Year in Review: Sports in Clark County

Two high school teams won state championships on the same day in November, but the biggest day in sports in 2021 might have been when athletic directors and superintendents approved a plan for the return of high school sports.

State championships are back, and so are champions from Clark County

The biggest day in sports in 2021?

Oh, that should be easy, right?

Well, maybe not.

Certainly, Nov. 20 has to be in the discussion. That’s the day that Columbia River and Ridgefield played each other for the Class 2A state volleyball championship. The Rapids — the Rapids? — yes, the Rapids beat the Spudders for the title

That same day, the Camas Papermakers completed an undefeated season to win the Class 4A state girls soccer title.

The Camas Papermakers went undefeated and won the Class 4A state championship, one of the top sports stories of 2021. This photo was taken by Kris Cavin, also known as KC Fresh. He has moved out of the region, another top sports story of the year. Photo by Kris Cavin
The Camas Papermakers went undefeated and won the Class 4A state championship, one of the top sports stories of 2021. This photo was taken by Kris Cavin, also known as KC Fresh. He has moved out of the region, another top sports story of the year. Photo by Kris Cavin

There were a couple of Clark County high school football teams in the quarterfinals that day, too. 

Or maybe it was March 19, when two-time state champion football coach Rick Steele of Hockinson resigned. Or June 8, when two-time state champion football coach Jon Eagle of Camas resigned. Big news, of course, on those days.

Rick Steele, shown here celebrating the 2018 state championship, resigned as Hockinson’s football coach after the abbreviated spring season in 2021. Photo by Mike Schultz
Rick Steele, shown here celebrating the 2018 state championship, resigned as Hockinson’s football coach after the abbreviated spring season in 2021. Photo by Mike Schultz

Before any football, volleyball, or soccer could even be played, though, the powers-that-be had to come up with a plan to play.

Which means Jan. 26, 2021 might have been the most significant day of sports in Clark County in 2021.

That is the day that athletic directors and school superintendents gave the go-ahead for practice to begin the following week for most of the fall sports, including football. 

So on Feb. 1, high school athletes were practicing, officially, for the first time in the 2020-21 school year. High school athletes were preparing for the games for the first time in roughly 11 months.

The return of sports has helped society return to some of what we had before the pandemic. In this state, in particular, that journey has been slow. And even at the end of the year, we have plenty of COVID-related issues that are wreaking havoc on the local sports scene. The entire sport of high school wrestling is on a “pause” even though high school basketball is also having COVID-related issues. 

So, no, not even close to being back to the way things were. But still, the return of sports has helped so many. 

Let’s take a look some of the top sports stories, not just high school sports, as well as some of my favorites, from 2021:

On Jan. 5, we showed up at oh-dark-thirty in the morning to watch the Mountain View football team hit the weight room, only there was no room. Because the players had moved the weights outside. Yes, early in 2021, with no football schedule yet, with no guarantee of a season, the Thunder were outside, in January, still dark, lifting weight before school. That kind of told the story of athletes in the early part of 2021. A lot of unknowns, but athletes still had to find a way to be prepared for anything.

Also in January, we profiled Thomas Fletcher, a former Vancouver athlete who won a national championship playing for Alabama football. Later in the year, he was drafted by the Carolina Panthers. Fletcher is spending his first year in professional football on the injured reserve list.

February was the return of action for Clark County high school sports. The fall sports in February, remember? Football in February and March. Crazy times.

I wrote a few columns this year, but the one that stands out for me was my calling for compassion rather than blame when it comes to COVID and sports. On that day in March, it was in regard to Camas athletes, who were being blamed for “spreading” the disease. For the rest of my life, I will never get over how our country has openly rooted for one side or another to get sick, to blame someone for spreading a virus that was unknown to any of us two years ago. I do not care where you stand on the political side of COVID-19, masks, or vaccination, I do not wish any of you to get sick. And if you do, I will pray for a speedy recovery, and I will never blame you. It’s not your fault COVID is here. Certainly not the fault of any teenager from Camas.

