Buchan: Softball architect ready to step down at Wa-Hi

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WALLA WALLA - Jerry Humphreys' softball coaching legacy at Wa-Hi stands on its own merit.

Six Big Nine Conference championships, three district titles, four regional crowns and a Class 4A state championship in 2011. All in a 12-year span in which the Blue Devils posted a 229-89 record.

Wa-Hi has qualified for state five times in the last six years under Humphreys' steady hand. The Blue Devils finished third in 2009 and were state runners-up this spring, and their record over the past two seasons is a scintillating 53-3.

Naturally, personal accolades have come his way. Multiple Big Nine Coach of the Year honors - six to be exact - as well as Blue Mountain Sports Awards Coach of the Year in 2011.

But that's not why he coaches. And it sure isn't why he hopes to stay involved in the program even though he will in all likelihood be tendering his resignation to Wa-Hi athletic director Don Wilkins in the very near future.

"It's an excruciating decision for sure," Humphreys said last week in a telephone interview from his office at Nelson Irrigation, where he has been employed since moving to Walla Walla in 1995.

"The success of the program is one thing, but along the way there are all the great people I have come in contact with," Humphreys said. "From administrators to coaches to players, those are the things that will make it hard for me to say I am done and lose the ability to make those connections."

It's not official yet, Humphreys said. And until it is, he's still Wa-Hi's softball coach as far as Wilkins is concerned.

"It looks like it, but it's not definite," the AD said of the possible coaching vacancy. "If Jerry's not able to do it, we will open the job up and sign the best possible person to replace him.

"I am hoping we won't have to do that, but time will tell."

Increased responsibilities at Nelson Irrigation are forcing Humphreys' hand, the coach conceded.

"It's job related," he said. "Bart Nelson and the crew out here have been great providing me with the time to coach. But it's getting to the point where I am taking on additional duties out here and that makes it hard to do a great job at both."

Humphreys remains hopeful that there will be a reduced coaching role for him at Wa-Hi.

"I love the practices," he said. "And I would love to come out and work with the players on their fundamentals and help them get prepared.

That way, he said, he wouldn't have to be away from work on an everyday basis and he wouldn't have to make the time-consuming road trips.

Wilkins sounds amiable to the idea.

"We will do anything we can to help keep him involved in the program," Wilkins said.

"We are where we are because of Jerry," Wilkins added. "And not just as a coach at Wa-Hi but also what he has done in developing softball in Walla Walla. It is a community-wide program, and the high school has reaped the benefits. Jerry has built that program."

Humphreys became involved in youth softball and basketball programs soon after arriving in Walla Walla when Robyn, the oldest of his five daughters, took an interest.

"Robyn was the one who got me into coaching in the first place," Humphreys said.

She was also a senior on her dad's first Wa-Hi team in 2001.

"That first year was memorable because I got to coach my daughter," Humphreys said. "It was a good group, too, with Erin Randow and Jessica Ocanaz, kids I had the opportunity to coach in AAU basketball and softball as well. To start off with them was a real privilege."

Robyn went on to play both sports at the University of Puget Sound and is now a second-grade teacher in the Tacoma area.

"The other four all played at some level, but Robyn is the only one to play all four years of high school," Humphreys said of his daughters.

Kyli, the youngest, is a sophomore at Wa-Hi, Devyn just graduated last week and Juli recently completed her sophomore year at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. Staci lives in Walla Walla and works for the school district, and her 5-year-old son, Jake, is one of five grandsons who will no doubt keep Humphreys active in the youth coaching ranks.

"I'm already coaching Jake in minor league hockey," Humphreys said. "We are Canadians originally, so we love to skate and play hockey."

Humphreys is particularly proud of the fact that 27 of his former players went on to play at the collegiate level and that many former Blue Devils have gone into the coaching ranks. In fact, six former Wa-Hi players were part of Humphreys' Blue Devil coaching staff this season.

Arch McHie, who runs Wa-Hi's FFA program and is the student-body advisor, has been Humphreys' top assistant. And Carol Peterson, the former DeSales head coach, has been a volunteer assistant.

Former Blue Devil players on staff are Jessica Rusch, Kate Keyes, Kelsee Anderson, Jordan Paden, Gina Eggers and Nichole Riggs.

"Hopefully the powers at be will give them a hard look in looking for a new head coach," Humphreys said. "There certainly are some qualified candidates."

And even though Wa-Hi graduated six players from this year's team, including star pitcher Alyson Ambler, who is headed to the University of Connecticut to play softball, the program's future remains bright, Humphreys said.

"We have some great kids in the system who will be coming up," he said.

"Kendsey Hill, a junior, has been our catcher for the last two years. She calls her own game, bats cleanup and will have a big impact.

"Libbie Jimenez, our junior shortstop, was first-team all-conference and the Big Nine defensive player of the year. And Jordi Storm, a freshman, was the offensive player of the year. Her on-base percentage was .900, and she has an incredible knack for putting the ball in play and getting on base.

There are others, Humphreys said.

"Ellie Rassbach was second-team all-league at second base, and she pitched a little bit and is ready to jump into that role and do a good job. Jacie McDaniels and Maddie Aichele are up-and-coming sophomores, and Mariah Gerling is a junior who broke her hand halfway through the season and will be back. Mattie Smyth is another junior outfielder.

"There are a bunch of them. And I think Wa-Hi will definitely be a contender again in the Big Nine."

If this is Humphreys' last season as head coach, he will take with him fond recollections of memorable teams.

"The first year, of course," he said. "We struggled for a couple of years, but the 2005 team when Kate Keyes and Sarah Nostdal were seniors, they were great leaders and hard workers who bought into the program. That was the start for us and they brought some youngsters along.

"The 2007 team broke the barrier and got us to state for the first time. And then there's that 2011 state championship team and that state championship game when Alyson (Ambler) pitched the shutout and hit the home run.

"That," Humphreys said, "will be a highlight forever."

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