Nineteen years ago, Andy Sears celebrated his very first win as head coach of the Vashon Island High School boys basketball team. It happened during an away game against Tacoma Baptist.
But even that first win all those years ago didn’t come easy.
“We struggled and I was really inexperienced and there were a lot of growing pains,” Sears told The Beachcomber, adding that during the season, the boys lost their first two or three games.
But then in Tacoma, some magic happened on the court.
“It was a really close game and I was super excited for our guys because we got off to a really tough start,” Sears said.
On Dec. 3, 2019, in a 54-37 win against Overlake on home court, Sears passed another milestone: 300 wins. Sears talked about how it felt to achieve such a feat.
“You try to reflect and learn and grow and you got to get ready for the next one,” he said. “This wasn’t about winning a game — this is about us taking another step forward as a team.”
JJ Bogaard, a senior and the boys basketball team captain, said Sears is modest when it comes to his 300 wins; he doesn’t dwell on it.
“He doesn’t say ‘Okay, 300 wins, now I can relax and take a deep breath,’” Bogaard said. “He’s like, ‘Okay, that’s 300 wins — on to the next win.’ The next game is the most important game and so I think that mentality is what makes him so consistently great.”
In 2009, when the team won state, John Gage was one of Sears’ players who then went on to play at Stanford. “He’s always been 100% dedicated to the program and that is incredible and awesome and I know I appreciate it and probably all the kids who have subsequently come through the program appreciate it and have grown from him.”
Char Phillips, the athletics secretary for the last 17 years, watched Sears grow up on the island. She commended the athletic director for his accomplishment.
“It’s absolutely awesome for any coach to stay with a program that long and be that successful,” she said, “and that doesn’t happen often.”
Others in the athletic community off-island are taking notice of Sears’ wins. Roger DeBoer, basketball coach at Lynden Christian, has been coaching since Sears was a player. He said Sears is not involved in sports for wins.
“He does it for the love of the game — but it transcends into wins on the scoreboard because of his love for the game and his love for people,” DeBoer said. “It has been such a joy to watch Andy grow from a player into one of the best men and best coaches in the business.”
Sears’ early life
Sears had an early start in the world of basketball. Steve Sears, his father, ran the clock — and still does — at VHS.
“I would sit at the score table when I was a kid and try to help my dad with the clock,” Sears said. “I love that more than anything — just sitting there with my dad at the score table and watching games.”
Sears played basketball throughout high school and went to Pacific Lutheran University after graduating from VHS. He said he never intended on returning to the island after college, but in his last two years at the university, he was hired as an assistant coach for the high school’s basketball team. Sears commuted back and forth to the island and he was thrilled that he was able to coach the sons of the players that he used to look up to when helping his dad with the clock.
Sears’ athletic director gig
Graduating from university in 1997, Sears returned to the island full time and was promoted to head coach in 2001. When the school district made the change in 2015 to remove athletic responsibilities from the assistant principal’s role, a new role was created: Athletic director; Sears landed it.
As an AD, Sears is not only responsible for his own team, but also helping coaches craft their vision for their teams. Along with administrative duties such as organizing officials and schedules, helping other coaches is a big part of what Sears feels proud of.
“It makes for a busy day, to say the least, but it’s fun,” he said. “It’s one of those deals where it’s not hard work when you are having so much fun doing it.”
His number one priority is and always will be “providing the most awesome experience for our student-athletes,” Sears said. Now as athletic director, one of his additional priorities is putting together a great coaching team.
To what does Sears attribute his success of winning 11 league championships, going to state 10 times; placing four times — including the win in 2009 — and his current record of 310 wins/139 losses? In his characteristically humble way, he credits the hard-working, dedicated players and the devotion of his coaches.
“It is a special group of coaches that makes this fun and exciting as well,” Sears said.
Boys assistant basketball coach Sean Hoogen has been with Sears for 10 years, described by Sears as his “right-hand guy and a great coach and great mentor.” He went on to talk about the younger two assistants coaches, Christian Hasson and Owen Brenno, who both played for Sears in high school. Both take great pride in their new roles Sears said. Basketball is not just about the game to this group.
“We want positive coaches that are creating an opportunity for our students to build on what they’re learning in the classroom … to grow as individuals and grow as being part of a team,” Sears said. “It is just trying to put those fundamentals — the building blocks — in place that allow our teams to grow and flourish … and help our young coaches … being a support for them.”
Hasson has developed a strong relationship with Sears, which is in part the reason he returned to the program.
“He strives to get the most out of every player who comes through the program,” Hasson wrote in an email to The Beachcomber.
Hasson has known Sears since sixth grade and was a student of his during high school. He started helping Sears in 2013 and has been an assistant for the last five seasons.
“He is like family to me and I look up to him in countless ways,” Hasson said of Sears.
Sears respects the coaches’ ability to build relationships with each other and the athletes.
“Our assistant coaches are just incredible and … they take their role in building strong relationships with our guys really serious,” he said. “As long as those guys will stick with me, hopefully, we’ll be doing this for a long time.”