Be the Best Version of Yourself

Be the Best Version of Yourself

In the small town of Woodinville, Washington, a high school football team is building something special.

The Woodinville Falcons are more than just your traditional group of jocks ready to deliver big hits on Friday night. They’re a community, a family, and a brotherhood — building each other up and molding themselves into honorable young men.

“Our football team is a family environment,” Falcons’ head coach Wayne Maxwell said. “The guys know we trust them and they trust us. We show that love for each other and that’s something pretty special and unique.”

This attitude all starts with the Falcon Core Principles, something Coach Maxwell and his team work tirelessly to instill in every single kid that passes through the Woodinville football program.

“The Falcon Core Principles are the foundation of this program,” said Maxwell. “Every kid is working on being the best version of themselves and their teammates are too. That’s what high school athletics is all about – growth and community.”

While other schools are solely focused with success on the field, the Falcons believe that hard work and character development off the field translates fluidly to their performance on the gridiron — and they’re right.

Under Coach Maxwell the Falcons hold a record of 120-51, won four conference championships, and appeared in the state title game twice. But some of the program’s most memorable moments don’t come from the game of football itself.

Prior to the 2015 season, the coaching staff decided to further acknowledge players in the program by awarding the player who most exemplifies the qualities of the Falcon Core Principles with the honor of wearing the number 44 jersey.

“All hard-working guys are 44 candidates, but it takes a little extra step of leadership and initiative,” said Dylan Axelson, a former Falcons player who was one of the first players selected with the 44 honor. “The guy who shows up earliest, leaves the latest, studies film, plays harder than everyone else, and is an all-around leader – that’s 44.”

As the 44 strong mantra evolved, Coach Maxwell even remembers a specific moment that made an impact on him and the rest of the coaching staff.

“During our 2017 playoff run, our players came out of the tunnel right before kickoff, turned to our stands and saluted the whole crowd with 44s,” said Maxwell. “They wanted to acknowledge and thank our Falcon Family and community, and it was pretty special. Our philosophy is to empower our players to do things like that without being told and no one told them to do that, so it was really cool and I was very proud.”




An All-Student Partnership, a new logo, and a reimagined school store help drive Vallejo High School revenue

Working on a tight budget, Vallejo High School has come up with an innovative way to capitalize on its All-Student Partnership uniform program and increase revenues for the school.

Vallejo High School Spirit Gear

Athletic Director and Head Baseball Coach Josh Ramos runs the athletic department like a business. When he took over as AD three years ago and looked at the operation, Ramos realized the school needed to visually upgrade the Redhawks logo, consolidate athletic purchases to get a larger discount, and enter into an All-Student Partnership Nike uniform deal. The annual rebates from the deal allow Vallejo to stock the school store with Nike gear branded with the new Vallejo logo.

“Each sport used to individually buy whatever was on sale,” Ramos says. “We decided to go to Eastbay Team Sales, and Matt Pantazes, an Eastbay Area Sales Manager, helped us put an all-school program together around Nike. It was a great opportunity to partner with Eastbay and Nike. The whole school has head-to-toe Nike gear — the band, phys ed. classes, leadership classes…”

Working with Eastbay, Vallejo created an on-campus school store stocked with Nike product such as hoodies, backpacks, shorts, tees, and hats branded with the new logo. “We sold out of everything at orientation,” Ramos says. “We bought back into more product, and it’s gone again. The kids love it.”

The plan was for Vallejo to maximize its uniform purchase with Eastbay each year and use the Eastbay rebate to stock the store, Ramos says. “It took just one year to build our rebate level, and since 100% of the rebate goes to restocking the student store, we don’t have to pay anything additional for student store product,” he says.

Selecting product for the store is done by a leadership steering committee made up of Ramos, Activities Director and Head Men’s Basketball Coach Andrew Johansen, and Head Finance Officer and Women’s Soccer Coach Mallory Walton. (The three are frequent collaborators on larger athletic department decisions as well.)

Sales aren’t limited to students. A physical school store is set up at athletic events to sell Vallejo-branded gear to parents, supporters, and alumni.

Small Business Challenges

For Ramos, the parallels to the business world range beyond driving revenue for the school.

“As I look at the athletic department as a small business, I’m the owner, and my job is to train everybody,” Ramos says. “My job is to get the coaches on the same page, teach our kids how to conduct themselves, set the expectations, and establish the procedures.”

Challenges vary each year, Ramos says. Finding great coaches is the first priority and setting up regular communication with them follows suit.