Also in March, Clark County mourned the loss of Ralph Huffman. The Washougal MX National is the biggest sporting event in Clark County in terms of number of spectators. More than 20,000 fans show up as the series attracts people from all over the Northwest. That would not have been possible without Huffman, the co-owner of the track who made all the necessary improvements every year to keep the series coming back.

The family of Ralph Huffman gathered around Ralph’s Rock at the Washougal MX Park this summer. Ralph Huffman, the co-owner of the park who died in the spring, was instrumental in making Washougal an annual stop on the national motocross tour. Photo by Paul Valencia
The family of Ralph Huffman gathered around Ralph’s Rock at the Washougal MX Park this summer. Ralph Huffman, the co-owner of the park who died in the spring, was instrumental in making Washougal an annual stop on the national motocross tour. Photo by Paul Valencia

In April, Columbia River High School officially adopted the name Rapids for its sports teams. The argument can go on and on with traditionalists. But the students have adapted. They are the Rapids. Or, they are River. Works either way. Oh, but for a split second there, Sasquatch was on the table. That would have been fun.

Also in April, we profiled Robert Franks, an Evergreen High School graduate who made it to the NBA last season. He ended this calendar year with the Brisbane Bullets, playing in the Australian league. It’s early in the season, but he is leading the team in points and rebounds.

In May, one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken, just because of the bizarre situation. High school wrestling. In May. Outdoors. At Doc Harris Stadium in Camas. Yet another thing we never figured on seeing before the pandemic.

High school wrestling outdoors? At Doc Harris Stadium. Must have been 2021. Photo by Paul Valencia
High school wrestling outdoors? At Doc Harris Stadium. Must have been 2021. Photo by Paul Valencia

In June, it was the return of the Ridgefield Raptors. The organization was still trying to figure out how to handle the ever-changing pandemic protocols, but close to 1,000 people showed up for opening night because, well, it’s baseball. Clark County showed that it loved the Raptors when they first arrived in 2019, and fans missed the Raptors when there was no season in 2020.

Later in the summer, Caden Vire of Skyview High School was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. 

We had some local ties to the Olympics. Kara Winger, a Skyview High School graduate and four-time Olympian, carried the American flag in the closing ceremony at the Tokyo Games. Gymnast Jordan Chiles, a Prairie High School graduate, won a silver medal. She was honored by Vancouver with a parade later in the summer.

Jordan Chiles holds up her silver medal during a parade in her honor in Vancouver in August. Photo by Paul Valencia
Jordan Chiles holds up her silver medal during a parade in her honor in Vancouver in August. Photo by Paul Valencia

Union High School’s Tobias Merriweather, one of the top football recruits to come out of Clark County in years, announced in early August that he intended to sign with Notre Dame. Later that month, we profiled Merriweather, noting that his academic accomplishments are on par with his athletic accomplishments. In December, he made it official, signing with the Fighting Irish.

In high school football, Ridgefield had its best season since its state title in 1995, winning its first 11 games to reach the quarterfinals.

Then there was Nov. 20, with Camas girls soccer and Columbia River volleyball teams claiming state championships. The fall sports championship seasons put on by the WIAA were the first since the end of winter sports in 2020, just prior to the lockdowns.

The Columbia River Rapids won the Class 2A state volleyball championship on the same day the Camas girls soccer team won it all, giving Clark County two big stories on the same day. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Columbia River Rapids won the Class 2A state volleyball championship on the same day the Camas girls soccer team won it all, giving Clark County two big stories on the same day. Photo by Paul Valencia

And in December, we noted that sports photographer Kris Cavin, known as KC Fresh on social media, had moved out of the area — a big loss for Clark County athletes. Cavin, after all, volunteered his time and talent, never charging an athlete for the pictures he provided.

As we head into 2022, there remains a lot of confusion, anger, frustration, whatever you want to call it, in terms of the pandemic.

But there were a lot of great things in 2021 and, I’m certain, more incredible moments will arrive in 2022.

As KC Fresh often tweets:

“Today is gonna be so rad.”

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