AJ Valencia, incoming athletic director for White Salmon Valley Schools, spoke at last week’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Bingen-White Salmon, outlining his priorities for the year.
White Salmon Valley Superintendent Sean McGeeney, who is now in his second year at White Salmon schools, introduced the incoming AD to the audience.
McGeeney said one of the most important responsibilities of a superintendent is making hiring decisions. When Howard Kreps, who serves as White Salmon’s AD for decades, retired earlier this year, the school district had to make of those tough choices. But he said as soon as Valencia walked into the interview, it suddenly made that job a lot easier.
“I can only tell you that when the interview committee met AJ Valencia, the second he walked out the door, I think all our jaws dropped and hit the table. And we’re like, how do we get this guy here?” McGeeney said.
Valencia started off by announcing that the district’s fall turnout rate was the highest its been in five years. One hundred and forty-two athletes total the district’s count this season, and in football specifically, the turnout was 45 players, which Valencia remarked was an excellent figure because it means the district can support both a varsity and JV team. Other figures include 32 players on girls soccer, 26 on cross country, and another 34 on volleyball, which was later cut to 24. He said he wants to eventually organize another squad but which would require another coach, something that is on his radar.
Cheerleading is coming back, Valencia said, after the district hired a coach.
“I think with cheerleading coming back, we can give those athletes who definitely have that community, another voice, another group to be associated with,” Valencia said.
At the middle school, 76 athletes and nine coaches make up the district’s count.
Speaking on athletes and education, he said athletes need to get their work done in the classroom, or their ability to participate in athletics will be diminished. Student athletes who are failing more than two classes since last year’s midterm will be put on probation, which is a policy adopted by the WIAA.
“Something that I found out when I was in high school, was that if you’re not getting your job done in the classroom, then your athletics is going to suffer too,” he said.
Another policy he mentioned that is new this year is an attendance policy, which requires that students attend classes on gameday, or else they face disqualification for that game. “I think this will hold out students to a higher standard,” he said.
Valencia said he was excited to involve White Salmon Community Youth clubs more in the athletics department.
“Those youth kids are going to be our pipeline. They’re going to be what we hang our hat on, and they’re up there the next four years. Being able to come together as peers and give them the opportunities to grow under the Columbia-Henkle name,” he said. Developing that relationship to Valencia means coordination and communication, so that athletes coming into the district from their youth teams know what to expect their first day.
As a student athlete, Valencia attended George Fox University, playing baseball. He said he failed a lot during his student athlete career. “But I also think that that failure in the game of baseball made me grow into a better person,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Hey I failed this time,’ and then it’s over. It’s ‘What can I do to get better? Why would I fail? How can I do better the next time?’” he said.
Before taking on this position, Valencia was the assistant athletic director for Lincoln High School in Portland. He said he knew this was his calling as a fresh out-of-college 19-year-old, acknowledging that a combination of good coaches, teachers, and mentors guiding him to show him his path to this career.
“I think my calling is just give that for the students as well,” he said.