Vallejo hosts one large meeting at the beginning of the year with every coach, assistant, and volunteer to get everyone acclimated with new rules and new staff. In addition, Ramos meets with coaches three times a year for the fall, winter, and spring sports programs.

“We also have pre- and post-season meetings with coaches to review performance, to discuss what they want to accomplish for the season, and whether they met those goals,” Ramos says. “It’s a very positive atmosphere. Every coach needs to receive constructive feedback on their performance through someone else’s eyes to help them build their program.”



Innovative leadership programs have helped Johns Creek athletes create a path for life after high school

Since Jason Holcombe took over as athletic director at Johns Creek High School (just northeast of Atlanta), the school has made a name for itself not just through its athletic programs, but from its approach to education and creating leadership opportunities for its students.

Academically, Johns Creek is among the top 2 percent of schools in Georgia and has a graduation rate of 97 percent. The school is a proponent of athletics, arts, and academics, and its high standards are reflected in its athletic program.

Johns Creek is competitive in every one of its 16 sports. Three years ago, the school was reclassified into a smaller tier and was able to face schools its own size (enrolment of 2,100) rather than schools with twice the population. It now regularly sends teams to state finals in 90 percent of its sports. And Holcombe works to make sure all sports are equally supported.

“As an AD, the goal is to make school pride infectious for all sports,” he said. “We are all Gladiators, and we want to make sure the school and community provide support to all programs.”

While the school strives for athletic excellence, Holcombe sets the bar higher for Johns Creek. “Our job is to prepare young men and women to be equipped to face life’s challenges after graduation. They learn to win and lose with grace and how to come back stronger when faced with obstacles.”

As part of a holistic leadership philosophy, Johns Creek has created several innovative programs:

Rebranding, school pride, and new revenue

“We needed to modernize our branding,” Holcombe said. “It was time for all our teams to have a unified look. Consistency and feel are important. When the kids get off the bus or walk down the school hallway, they should look like Johns Creek athletes.”

Eastbay helped adapt the primary logos to specific sports. “Eastbay created an online photo repository for different variations of the logo for every sport,” Holcombe said. “Coaches were inspired to suggest new ideas for their own logo variations.”

Once finalized, Johns Creek began building online team stores to help promote the school and drive revenue.

“Coaches have done a tremendous job of getting their online team stores live,” Holcombe said. “They work with Eastbay to pick out the product, which is posted for the parents and community to look at. The ordering is online, and items ship directly to the customer, so they don’t have to do any physical work. Eastbay’s been a great partner for us.”

Special Needs program support

Johns Creek has created a remarkably inclusive and supportive relationship with special needs students. In addition to mentoring the students academically, members of the athletic teams embrace the opportunities to get them involved with sports programs.

“Special needs students have served as managers on our teams,” Holcombe said. “One student in a wheelchair — we call him Coach — attends every baseball game, home or away, and presents the line-up card to the umpire. He’s really part of the team. It wouldn’t be a Johns Creek baseball game without that student in attendance.”

Johns Creek organized a send-off for the Special Olympics basketball team. “The drumline and cheer team were there, and 150-250 students made a tunnel for those athletes as they were getting on the bus,” Holcombe said. “It was huge. The look in their eyes was amazing.”

Strong promotion of multisport participation

Getting athletes involved in more than one sport is a key component in the Johns Creek philosophy, Holcombe said.

“Studies have shown that multiple-sport athletes are more involved, get better grades, and have a more positive outlook. The experience and discipline helps them develop their problem-solving, leadership, and interpersonal skills for later on in life.”

The athletic department tracks athletes’ grades and brings in guest speakers (including local pro athletes and alumni) to talk about topics such as social media awareness, managing schedules, and leadership. “The guest speakers help students understand that they’re held to a higher standard and how to prioritize and deal with pressure,” Holcombe said.



The Sierra Canyon High School boys’ and girls’ program is in elite territory

Sierra Canyon High School (Chatsworth, Calif.) pulled off a rare feat in spring 2019 — both the boys and girls teams took home California State championships on the same night in March.

In fact, the Trailblazers can make the argument that the basketball program is one of the best in the country.

During the 2018-19 run, the boys’ team, led by first-year coach Andre Chevalier, outpaced Sheldon High School (Sacramento) in the title game. The girls took the banner with a convincing win over another historically strong high school team, Pinewood (Los Altos Hills).

“We have a culture of success here,” says Boys Head Basketball Coach Andre Chevalier. “Our guys compete on the court and are pushed in the classroom too. That’s one of the things that was attractive to the players and their parents.”

