By Don Nelson
Michael Wilbur’s recent appointment as Liberty Bell High School’s sports and activities director comes with a solid commitment to the valley, its students and its values.
Wilbur replaces Chase Rost, who resigned after three years as Athletic Director (AD) to pursue other opportunities. For the past three years, Wilbur has been the head coach of Liberty Bell’s baseball team, which advanced to the state tournament each of those years (as well as the previous three years).
Wilbur, who did his student teaching in the Methow Valley School District, has taught at Little Star Montessori School and Methow Valley Community School, and recently earned a master’s degree in teaching and certification in social studies.
He moved to the valley about 10 years ago and said he was “immediately taken by the place. It’s been pretty clear that this is where I want to live.” He added that he believes the school district has good leadership from the top administration on down — “and a remarkable group of teachers.”
The AD’s job is the kind of opportunity Wilbur has been preparing for. “I was super excited about the possibility” of landing the job, Wilbur said.
Wilbur, who played baseball in college in then in recreational leagues in Bellingham (including on a team with his dad), began coaching Liberty Bell baseball about eight years ago, first as a volunteer, then as assistant coach, then as head coach.
Wilbur said he was fortunate to have “a remarkable group of kids, and good parents” during his tenure as head coach.
Working with kids
As a coach, Wilbur was quick to praise but also blunt about things he thought needed to be improved. “We’re trying to achieve excellence, which calls for honest self-appraisal,” Wilbur said. “We help the kids by being honest with them, and it’s openly more respectful to be honest with them.”
Wilbur sees sports and academics as complementary. “One constant for me is education and working with the kids,” he said. “Coaches are point people. They can have the most impact with kids.”
One task for the new AD is to hire his replacement as baseball coach. Wilbur said it would be ideal if the new coach comes from within the community.
New coaches at the high school and junior high school this year include Stephanie Miller as head coach for varsity girls’ basketball, Chad Stoothoff as assistant girls’ basketball coach, Erin White as the cheer coach, and Kaileah Akkar coaching seventh-grade volleyball. A few other positions remain to be filled in the coaching ranks: junior high girls’ assistant basketball coach, and assistant cross-country coach.
Also new for Liberty Bell athletes this year is a well-outfitted weight training and conditioning room, in what used to be the wrestling room (the wrestlers have been moved to a new space in the elementary school). Good facilities help increase student commitment, Wilbur said.
“There are so many advantages” to a full-service workout facility like the weight and conditioning room, Wilbur said, including building teamwork, injury prevention and improved performances.
“I think that we can create a culture here at Liberty Bell that makes training hard a central part of who we are and what we do,” Wilbur said. “The weight room is going to contribute to our success on the field and it will be a place where teams come together to build cohesiveness and identity. We’re so fortunate to have such a great facility, made possible through the generosity of local voters.”
In the past, Liberty Bell students have been allowed to work out for free at Winthrop Physical Therapy and Sports. “They’ve been very kind to the high school kids,” Wilbur said.
Wilbur said Rost has helped him transition into the new job. “He’s been fantastic about that,” Wilbur said.
The AD’s job is multi-faceted. It includes attending all home sporting events to assure that things run smoothly, coordinating coaches and volunteers, making schedules, making sure the teams are well-equipped, and keeping up with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the organization that oversees high school sports in the state.
The community of high school athletic directors also help each other out with advice and support, Wilbur said. The job is evolving constantly. These days, mandatory training for coaches includes concussion awareness.
Wilbur wants to strengthen relationships with the Liberty Bell Booster Club, made up of volunteers who assist at games and raise funds for high school activities. “We have great people in the booster club,” he said. “We just need more.” He said he will try to establish a booster club liaison with each sport to better-coordinate efforts.