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Legacy of well-liked Kang, Kirkland coach Mike Watson lives on
The Lake Washington High School and local softball communities suffered a great loss last Friday morning when Mike Watson, who coached the Kangs to a Class 3A state tournament berth last spring, died after suffering a heart attack while driving.
According to the “Team Kellie” Facebook page Watson was taken to Swedish Hospital in Edmonds, where he underwent a 24-hour cooling treatment to help with brain trauma from the accident. In the early morning hours of Aug. 17, Watson suffered a second heart attack and was unable to be revived. The Facebook page was set up in support of Watson’s wife Kellie, as she battles ovarian cancer.
The 48-year-old Watson, who had coached fastpitch softball for more than 15 years, took over the head coaching position at Lake Washington after one of his closest friends, Troy Hennum, was placed on administrative leave just after the season got underway.
Hennum’s longtime goal was to turn the Kangs’ fastpitch program around and into a yearly contender in the tough Kingco conference. He had no doubts about who his assistant would be when he was hired on as head coach in 2011.
“Mike had extremely strong knowledge of the game, but with that I knew he would gain the respect of the players and the community,” Hennum said. “Mike was a coach who worked hard at the sport 12 months a year, not just three. When Mike took over the Kangs, I knew it was going to be fine.”
With Watson at the helm, Kangs’ athletic director George Crowder marveled at Watson’s ability to connect with the girls on the team.
“He was well-liked, always positive with the girls, carried himself well, and knew the game of softball well,” Crowder recalled, who was the head fastpitch coach at Eastlake High in Sammamish for 16 years. “I had a tremendous amount of respect for him, I loved his demeanor in the dugout. Kids really cared for him.”
A RUN FOR THE AGES
With Watson in charge the heart of the league season got underway last April. The jovial coach was able to maximize the potential of his talented team, while creating a dugout atmosphere that was second-to-none.
Crowder admitted he was concerned about how the girls would adjust to the sudden change in leadership, but the work that Watson did, along with assistant coach Traci Tawney, produced results.
“They did a really good job of keeping those kids focused on what’s important,” Crowder said. “They brought those individuals together as a team, they cared for one another, and I think that’s a reflection on the coaching staff.”
The team peaked in the postseason, with key victories in the 3A Kingco Tournament against Bellevue, 3-1, and Mount Si, 4-2, to take the No. 2 seed into the district tournament. After grinding out a 1-0 win against Bishop Blanchet, the Kangs secured only their second state berth in 12 seasons by outlasting Mount Si again in the semifinals, 8-6.
Even though the Kangs went two-and-out at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey during the state tournament, Watson’s accomplishment as the interim head coach had turned the program around.
Crowder, who coached the Wolves to a state title in 2008 before resigning to take a teaching position at Lake Washington, said what made Watson unique was his ability to “click” with his girls, and stay calm and supportive when everything was on the line.
“His demeanor was very positive, very level-headed, on an even keel,” remembered Crowder, who attended many of Watson’s games throughout the season. “You want someone who can take care of the kids, be able to coach them and relate with them, and inspire them. He did all those things for us.”
Watson was not going to stay on as the Kang Fastpitch head coach beyond the 2012 season, according to Crowder. That honor was reserved for Lake Washington teacher and assistant coach Traci Tawney, who played at the University of Washington.
Watson was being heavily considered for the head coaching job at Mountlake Terrace High School, where his younger daughter Kelsey will be entering her senior year.
“That’s where his heart was,” said Crowder. “He was over here to help (Hennum) build a program but Mike’s desire was to coach at Mountlake Terrace. He’s going to be missed because the kids cared about him. I cared about him. He did a great job for us.”
His older daughter, Kayla, played for Mountlake Terrace before attending Central Washington University.
News of Mike’s sudden passing, amid Kellie’s battle with cancer, was a double-tragedy for the Watson family.
The Mountlake Terrace community has come together to help the Watsons in their time of need, hosting a garage sale last weekend to raise money for the family’s mounting expenses. Family friends have made a Facebook page, Mike Watson Memories, in his honor.
While some high school coaches can hardly be seen cracking a smile, Watson’s sense of humor, magnetic personality and sheer love of life will never be forgotten by those who were around him.
“There was not a practice or game that went by in which myself or a player was not cracking up due to Mike’s humor. What was most important to Mike was that everyone around him was having a blast,” Hennum reminisced. “Mike was a class act all the time, not just at times. He was my best friend and a lot of the players’ mentors. He will be deeply missed.”
Watson’s Celebration of Life service will be held at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 29 at Alderwood Community Church, located at 3403 Alderwood Mall Boulevard in Lynnwood. Those wishing to make donations can contribute at any Boeing Employee Credit Union (BECU) location to the Michael Watson Benevolent Account.