The girls’ team has arguably been even more dominant than the boys’ team in recent years. The state championship marked their fourth in the past seven years under Head Basketball Coach Alicia Komaki. The girls’ program had a single loss all year and took a run at an overall national #1 title.

“That team was special,” Komaki says. “They worked hard. They didn’t take days off. They wanted to learn and get better. “I enjoy seeing the growth as a person and an athlete,” she says. “It’s my responsibility to make sure these girls are prepared for life after high school.”

Eastbay partners with Sierra Canyon

Eastbay has an all-school deal with Sierra Canyon and helped the team fulfil their uniform needs.

Sierra Canyon wears the Nike Digital Unlimited home and away uniforms, and seniors pick and design the jerseys.

The relationship began in 2015 when Eastbay Team Sales Rep Tony Cubillo provided uniforms to Komacki and the girls’ basketball program. “From there, other sports started seeing the service I offered, and eventually it turned into an all-student partnership in 2018,” Cubillo says.

“I’m just very happy to work with a first-class program like Sierra Canyon,” Cubillo says. “I appreciate their trust in me to service the sports programs.”

Cubillo works with Sierra Canyon Assistant Athletic Director David Soble to coordinate the timing for all school orders, and works with individual coaches on sizing, delivery, and other needs. Coaches also partner with Eastbay to organize team stores and spirit pack bulk orders.

Coaching Spotlight: Shaka Smart

Coaching Spotlight: Shaka Smart

words // Jordan Hagedorn

images // Scott Brown Photography – VCU Athletics

When it comes to college sports, a lot of the time it’s the coaches who help shape the athletes into team players and the men they will become in life. Virginia Commonwealth University head coach Shaka Smart is a prime example of that.

Growing up in Oregon, Wisconsin Smart developed a love for sports and eventually gravitated towards basketball. Smart played basketball in high school and eventually went on to play at the next level at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. After his freshman year of college, his coach Bill Brown left to go to another school but told Shaka when he was done playing college basketball, he could work for him if he wanted to.  After Smart finished his college career as the all-time assists leader at Kenyon College, he took Brown up on his offer and became an assistant coach at California University of Pennsylvania. After two seasons at Cal U, he took a job as Director of Basketball Operations for Dayton University and then from there took Assistant coaching jobs at Akron, Clemson and Florida before being named the head coach at VCU in 2009.

As the head coach at VCU, Smart has taken the college basketball world by storm. In his first season at VCU, he led the Rams to a 27-10 record and won the 2010 College Basketball Invitational. Last year, in his second season, the Rams’ finished with a 23-11 record, just barely squeaking into the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed. They ended up going on a run that captured the hearts of college basketball fans everywhere, knocking off USC, a fellow 11-seed, Georgetown (6), Purdue (3), Florida State (10) and the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks. While they eventually lost to Butler in the Final Four in Houston, it was a run that VCU will never forget.

Coach Smart was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to chat with us last month for the cover of Eastbay Team Sales:

Jordan Hagedorn: Can you talk about your experience with Eastbay?
Shaka Smart: I’ve been looking at the Eastbay catalog for years and years. It goes back to high school and college when I was at that age that our players are at when basketball shoes and athletic apparel was like the coolest thing in the world. In college we would countdown the days until the catalog would arrive and then we’d fight over it. I had one roommate in college who probably ordered just about everything that there was to order out of Eastbay.

JH: Do you have any favorite shoes from back in the day?
SS: My favorite shoes were Jordans. I didn’t have a lot of Jordans. I only had a couple different pairs, but I remember as a senior in high school getting my first pair. The shoes I had were the white/black/red Jordan X. I didn’t even wear them for about a month. I just had them in my room. It was like I had a shrine to the shoes and then I wore them that season.

JH: What are the qualities you look for in a VCU player?
SS: We try to encourage our guys to play extremely hard and to play, excuse the pun, but to play smart and to think team at all times. Those are really our three rules on the court, play hard, play smart, think team. We want guys that are very unselfish. We encourage our guys to always have a high appreciation level for all of the good things that they have in their life. All of the good people and privileges they have. It’s a pretty sweet deal to be a Division I college basketball player and to have literally 10-20 people whose full-time job it is to help you grow as a person, as a player and as a student. We encourage our guys to take advantage of that.

