Woodland’s athletic directors, coaches, staff, and students worked together to help athletics return during Covid-19
Despite strict regulations due to the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, athletics returned to Woodland Public Schools thanks to the hard work and collaboration of both the middle and high schools’ athletic directors along with administrators, coaches, staff, parents, and, of course, students.
In addition to sports returning to both the high school and middle school, Class of 2021 graduates were able to earn scholarships, while the middle school bid a fond farewell to a trio of volleyball coaches who retired after eight years working together.
In order to make athletics work during a pandemic, Paul Huddleston, Woodland High School’s Athletic Director, put in tireless hours planning how the different sports would work. “The process has been endless Zoom meetings, emails, and phone calls around the league and throughout the state,” he explained. “Locally, organizing the return of athletics has been a huge joint effort involving the coaches, administrators, superintendent, board of directors, athletes, our safety director, local police, our ticket takers, clock runners, people to film, parent volunteers, community volunteers, boosters, secretaries – the entire program has taken a village and I’m honestly so grateful for everyone’s help!”
Huddleston credits positive attitudes and hours of dedication on the part of everyone involved for how school athletics have returned. “Our coaches and athletes have had such great attitudes combined with the flexibility needed to accommodate the ever-changing environment thanks to the pandemic,” he said. “They have chosen to embrace the adversity presented by Covid-19 and make the most of the opportunities they have been given and I couldn’t be prouder of all of them.”
Angela Campbell, Assistant Principal and Athletic Director for Woodland Middle School, saw the return of sports at her school as a sign students could find some normalcy, “The best part is watching how excited the kids are to be back at something consistent in their lives,” she said. “For many of them, they were able to return to sports before the return to in-person school so it was a form of connection with their classmates and with staff members.”
Huddleston agrees fully with Campbell’s sentiments, “It’s so great to see our kids out practicing and competing - it had been almost a full year since we’ve had a competition!”
Nearly a full year had passed since there were any school athletic events (picture of WHS stadium taken pre-pandemic)
One of the biggest challenges came in the limited seating the school could offer for spectators. “Families want to watch their kids play, but we have to severely limit seating in order to maintain proper social distancing guidelines,” said Campbell. Finding facilities with COVID guidelines in place also presented challenges for the return of middle school athletics.
Finding other middle school teams to play was also difficult during the pandemic. “Many districts in the middle school league did not want to take on sports, but we felt it was important for kids to have something ‘normal,’” said Campbell. “We often played schools multiple times and also played schools from outside the league to offer our teams the competition they needed.”
Huddleston credits Campbell with the success of athletics at Woodland Middle School during COVID, “Angela has been huge in making the return happen – running a Covid event is not easy and she has taken that on and done it well,” he said. “Collaboration between her, me, our coaches and staff members has been instrumental in the return of athletics, and our students and parents have been very grateful and cooperative for the return of sports.”
Since community members cannot attend athletic events in-person, Woodland High School livestreams all of its games on YouTube free-of-charge. Community members can watch the events live or catch them pre-recorded later by visiting the WHS Athletics YouTube channel via this link: http://bit.ly/WHS-Athletics. Community members can find the schedule online here: http://bit.ly/WPS-Athletics-Spring-2021
Some might think that the pandemic would prevent graduates from the Class of 2021 from finding universities and colleges willing to provide scholarships, but that has not been the case. Huddleston believes that the competition for scholarships may have been more challenging during the pandemic since higher education organizations now look for more than just athletic prowess. “I will say that every one of these kids are not only good athletes but good students and individuals,” said Huddleston, “When investing in athletes, colleges are looking for the whole package, not just talent, and our students take the Woodland Way very seriously.”
The following student athletes from the Class of 2021 have received scholarships:
Coaching trio Robin Uhlenkott, Jody Flanagan, and Cheryl Nesbitt retire together after eight years of coaching Woodland Middle School’s volleyball teams
This year marked the end of an eight-year run of Woodland Middle School’s coaching trio, Jody Flanagan, Cheryl Nesbitt, and Robin Uhlenkott. The creation of the unique coaching trio started with Nesbitt, retiring after coaching for 25 years, who spotted coaching talent in her two friends.
