact of coaches reaches far beyond the fundamentals, with middle school coaches such as Hayes playing an integral role in connecting students to one another, their schools and their passions.
“James helps students build skills, fall in love with sports, connect with their peers and connect to their schools,” Peak said. “James exemplifies an outstanding middle school coach, specifically, because he genuinely understands all of those pieces.”
The honor is also reflective of the hard work put forth by many, first and foremost the 37 Shuksan wrestlers who competed during the recent season.
Students are supported by school office staff who process forms and order supplies, custodial staff who set up gym event spaces, PE teachers who share gym spaces and storage for after school activities, as well as school and district leadership who provide support and guidance.
“If it wasn’t for 37 kids turning out at Shuksan, giving me that opportunity, I wouldn’t receive the honor,” Hayes said. “It’s an award that’s shared by everybody and it should really reflect on Shuksan, and what an awesome school Shuksan is for students.
“It is an incredible honor, but it really isn’t about me at all. I see this as an award for Shuksan Middle School and Bellingham Public Schools. I would not have gotten this award if it was not for the tremendous support I receive from the staff at Shuksan, the Squalicum wrestling program and the district office.”
In his fifth year coaching at Shuksan, Hayes also serves as an assistant coach with the wrestling program at Squalicum High School.
“James has been a huge part of our success at SQHS,” Squalicum head coach Rob Zabel said. “He is a tireless worker and incredibly positive role model for our students.”
It is not uncommon for middle school coaches to work or volunteer in high school programs as well, allowing mentor relationships to develop between coaches.
“Rob has been a tremendous coaching mentor for me and I am very appreciative of his support,” Hayes said.
For Hayes, there is nothing quite like the coaching moment when passion for the sport meets a positive experience for a student-athlete.
“It’s so fun to see the success for a sixth, grader, a seventh grader, or an eighth grader because they just love it,” Hayes said. “To see them light up when they win or have any kind of success is incredible.”