It’s not unusual for a varsity head coach to have a child on his or her team, but for two Whatcom County coaches this season, it is a true family affair.
Bellingham boys coach Brad McKay and Nooksack Valley girls coach Shane Wichers not only have a child on their varsity teams, but they also have a child on the school’s other varsity team.
McKay coaches his son Connor and has daughter Adi on the Red Raiders girls team. For Wichers it’s the opposite as he coaches daughter McKenna and has son Colby on the Pioneers boys team.
The Bellingham boys and girls squads will get a chance to play on the same night in the same gym when they take on Sehome in the traditional BellingHome Battle doubleheader on Friday at Bellingham. The girls game starts at 6 p.m. and the boys at 7:30 p.m.
The McKay Family
The McKays knew all along that years with two kids on the varsity basketball teams were coming.
“Basketball has always been their sport; they knew they’d rather be in the gym,” said Brad, who has coached Connor on varsity his junior and this is his senior year. “The idea was that we would be around them when they got to high school.”
That became a reality when Adi made varsity as a freshman.
“Basketball is and always has been everything,” said Adi, now a junior. “We bond over it. (Growing up) I saw the attention my brother was getting at AAU, and I wanted to do the same thing. I saw how hard he worked, and I want to work that hard.”
Connor said he liked having his sister also on varsity, but he recognized the challenges it created for their family.
“It’s been cool (having Adi on varsity), competing with her, bragging back and forth, who got the most points,” said Connor. “It’s been fun, but it’s been pretty hectic. We always have something going on. It’s tough for our Mom. Four kids to deal with, and my Dad’s not around all the time.”
While Brad and his children cherish their shared experience, each expressed appreciation for what Kristy McKay — Mom — has had to go through.
“With me coaching, it’s been a really busy time for us,” said Brad. “She (Kristy) takes the burden of getting them to tournaments. A lot falls on her. Kristy has always been supportive. It’s been easy for me.”
For Kristy, who also has Austin (eighth grade) and Drew (6 years old) to take care of, the past two years have been challenging, but she wouldn’t trade them for anything.
“It’s pretty overwhelming at times, but it’s exciting as well,” said Kristy. “It’s fun to have the kids have that connection with their Dad. (But) it’s going to go fast.”
The Wichers Family
When Shane and wife Kim were engaged, he got the head coaching job at Nooksack Valley, so the two have known Pioneers basketball their whole married lives.
“I knew what I was getting into when we got married,” said Kim. “I got some great advice from a friend: It’ll only work if you make them as much your team as it is his. I always want to be there with them.”
Like the McKays, the Wichers family, including sixth-grader Owen, bonded around basketball, but as Shane said, “I try not to talk Xs and Os at home, to let home be home.”
Both Colby and McKenna agreed with their Dad.
“It’s different,” said Colby of having his father be a coach. “He doesn’t want to be Coach at home.”
“He does a great job separating it at home,” said McKenna. “It’s not really weird. I see him as a coach on the basketball court and Dad at home.”
As for sibling rivalry, both Colby and McKenna said there isn’t much between them, in part because of their difference in age — Colby is a senior and McKenna is a sophomore — and personality.
“We’re different,” said Colby, who said he is the more outgoing one. “I like to give her advice … but she doesn’t listen.”
While both Colby and McKenna appreciate having a dad as a coach, Dad acknowledged that it is difficult not being able to see his son play very often because the Northwest Conference rarely schedules boys and girls varsity games in the same venue.
“He understands that,” Shane said. “But it’s still hard.”
Shane added that his being a coach is probably harder on McKenna — “because I don’t want to play favorites,” he said.
Still, it’s not always possible separating being Coach from being Dad. Kim said she has to remind Shane that it’s OK to give McKenna a hug.
And then there are the emotional “parent” moments.
“When McKenna started her first game as a freshman … when the girls high-fived her, I got a little emotional,” he said.