JH: What are three things that make you a successful coach?
SS: Energy. I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm because I have a passion for what I am doing. I really enjoy it. I wake up every morning excited about going to work. I don’t consider it a job. I consider it a privilege to be around our guys to help make them better so that’s hopefully a strength of mine. I spend a lot of time with the players. That’s something that is important to me. Just trying to be around the guys as much as I can to really develop a strong relationship with them that’s deeper than just basketball because I really think that it’s all connected on the court and off the court. If we can help these guys become the best version of themselves, the basketball part will take care of itself. I really don’t have much else going on in my life besides my family. I’m pretty single-minded when it comes to what I do with my time.

JH: What coaches do you admire and respect the most and who do you look up to? Do you have a mentor?
SS: Yeah. I have a lot of mentors. Some of whom I worked for and some whom I followed from afar and just enjoyed the way they do things. All of the guys that I worked for were terrific mentors. Bill Brown is a coach at California University of Pennsylvania. I played for him at Kenyon College and then worked for him at Cal PA. Oliver Purnell who is now at DePaul, I worked for at Dayton and Clemson is a terrific mentor. Both of those guys are also father figures for me. My dad really wasn’t a strong, positive influence in my life so those guys are like fathers for me. Keith Dambrot, who I worked for at Akron, is a great friend and a phenomenal coach. He’s someone I look at as a mentor. He’s someone I talk to probably more than anyone in the business. I worked for Dan Hipsher who is just a phenomenal offensive coach and really taught me a lot. And, obviously, Billy Donovan, who is the last head coach I worked for. I consider him to be the foremost authority on offensive basketball in college basketball. He’s a genius. He’s got a brilliant mind for the game.

JH: Growing up did you see yourself as a coach?
SS: I saw myself as a player. Like a lot of kids, I just wanted to play basketball as long as I could. I played a lot of sports growing up. I played baseball and soccer and a couple other sports. Basketball was something I got into a little later than some of the other sports. It just developed into the sport I liked the most and I just wanted to play as long as I could. Late in high school I started doing some coaching. I coached my younger brother’s teams in basketball and soccer. It was more just amusing than anything else. I just got a kick out of it. It wasn’t something I took too seriously but when my college coach left to go to another school after my freshmen year, he said to me when I got done playing, if I wanted to work for him I could. So that was kind of the first time I thought about getting into coaching.

JH:You were sought-after after this season. A lot of schools love your passion and ability. Why did you choose to stay at VCU?
SS: It’s just a great place to be. It’s a terrific University with a good tradition of winning and a very good support system for me, our players and our coaching staff. Honestly, I just got here so it’s not a situation where I have any type of urgency to go anywhere else. I really like being here and I really like the players we have. I couldn’t see myself leaving them.
JH: What are some coaching fundamentals that you take pride in?
SS: Trapping. Our full court press and sometimes in the half court is something that’s really important to us. Shooting the ball (laughs) is a big one because we sure fling it up there a lot of the time, that’s a big one. That’s sometimes the hardest thing to teach. It’s not like we turn guys into phenomenal shooters. I would say more than anything we hopefully provide them with the confidence to let it fly to take big shots and make big shots.

JH:What three pieces of advice do you have for young coaches?
SS: Get to know yourself as a coach and learn what it is that drives and motivates you. I think a lot of time that can inform the decisions you make along your path in coaching. Work hard. That has to be the foundation. That’s what gets you in the door. Having an extreme work ethic is not for everybody. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s never-ending and it’s something that you have to have a tremendous passion for. Remember to have tremendous loyalty — and that loyalty is a two-way street. It’s something that you have to remember as an assistant coach as you’re working for a head coach. Your most important job is to serve the head coach and to serve the program. As a head coach, the most important job is to serve that university where you work and the players you have.

JH: What did you keep in mind on your journey?
SS: Probably the biggest thing that I would tell myself is “you don’t know what you don’t know.” There’s so many times in life where we look back on situations and we say, “If I only knew then what I know now.” But we also see that there were people along the way that were trying to give us the answers to the test before we took it. But a lot of times as young people — and I certainly was one of them — we don’t always listen and we have to learn the hard way.
JH: What does it mean to be on the cover of Eastbay Team Sales?
SS: It’s always an honor any time our team or players or coaches are put on the cover of anything or highlighted in any way, but you always remember it’s certainly a direct reflection of the team’s success. It’s why I’m there because of what our team did.

JH: What do you have to say to the world?
SS: Thanks for everyone that supported us last year and that continues to support us. Our style of play at VCU is defined by one word: havoc. And it’s a lot of fun to play and to watch and to coach, so I just encourage everybody to follow our team, support our players and see what happens.