Nesbitt had already served as the head coach for the middle school program for 12 years when she recruited Flanagan to coach the school’s C team. “I encouraged her to apply because she was a personal friend of mine and I knew the kind of coach she was – I knew we would work well together,” said Nesbitt. “When Jody moved up to coach the seventh-grade team, I encouraged Robin to apply for the C team because she was also a good friend of mine and I knew she had the skills needed to coach volleyball.”
Nesbitt’s love for the game started in high school when she played volleyball at Castle Rock High School. “Although I played fastpitch softball at Oregon State University, I played a lot of intramural volleyball as well,” she said. “When I got my job teaching Physical Education at Woodland Middle School in 1994, I immediately started coaching the varsity softball team at Woodland High School, however when the eighth-grade volleyball coaching position became available in 1996, it made sense for me to apply since my husband, Jeff, was the varsity volleyball coach and the two of us could develop a consistent program district-wide.”
Nesbitt’s favorite memories have nothing to do with winning games or having undefeated seasons. “My favorites involve the improvement each girl made each season,” she said. “I also remember when girls fall in love with the sport and commit themselves to getting better, eventually playing four years of high school volleyball with some even going on to play in college.”
Nesbitt’s decision to retire stemmed from wanting to coach a full 25 years. “When I realized my 25th year would also be the year my youngest daughter, Elle, would finish college at Utah State University, it was kind of a no-brainer for me to retire that year,” she said. “Our oldest daughter, Nicolette, finished playing collegiately in 2017, the same year Jeff retired from coaching, so it made sense for me to retire when our youngest daughter, Elle, would be done in 2021.”
Flanagan got her start in coaching volleyball nearly immediately after graduating college serving as the Junior Varsity Coach at Prairie High School in Battle Ground School District. After getting married and moving to Woodland, she began coaching at the middle school. “Some of my favorite memories coaching are those times when you see that ‘ah-ha’ moment – when the light bulb goes on in a player’s mind and they finally get it,” said Flanagan. “It might happen when they finally figure out their serve or how to spike a ball – those are the best moments.”
For Flanagan, the decision of when to leave entirely rested on when Nesbitt would finish coaching. “I decided that when Cheryl was done, I was done,” she said. “I had made that decision quite a while ago.”
Uhlenkott played volleyball throughout her own middle school and high school career. As her daughters grew up and started to play, she would coach from time to time after starting her teaching career with her longest consecutive time coaching volleyball being a part of the trio. Like Flanagan, Uhlenkott’s favorite memories involve watching players hone their skills, “My favorite memories are when a girl has been struggling with a particular skill and eventually ‘gets it,’” she said. “It’s a wonderful feeling watching them develop the confidence in their playing skills.”
Uhlenkott had worked with Nesbitt at the high school and knew Flanagan from her time in Woodland. “Cheryl is a very passionate coach, always expecting her players to work hard and do their best, while Jody is very competitive and works to get the most out of her teams,” said Uhlenkott. “They are both great to work with, so it was an easy decision to join the coaching team.”
Uhlenkott’s decision to leave didn’t come until partway through their last season. “I had only been planning to coach one more year after this, but since Cheryl, Jody, and I had such a good working relationship; it just seemed right to go out with them at the same time.”
Woodland Public Schools athletics needs your help! (WHS photo taken pre-pandemic)
For up-to-date information about all of Woodland’s athletic teams, visit www.whsbeavers.com. Community members can find rosters, view current team records, see photos, watch events, and much more from the dedicated athletics website.
Due to the pandemic, there are no ticket sales, however, expenses from officials, equipment, event staff, and coaches continue as the school provides opportunities for its student athletes. For community members or local businesses willing to donate, you can contribute online at: https://wa-woodland-lite.intouchreceipting.com. Under School, select Woodland High School, and under Program/Club, select WHS Athletic Donations. We would like to express our gratitude, so please leave your name under Memo if you would like to be acknowledged.
Woodland Public Schools thanks the community for its ongoing support and grace as we continue to navigate through these unprecedented times.