This is a tale of two coaches, a small community and kids playing hoops. It’s also a tale of loss and of beauty, of what makes small towns special and of how you can help lighten the load of two families.
My kids played basketball on this island and I was honored to coach my daughter off- and on-island. Vashon Island Junior Basketball (VIJB) was a staple for our family, just as were the off-island teams, tournaments, Hoopfest and McMurray and VHS basketball. Some of my best memories involve the sound of basketballs in gyms, watching the kids take their pictures and spending Saturdays watching games when the kids were young. Those are the bricks and mortar kind of memories that our kids were fortunate to have, yet again another loss for kids who are growing up during COVID-19.
There were names and faces that were inextricably entwined with the Vashon basketball journey. Andy Sears at the high school. Sandy Tillman and Foss Miller in VIJB, along with great volunteers who made the program run over the years, from the volunteer parents who sold sweatshirts and worked in the cook shack, to Ty Cunningham running Saturday gym for years to all of the kids who worked as refs (including my daughter).
And two of the names that were always critical to the basketball journey for kids on this island over the last 20 years were Kevin Linnell and Sean Hoogen.
Kevin was the coach for girls and boys at McMurray when my kids went through. I used to love to watch him coach. I also loved going to the hardware store, where Kevin worked, the day after games and doing recaps with him. When I coached girls off-island, I would come and ask him for advice or ideas for drills. Along the way, I became very clear on what a wonderfully kind and caring man he is.
Kevin has been fighting a rare form of bone cancer for the last several years and recently had to have his leg amputated. The island has responded with great generosity to the GoFundMe supporting Kevin and his family. You can still give and help him today, as the journey back will be long. Visit the campaign online.
Then I turned on my computer last night and saw Sean Hoogen and his family have lost their home to a fire. Sean was the long-time assistant coach to the high school boys’ team. I always loved watching Sean coach, too, as two things were clear: his love for the game and his love for the boys. His wife Sarah is an amazing singer and also a wonderful person who goes through the world bringing kindness and creativity to others. Now they are trying to figure out where to go from here. They also have a Go Fund Me online at this link.
As I watch these drives take root and people begin to give, my thoughts turn to good coaches who inspire others to play. My thoughts turn to creativity and kindness and those who volunteer their time endlessly with youth. And my thoughts turn to privilege. I grow tired of the pandemic and my own isolation. But I am not facing cancer. I have a home.
And there is beauty in our small town, as people support each other to get through the challenges life presents us. I hope our island lifts up these wonderful families in their time of need. There are a lot of memories out there, a lot of kids who played ball in crowded gyms under the watchful eyes of Kevin and Sean.
Thanks to you both. I am so glad we live on an island that will be there for you.
Lauri Hennessey has lived on Vashon for 20 years. She is the CEO of the League of Education Voters and the mother of three grown children.