Wayne McKnight, 62, has been a fixture in the West Valley School District since before he began to teach. He’ll retire at the end of the school year.
He attended St. Paschal’s School until the ninth grade, when he attended Argonne Junior High. When McKnight graduated from West Valley High School in 1969, he had a passion for forestry and expected to go into some kind of outdoor career.
College opened up his world a little, offering him opportunities to try new things, and he knew one thing for certain.
“I knew I wanted to be around kids,” he said. “I knew I wanted to coach.”
He began to pursue a degree in education from Eastern Washington University. He did his student teaching at Central Valley High School and knew he was in the right career.
He interviewed for a job in Renton, Wash., but while he was waiting to hear back from them, a job opened up at Park Junior High, now Centennial Middle School.
“I debated,” he said. “I knew personally I would be back here.”
He took the job at Park, the first step in his 39-year career with West Valley School District. Over the years, he taught science, math and physical education. He’s coached sports and is finishing off his time as the high school athletic director.
“It’s been a good day every day,” he said. “The kids are the whole story, really.”
McKnight said the kids have not changed since that first year. Every year, freshman walk through the doors of the high school on the first day with high expectations for themselves, hoping that this is going to be their year to shine.
“There is not a kid who walks through that door and says, ‘Man, I can’t wait to fail,’ ” he said.
However, other things have changed. When he started teaching, information was hand-delivered, face-to-face to students. Now, students can look up information on computers and education has a faster pace.
When he attended West Valley as a student in the 1960s, Title IX hadn’t yet been enacted by the federal government. Girls didn’t get the same opportunities in sports as the boys. Title IX was enacted in 1972.
“That was huge,” McKnight said. “A good huge.”
He said getting the teams started at the beginning was a challenge for changing mind-sets and teaching the girls how to play sports like basketball, especially in the mid-’70s.
“It was a game that you almost couldn’t sit and watch,” he said. “Now it’s at a high level of athletics.”
Girls interested in wrestling have come forward the last several years and now girls wrestling is growing.
A former wrestling coach, McKnight said at first the prospect made him nervous. He said back then, boys would be arrested if they touched girls on the street, but in the gym, it was totally appropriate and acceptable. He said letting girls wrestle let them explore a side of their personality they otherwise couldn’t.
He has been an advocate for linking academics and athletics. He feels kids involved in sports learn how to be stronger and mentally efficient. Students in sports or other activities in school have more connections to adults. Life’s lessons are learned through great games you win and even the tough games you lose.
“It gave you something,” he said. “Losing is not bad.”
The athletics department instituted a no-F policy. Every three weeks, athletes’ grades are checked.
As for the future, McKnight said he will spend time traveling and finishing a lake cabin he has been working on for five years. He said he plans to do some of the cooking, cleaning and everything else he hasn’t been able to do while working 12 to 14 hour days.
His wife, Jana McKnight, teaches at Barker High School in the Central Valley School District, and he said he hopes she will retire in a few years.
He has three daughters, Trisha Hurt, Chelsey Mam and Kassie McKnight, and has a niece who lives with them, Alisse Middleton, who graduates from West Valley this year; all are athletes in some capacity.
“They grew up in a wrestling room,” he said.
Like many in the West Valley School District, McKnight knows why many people return to the area where they were raised. He figures he’s seen three generations of students travel through the doors of the school – he said he attended high school with one of his students’ great-grandfathers.
“You come back here to raise your kids,” he said. “The neighbors take care of neighbors. They feel safe to raise their family in this community. And they drag their husbands and wives right back with them.”