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Lee: McLaughlin stood up for three-sport athletes

I’ve misunderstood retiring Mt. Spokane head football coach Mike McLaughlin at times in the three years I’ve known him.

I spent several minutes on the phone with him last week and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.

One thing I figured out about him when I first met him, though, is he’s cut from a different coaching cloth. And that’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with going against the grain.

He’s a contrarian to some extent with a curmudgeon-like personality.

McLaughlin, 61, has resigned with his sights set on doing the same from education by next winter.

When coaches around the region started seeking competitive camps to take their teams in the summer – including the recent evolution of the Border League camp that includes seven Greater Spokane League teams – McLaughlin fought the urge to join the crowd.

“We’ve resisted the temptation to expand our out-of-season influence,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve held the ground with that. We push for three-sport athletes. I honestly believe it benefits kids. The least you do with them, but have quality time with them, it’s better for kids and better for the program.”

In recent years McLaughlin has taken his team to a camp at Whitworth University. He wanted to expose his players to development of individual skills, not team competition like other camps.

“Over the long run we’ve proven it’s not totally necessary,” McLaughlin said of competitive camps. “Once you cross that line, it’s impossible to go back. I’m against scrimmaging at camps. I didn’t want to start keeping score in June. Border League forces teams to start practicing early to go to camp. We’ve enjoyed the fit at Whitworth. It’s competitive but not overboard.”

McLaughlin said how a kid plays in June can be different come August.

“We’ve had kids change from June to August in their senior year,” he said. “Sometimes you can make early decisions on kids and miss.”

McLaughlin isn’t going to miss offseason preparation, let alone practices.

“I’ll miss the games, the moments,” he said. “I’m ready to move on. I’m looking forward to spending the fall and spring at Priest Lake.”

McLaughlin was a quarterback in his high school days at Ferris. He went on to Oregon State, where he finished his playing career the final two years at cornerback.

He started his head coaching career in 1982 at Mead. When Mt. Spokane opened in 1997, he switched to the new school.

He’ll cherish something that links Ferris, Mead and Mt. Spokane together for him.

“I was fortunate enough to share in winning our first league title in 1971 at Ferris,” McLaughlin said. “Then we won our first league title at Mead and the first one at Mt. Spokane. It was a chance to do something first and share in the first-time experience.”

Now it’s time to put the clipboard he carried at every game away.

“It’s time to start enjoying life a little bit while my wife and I are fairly young and healthy,” he said.

• A tip of the cap to the GSL principals for their decision to reduce the league schedule in football and crown 4A and 3A champions.

Athletic directors proposed staying with the traditional schedule, but it was only by a slim margin. Several wanted to see change, too.

“We’ve been made out to look like villains,” Ferris athletic director Stacey Ward said.

Ward said the athletic directors weren’t given the latitude to come up with a shortened schedule that would crown separate 4A and 3A divisional winners.

Ward said the athletic directors were asked to come up with a schedule that allowed all the teams to play most teams with one champion, and a schedule that would allow for one nonleague game.

Then when it became clear that the league would be unbalanced with six 4A schools and four 3A schools, the initial directive was impossible to satisfy.

Now the athletic directors must come up with some tiebreaking procedures for postseason berths, because with smaller divisions there’s a strong possibility ties will occur.

“We have a few things to tweak,” Ward said.

Not to mention they must decide with the nonleague games which of the seven teams that use Albi Stadium will fill what time slots.

The principals said that the split into two divisions is for football only. My prediction is in time we’ll see it occur in volleyball, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball.

The elephant in the room – competitive equity – was finally addressed. One of my Twitter followers suggested the decision smacked of charity – not of trying to even the playing field.

Your thoughts? Send me an email.

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