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Stewarts in their final season as coaches of Spokane Dawgs softball

Jamie and Renee Stewart have run the Spokane Dawgs program for a decade. (Colin Mulvany)
Jamie and Renee Stewart have run the Spokane Dawgs program for a decade. (Colin Mulvany)

Renee Stewart delivered rosebushes and a request to her softball players this year.

Plant this in a special place, she said. Follow its progress through the years and think of our time together whenever you see it.

Renee’s husband, Jamie, considered the gift a perfect symbol.

“By planting the rosebush, they can watch it grow like we watched them grow,” Jamie said.

This summer, the Stewarts are fulfilling a promise they made to young girls who have matured into some of the area’s finest high school players.

This is the final season for the Spokane Dawgs, the Stewarts’ decade-old club team that competes in Spokane Girls Fastpitch.

The Stewarts have juggled as many as five Dawgs teams per year, but their farewell season will be limited to an 18U team that, to them, is like a second family.

Although their real family, daughters Amanda, 19, and Emily, 17, stopped playing softball a few years back, the Stewarts didn’t want to disband the Dawgs without a sense of completion.

“I felt like we should do this or I’d be doing a disservice to the girls we had taken on,” Renee said. “I told them I would take them all the way up to 18U.”

From the start, the team’s motto has been: “Once a Dawg, always a Dawg.”

“We’ve just always been loyal to our girls and that’s why I think they’ve stayed together for so long,” Renee said.

Renee had never heard of club softball when someone approached her at a T-ball game a decade ago and suggested that her daughters were ready for the next level.

She attended a couple of club games and was impressed enough to form a 10U team. The Stewarts especially wanted a team for girls who would attend North Central, the school from which they graduated in 1989.

The 10U team took its lumps during the first season, but Renee vowed to shrink the talent gap. She attended board meetings, became a board member and is now the organization’s president.

Using Renee’s background in softball and Jamie’s knowledge of baseball, the couple started identifying talent. Among the players who grew up with the Dawgs are Malia Wash, Emily Ebaugh, Hannah Wafstet and Tamiya Tisdale, all named to the All-Greater Spokane League first team this year after guiding NC to the league co-championship.

Ebaugh’s story stuck with the Stewarts. During her first year with the Dawgs, Ebaugh came to every practice and game, despite knowing she couldn’t play because of a broken ankle suffered while playing basketball. The Stewarts converted Ebaugh from an outfielder to a catcher, because of her “tenacity,” and next year she’ll play for Bloomfield (N.J.) College.

“That’s the fun thing about coaching kids,” Jamie said. “You see those little stories that nobody else gets to see.”

Renee (Acosta) moved to Spokane as a sophomore and played softball for three seasons at NC. She started noticing Jamie when he wandered by Franklin Park during her games. Friends introduced them and they have been inseparable since their senior year at NC. Both also attended Eastern Washington.

Jamie started coaching as a volunteer at NC about six years ago. He was hired on the following year and stayed with the program until he accepted the head coaching position at Northwest Christian last year. The Crusaders have placed second at the last two State 2B tournaments.

“Girls we coached with the Dawgs wanted him to apply for that (NWC) position,” Renee said. “He has a different temperament. He’s not obnoxious. You see smiles on the kids’ faces when he’s there.”

Daughter Amanda assisted Jamie as a volunteer at NWC this spring. Her interest in school counseling and coaching leaves her parents hopeful that she might revive the Dawgs in the future.

Renee, a paralegal, will continue to serve as SGF president and hopes to someday serve as Jamie’s assistant coach. The two have been reluctant to work as co-coaches with the Dawgs because of their different demeanors and coaching strategies.

“We’ve actually done better coaching against each other,” Jamie said. “Every year we have a Dawgs vs. Dawgs game. Our parents laugh when we are in the dugout together because the husband-wife relationship comes out sometimes.”