POULSBO — Nearly every November for the past eight years, North Kitsap head coach Tim French’s grocery budget has ballooned.
In 2011, after his first North Kitsap team reached the 2A state tournament, the whole team was invited over to his house for a steak dinner as a way for French to reward his players for all of their hard work.
But he may not have been able to predict that it would turn into a touchstone for the program. After missing out on the state tournament in 2012, North Kitsap has qualified every year since.
“It turned into a tradition that no one wanted to miss,” French said.
French will be able to reallocate that money in future years, as he announced his retirement from coaching on Tuesday. He plans to continue his job teaching physical education at Poulsbo Middle School for at least one more year.
But with retirement ahead and a major transition about to happen in his life, French decided it was time to focus more of his energy on his family.
“It’s just that time,” French said. “I’m comfortable with it, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
Steak wasn’t the only carrot he dangled in front of his players. The tradition of using food as a motivator came early in his career at North Kitsap when his players were struggling with their serve percentage. So each player earned a cookie for every set in which they didn’t miss a serve.
“Our serving consistency immediately increased,” French said. “Coach Mak [assistant coach Kaelea Makaiwi] and I realized that food was a motivator.”
Other rewards included fried rice made Makaiwi or ice cream cake from former assistant coach Jamie Smaaladen.
Under French, North Kitsap has been one of the most consistent programs in the state. The Vikings have won the past seven league championships in a row and 11 out of the 12. They have reached the state tournament in each of the past seven years and nine of the last ten.
His teams have come away from the state tournament with three trophies — fifth in 2013, second in 2014 and seventh in 2016.
French’s overall volleyball coaching record stands at 473 wins, 194 losses. At North Kitsap over 16 seasons, his record is 269-100, including a 149-5 record against Olympic League opponents.
“Every year, even if we didn’t meet the goals as far as winning or losing, was rewarding to me,” French said.”It’s not always about wins and losses; it’s about helping these girls mature and learn life lessons. I hope I’ve done that.”
French began his coaching career at Lind (now Lind-Ritzville) in 1984 as an assistant volleyball coach. Lind won the “B” state championship that year, which hooked him into coaching volleyball and he took over as head coach the next year.
He has also coached boys and girls basketball in addition to volleyball at various points in his education career. His other stops include Quilcene and his high school alma mater, Ingraham in Seattle. He came to North Kitsap in 2004 when the Vikings were still a 4A program.
French told his players of his retirement at their end-of-the-year banquet. It was an emotional evening for both the players and their coach.
“I hope they don’t feel like I let them down,” French said. “I don’t think they do. We always talk a lot about family first, and they understand that.”
French said he’s excited to see how far the teams can go in the future, and whoever steps into his place will inherit a program in tip-top shape. The Vikings will be led next year by strong senior leadership, including an all-state hitter in Riley Rabedeaux and excellent defensive players in Emma Orness and Autumn Carver, all of whom have plenty of postseason experience. The program also debuted four talented freshmen this past year.
Hopefully, there will be plenty of steak in their future as well.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.