‘A perfect time to give back’

6:34 am July 10th, 2014

Richelle Heacock calls out encouragement to players during a drill for Eatonville High’s volleyball team. (Jim Bryant/The Dispatch )

Richelle Heacock calls out encouragement to players during a drill for Eatonville High’s volleyball team. (Jim Bryant/The Dispatch )

By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
Richelle Heacock is back in her element.
The former star volleyball player at Eatonville High School, whose playing days were cut short by an automobile accident that left her paralyzed, has been hired as the school’s new head volleyball coach.
“I love being involved in volleyball. This seems like a perfect time to give back,” Heacock said, referring to the gratitude she feels for the four years she played for the Cruisers, and her own improved energy level that she expects will make it easier to meet the demands of coaching a high school team.
Heacock was 20 years old when she suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident on Jan. 4, 2010, as she drove home from college in Oregon. She was on her way to join her father, John, a Pierce County Sheriff Department deputy, at a memorial service for one of his colleagues, deputy Kent Mundell, who’d been shot and killed while responding to a domestic dispute in Eatonville.
Now 24, she remains confined to a wheelchair. But that doesn’t stop her, just like nothing slowed her down as a volleyball competitor at Eatonville and Clackamas Community College.
That indomitable spirit figured heavily in Heacock’s hiring to lead the Cruisers, said George Fairhart, the high school’s athletic director and football coach.
“Richelle was an outstanding high school volleyball player, but the most impressive thing about her was how she carried herself,” Fairhart said. “She helped younger players and set an example by always working hard. She was a real role model of how a great high school athlete should behave, with class and character.
“She was involved in a terrible accident and is in a wheelchair, but she still carries herself the same way. She just keeps working hard and treats people with respect. She has a great understanding of the game, which will give her instant credibility with the students in the program.”
Peg Heacock said her daughter’s competitive spirit showed, although without as much confidence as usual, after interviewing with school officials for the Eatonville coaching job.
“She was really excited about the opportunity, but she told me she thought she hadn’t done well enough in the interview,” Peg Heacock said, smiling. “I told her there’s more that goes into the decision to hire someone than interviewing well.”
Since her selection became official June 25 with formal approval from the Eatonville School Board, which signs off on hirings in the school district, Heacock has been getting acquainted with her new team at open-gym practices that began in June. They aren’t official team practices, but she can run them as virtually the real thing.
“They’re a little more relaxed” than the practices she’ll oversee when the regular season starts this fall, Heacock said, and the easier pace is fine with her.
“It hasn’t been that long since I played, so I remember how hard practice could be. You don’t want to wear players out,” she said.
Last week, on the broiling-hot first day of July, the Cruisers ran through various drills under Heacock’s watchful eye in the school’s humid gym. She stopped the action periodically to give some instruction, and at other times called out encouragement to the players.
Heacock isn’t new to coaching. She’s been helping run club teams since she was 18, most recently at summer camps at Nevillizms, a volleyball training center in Bellevue.
And she has been getting advice from some of the sport’s preeminent coaches. During the 2013 NCAA Division I women’s volleyball championships in Seattle, she attended a conference and listened to speakers such as Russ Rose, coach of Penn State. Rose’s teams have won six of the last eight NCAA titles, including last year.
The 2014 season will find Eatonville in a new league. The 1A Evergreen League also has Tenino, Elma, Montesano, Hoquiam, Forks, Aberdeen and Rochester. In its Nisqually League swan song last year, Eatonville finished the season with a 3-9 record.
When the Cruisers convene later this summer for the start of pre-season practice, their new coach will have some basic expectations for them.
“We’ll do well. The goal is for them to go for every ball,” Heacock said. “I expect a lot. I played the game very hard, and I expect that of our players, too. The girls seem eager to learn. I’m really excited, and they seem excited, too.”
That’s Heacock’s positive attitude in action, Fairhart noted.
“When we talk about how sports build character, we look at the traits that Richelle has,” he said.

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