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St. Helens' coaching conundrum: Jeff Edwards resigns

St. Helens High School hired 13 new coaches last summer, and are on the hook to fill four more head coaching positions this spring, including boys' basketball, boys' soccer, cheer and softball, following the resignation of head coach Jeff Edwards


  Jeff Edwards (left, in black) talks with his team during the win over McMinnville on April 2. Edwards announced on April 14 that he would resign as head coach of the Lions.The St. Helens High School softball program was steaming their way into the month of April, having won five of their last six games to move up in the league standings with a bright outlook on the season and a healthy pitching ace in the bag.

Then, quite unexpectedly, they took a major blow. St. Helens Athletics Director Cyndy Miller announced Monday, April 14 that Jeff Edwards had resigned his position as head coach, effective immediately. Edwards had coached the team since 2003, guiding the Lions through their transition from the Three-Rivers League to the Northwest Oregon Conference and building a juggernaut of a program over the last few seasons. He has been a part of several successful ventures, including a trip to the state tournament as the head girls' basketball coach in the 1990s.

In an interview on Tuesday, Miller said the reasons behind the resignation were family and work based, as Edwards was struggling to keep up with a new job and balancing family time, work and softball was becoming a challenge.

“He's got a new job with lots to learn and a high learning curve, and I know he's struggling with game days. He has to take vacation time off and he uses that up and then he needs family time,” said Miller, who has worked with Edwards for several years as the junior varsity softball coach, along with her duties as the athletics director and teaching obligations.

Edwards, as a head coach, had responsibilities far beyond running practices and coaching on game days. It was his job to coordinate things like fundraising efforts, field improvements and finding opportunities for players to make club teams in the offseason, turning a spring sport into a year-long commitment. Edwards had mentioned recently that retirement was on the horizon, but few – including Miller – expected it to come this season.

“I had talked to him earlier, and he didn't know if he would come back next year, and this was months ago,” said Miller. “Everybody kind of assumed that he would be, with Mariah (Mulcahy) and Michelle (Sass) and those guys coming back for one more year.”

“I didn't see it this season. Like I said, I thought he would try to finish out the year, but stress is a funny thing, and when you're dealing with some of the highest stressors in your life – new job, moving, family and those kinds of things. I think those are some of the things, and [he felt that] if he wasn't able to give it 110 percent, maybe it was better that somebody else could,” said Miller.

Miranda Little will take over head coaching duties for the remainder of the season.The job will pass to current assistant coach Miranda Little, who will head the team for the remainder of the season on an interim basis at which point the job will be posted. Miller said that Little was more than welcome to apply, and Little seems to have the support of the team and of Edwards, according to the email announcing Edwards' resignation.

Little won her first contest as the interim head of the softball program, defeating Sherwood 2-0 on a pair of RBIs from sophomore slugger Taylor Leal, and said that it wasn't too big of a change from her assistant role aside from not knowing which lineup card to hand to the umpire, she said with a laugh.

The Lions have a gauntlet to brave over the next week as the league season continues. They'll face second-ranked Liberty and No. 4 Sandy on the 18th and 22nd of April, hoping to continue the climb to the playoffs despite a major midseason shakeup.

The Lions' revolving door

The vacant softball coach position is the latest in a barrage of coaching changes, including boys' soccer coach Oscar Monteblanco and former boys' basketball coach Jerry Allen, who was released from his contract last week after what Miller called a “thorough evaluation of the program.”

St. Helens boys' basketball coach Jerry Allen was let go at the end of the 2014 season. Athletics Director Cyndy Miller said the program was losing numbers and needed to go in a new direction. Allen works for Portland Public Schools, and made the daily commute to St. Helens, often early in the morning before high school began.“We'd noticed that we needed to make some improvements in the program. We were losing numbers, and we decided to take a different direction on it,” said Miller. “We just felt that we needed to move on and try something else.”

The cheer position, formerly held by Stephanie Blank, will also be open at the end of the season, making for another program that has struggled to make progress because of a lack of continuity from year to year.

“It's hard, when you're trying to turn a program around and you get coach after coach for a few years, because it doesn't build continuity, it doesn't show the program's strengths and the opportunities it has to give to the athletes,” said Miller.

Oscar Monteblanco, the Peruvian native, decided not to return as the boys' soccer head coach, citing the sale of his house in an interview with Cyndy Miller, but also having concerns about the quality of the playing surface, the time his team was allowed to used the varsity field and the involvement of the players in soccer year-round. Monteblanco left to become the director of coaching at the Hillsboro Soccer Club and the new mens' soccer coach at Chemeketa Community College in Salem.Monteblanco, who chose of his own volition to leave the program and pursue a club position in Hillsboro, is much more typical of the coaching changes in St. Helens over the last few years. The boys' soccer program has been especially damaged by the number of coaches they have seen – three different coaches in the last four seasons.

It's a common occurrence for a coach to work in St. Helens for a year, building experience and adding to their resume, only for them to take a job elsewhere that might offer better pay, benefits or facilities or simply be closer to home. It's been a frustrating experience, according to Miller, especially because the coaches and teachers who live outside of the community often have less of a commitment to investing past the workday.

In addition, laws passed in the last decade have raised the qualifications necessary to be a teacher, meaning that interview that might have been focused on what the prospective teacher would bring to the community, i.e. coach sports, girl scouts, church choir, now have a heavy weight on the state standards, especially that of obtaining a masters to be ‘highly qualified.'

Miller says that she hopes some of the new hires this spring to fill retirement-opened teaching positions will yield a willing coach that can commit to investing in the program and the town. It's a difficult task to choose between a brilliant coach and one that will stick around and give the program much-needed stability.

“If we can keep those people here by getting them involved in the community and getting an investment from them, I think we're more likely to keep some,” said Miller. “I'd like to see where our hiring is with teachers. I'm not saying they would automatically get it if they're not the best candidate, but on the other hand, if someone comes in that's teaching that has a good background in soccer and has perhaps coached in high school before, certainly we want to take a look at them.”

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