By CANDICE HOAG
Every parent knows that dealing with the drama of teenagers can be quite a handful — especially when it comes to sports.
It’s hard to imagine a person choosing to endure the mood swings of adolescence once their children have moved out of the house.
But even though his daughters have long since graduated, Hood River Valley softball and JV basketball coach Phil Hukari still enjoys the challenge — so much that he is entering his 30th season as a youth coach.
“I really like the competition and working with the kids,” he said. “And the interaction with the students outside of the classroom is another added bonus.”
Some people might look at a 30-year high-school coaching career as crazy, while others would describe it as courageous.
But no matter what their perspective, anyone close to HRV athletics would agree that Hukari is a dedicated, compassionate coach who understands the value of sports in young people’s lives.
He had plenty of exposure to sports in his youth, playing both basketball and baseball in Hood River. He started his coaching career as a football and baseball coach at Hood River Middle School in 1974, and began coaching for HRV in the late 70s.
By 1984 Hukari had landed a full-time position as a history teacher at HRV. He currently teaches Global Studies and coaches the JV girls basketball team and varsity softball team.
One of his fondest coaching memories is having both his daughters on the HRV softball team — Jen, who graduated in 1992, and Kelly in 1996. But although both girls have moved on, Hukari is still enthusiastic about his profession.
“I really enjoy the challenge of coaching,” he said. “Plus, I like working with other adults involved with the kids. The coaching fraternity is a really enjoyable experience.”
Over the many years he has been coaching, Hukari has been around various types of athletes. And while all contribute to the team, he admits that some are easier to coach than others.
“I most enjoy the athletes who love the sport and will compete for competition sake and not for personal gratification,” he said. “These kind of athletes are the workers and hustlers with that rare fire deep down inside of them.”
Hukari was one of those athletes who gave a little extra when he was on the playing field. He always played with heart and he tries to impart that to his players.
And although some catch on more quickly than others, Hukari has taken away nothing but positive memories from his years coaching at HRV.
“The student/coach relationship is really rewarding,” he said. “It keeps me feeling young. I also enjoy contributing to the success of student-athletes.”
However, as much fun as he has coaching HRV students, Hukari understands the job is not for everyone. There have even been times when he has wondered if it’s right for him.
“The hours are long and I don’t always like the alternating practice schedules,” he said. “I also missed a big chunk of my daughters’ lives as they were growing up.”
But Hukari admits that the memories and rewards are far too great to consider doing anything else. His favorite coaching memories are often derived from the players’ joy after winning.
He recalled his most significant coaching accomplishment when his HRV softball team, led by Crystal Draper, won the 1996 4A state championship.
“I was really proud of the girls on the softball team when they won the state championship,” he said. “Plus, it’s always fun to watch ex-players (such as Draper at Oregon State) compete at higher levels.”
Right now, Hukari is happy with his job, both as a teacher and as a coach. But in the long run, he’s not sure how many more years he’ll be at HRV.
“As long as I feel that I can still contribute to the team and have fun, then I’ll coach,” he said. “I think my body will probably wear out before my desire to compete.”