Football: Decades-long coaching connection a big part of Battle Ground’s rise

Dave Woodmark, the defensive coordinator at Battle Ground, and Mike Woodward, the head coach, won another big game at McKenzie Stadium on Thursday. The two also worked together from 1999 to 2003 at Mountain View. These days, they are helping Battle Ground’s rise. Photo by Paul Valencia
Dave Woodmark, the defensive coordinator at Battle Ground, and Mike Woodward, the head coach, won another big game at McKenzie Stadium on Thursday. The two also worked together from 1999 to 2003 at Mountain View. These days, they are helping Battle Ground’s rise. Photo by Paul Valencia

Head coach Mike Woodward said he is inspired by his players as well as his 71-year-old defensive coordinator

Paul Valencia

The Battle Ground Tigers did not have the traditional post-game meeting on the football field Thursday night after they beat the Union Titans 48-30 at McKenzie Stadium.

There was no chat from the coaches, no stuff to work on over the weekend. Not even a reminder of the time of the next practice.

Instead, the players just belted out joyous screams, as coaches and players kept seeking out more and more people to hug. 

“We’re celebrating,” Battle Ground coach Mike Woodward said. 

There will be plenty of time for what’s next for the Tigers. 

But Thursday late night — the game ended at 10:22 p.m. — was all about what was happening right then and there.

And right at 10:22 p.m., the Battle Ground Tigers improved to 7-0 this football season and got a league win in the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League for the first time since 2019, and a win over the Union Titans for the first time since 2016.

“They are unbelievable kids. We just love them so much. They are so fun to coach. I’m just super proud of our kids. They’re phenomenal.”

He kept calling them kids because, well, they are kids playing a kids game, as the saying goes. Turns out, the Tigers are coached by kids at heart.

Mike Woodward, 53, still freaks out on the sideline when his guys make a big play. The head coach. Freaking out. In the best of ways.

There was a Battle Ground defensive back knocking a pass away in the fourth quarter on Thursday, and Woodward was jumping up and down, screaming encouraging words, as if he were a first-year assistant coach with virtually no game-day responsibilities. He’s the head coach. He’s got plenty of responsibilities. But for those two, three seconds after a play, he is his team’s biggest fan.

“These kids excite me. I feed off of them,” Woodward said. “It’s an exciting game. If I can’t run around, hoot and holler, and jump around, I’ll probably wrap it up and call it good. I feed off of these guys. Their energy is just incredible.”

Oh, and the 53-year-old head coach is a kid compared to his defensive coordinator. Dave Woodmark is 71.

These two have quite the history.

“He was my first hire as a head coach,” Woodward said of Woodmark, back when Woodward took over as a then-young head coach at Mountain View in 1999. “Probably the best hire I’ve had, the best coach I’ve ever worked with.”

Woodward and Woodmark won two league titles at Mountain View and went to back-to-back state semifinal games. 

Woodward ended up leaving Mountain View after five seasons. He took over as head coach at Hudson’s Bay for three seasons before a 10-year run in sunny San Diego. He returned to the Northwest to coach at Woodland, and then couldn’t pass up a chance to coach at his alma mater, taking over at Battle Ground last season.

Woodmark, by the way, did not retire from teaching until last academic year. And it was a year ago this week when Woodward and Battle Ground principal Charbonneau Gourd — also a former coach at Mountain View — asked to meet.

Woodmark said he had no idea what was on the agenda. Another coaching opportunity was presented to Woodmark.

Woodmark wasn’t so sure. Then he remembered the passion that Woodward had for his players, and he realized that more than 20 years later, Woodward still had that same passion.

“I know Mike cares about kids. He loves kids. And he’s so inspirational. I’m crying all the time when he tells his stories,” Woodmark said. “It’s a gift that he has. He can connect with kids. I knew that it would be fun.”

Woodward also knew that Woodmark loved a challenge. 

Battle Ground football had won eight games in the past six seasons, including a 2-7 record in Woodward’s first season as head coach.

“I could see it in his eyes, how bad he wanted this challenge,” Woodward said. “It’s a great feeling now, but last year, no one was feeling like this. It felt pretty helpless at times. He has this competitive fire. I knew we’d be able to rope him in, and we did, and he’s been amazing.”

Woodward noticed right away that Woodmark has changed a lot in the 20 years.

“He’s mellowed a bit. He’s teaching our kids how to meditate and breathe,” Woodward said.

And how to play the game the right way.

“I care more about the character,” Woodmark said. “The wins are great, but we want to build gentlemen.”

The wins sure make for excitement, though. There is a vibe at Battle Ground these days. The Tigers got big plays from a number of people en route to the 18-point victory. They led 49-17 at one point.

Jacob Champine, a running back, had two rushing touchdowns, plus he threw a touchdown pass. Jordan Young scored on a run play, too.

Quarterback Ethan Adams threw two touchdown passes. 

Grayson Gambee caught two of the touchdown passes, and Saveliy Tkachenko caught the other.

And Angel Lopez put Battle Ground up 49-17 with an 82-yard interception return. 

The Battle Ground student section knows the football team is having a special season. The Tigers improved to 7-0 Thursday night. Photo by Paul Valencia

Thursday’s win puts the Tigers in a great position to make the playoffs. Some thought it was a done deal with the win, but that is not the case. There is an avenue for a three-way tie for second place in a four-team league which would require a tiebreaker. But if that does not happen, then, yes, one league win would qualify a team for the playoffs. (Three of the four 4A GSHL teams advance to the postseason this year.)

Hey, and who is to say Battle Ground can’t get another win or two in league this year? The Tigers understand most do not think they can beat Skyview or Camas, but the games are on the schedule, so if nobody minds, the Tigers are going to show up anyway.

“We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re just excited about the victory. We’re 7-0. We haven’t lost yet. We don’t know what that feels like, which is amazing, but one step at a time,” Woodward said Thursday night. “We want to compete. We’ve got two more games. As excited as we are about the possibility of the playoffs, we want to compete in these next two games.”

Week 8 and Week 9 can wait, though.

Thursday was all about a special win in Week 7, and at a special place for two coaches. 

Mike Woodward and Dave Woodmark used to coach at Mountain View, at McKenzie Stadium. They had an incredible run there, as well.

Some 20 years later, they are on the same staff again, and are at McKenzie Stadium again, and they are finding ways to win big games again.

This time for Battle Ground. For the players. For the school. And for coaches who still have a passion for the game.

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