With the addition of Bree Park and Tiffany Ramirez this winter to the exclusive club known as varsity basketball head coaches, Whatcom County now has nearly a third of its teams coached by alumni.
Of our 22 high school boys and girls teams, seven are coached by graduates of those schools.
Park said it was her dream to coach at Meridian, where she graduated in 2010. Ramirez said it was always her goal to take the reins at Mount Baker, where she starred as Tiffany Tyler in the mid-2000s.
For another of the special seven, Blaine’s Ryan Pike, returning to coach at his alma mater was only natural.
“Orange and black seem to be in my blood,” said Pike, who starred for the Borderites in the early 2000s. “Blaine has offered me so much in life that coaching and teaching there helps me give back.”
Here’s a look at the seven men and women coaching at their alma maters.
Bellingham High School
Playing career: After being injured most of his junior year, McKay came back his senior season to be the “utility guy” on the 1993 Red Raiders squad that was ranked as high as No.2 in the state and reached the Class 3A state tournament. Among his hoops highlights were beating Sehome eight of nine times (he even made the game-winning layup in 1991), breaking Mount Vernon’s multi-year home winning streak in ’92, and playing all five positions for first-year coach Dave Dickson, who would go on to win state titles at Squalicum and be inducted into the state coaches Hall of Fame. McKay also played football, was a three-time all-league golfer, and even was named the band’s MVP.
Coaching: McKay graduated from the University of Washington in 1997 and went on to coach multiple sports and be acting athletic director at Holy Names Academy in Seattle before returning to Whatcom County, where he coached C team basketball and JV baseball at Squalicum. Finally, he transferred to his alma mater and has been the Bellingham girls golf coach for 18 years and the boys basketball coach for nine seasons. He was named Northwest Conference coach of the year after leading the Bellingham boys to fourth in district in 2016. As an assistant or head coach, his Bellingham girls have won an incredible 12 Class 2A and 3A golf state championships, finished second twice, and collected 18 state trophies.
Quote: “I have shed blood, sweat, and tears as a Red Raider and try to instill that pride and fight in our Bayhawk players today.”
Meridian High School
Playing career: Park was a four-year starter at shooting guard for Meridian, graduating in 2010 after being named both all-Whatcom County and all-Northwest League her senior year and playing in two state all-star contests. She still holds the school record with eight 3-pointers in a game. Park also starred in volleyball and softball, lettered 11 times and was team captain in the three sports, was the runner-up as Whatcom County Female Athlete of the Year for 2010, and recently was named to the Meridian sports hall of fame. She went on to play basketball at Whatcom Community College and finished her career by helping Southern Oregon University reach the NAIA national tournament in 2015 and finishing fourth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage.
Coaching: Last season, Park was the varsity assistant at Meridian before taking over the head coaching duties this year. She also has helped coach a variety of youth teams and ages.
Quote: “It is an honor and a privilege to come back and coach at Meridian. This place means a great deal to me and is a big part of who I am today. In this program we want our athletes to become better players, but more importantly we want them to become the best person they can be.”
Blaine High School
Playing career: His sophomore year, he was brought up to varsity and was part of Blaine’s second state title team in 2000. He started as a junior and his senior season earned all-league and all-state honors in helping the Borderites take fifth at state in 2002. Pike finished with 11 letters at Blaine, was the starting quarterback for three years, started on the baseball team all four years, and was named the school’s 2002 athlete of the year. He went on to play two years of community college football in Minnesota, earning first-team all-league honors both years.
Coaching: Pike is unique among his peers in that while he is at his alma mater, he is not coaching the sport in which he played. He started coaching at Blaine in the boys program as an assistant and has coached two or three sports for each of the past 17 years, including football, boys and girls basketball, middle school track, middle school and high school baseball, and girls golf. He is in his 10th year as varsity girls basketball coach. Under his guidance, the Borderites advanced to the state regionals in 2013 and 2015, and reached the state tournament in 2014, when they placed fourth.
Quote: “I love the Blaine community and the closeness of the school district all being on one campus, and I couldn’t imagine raising my daughter anywhere else. I have been blessed by coaching some great athletes and players, but also some great people that have turned into fabulous adults.”
TIFFANY (TYLER) RAMIREZ
Mount Baker High School
Playing career: The 2007 graduate was a three-year starter and two-year captain at Mount Baker. She earned all-league honors all three years and was first-team all-district her sophomore season when she helped the Mounties take fourth in state in 2005. She went on to play two years at Whatcom Community College.
Coaching experience: Right after college, she coached the Mount Baker C team for three years before taking over as varsity assistant for six years at Meridian, helping the Trojans reach state four times. Last year, she coached the Mount Baker junior varsity before being named varsity head coach this season.
Quote: “Nothing takes me back to high school quicker than walking in on game day and seeing familiar faces working the scorer’s table and long-time community members coming in the doors. It’s honestly a very humbling experience to give back to a school that did so much for me. I love having some of the same people who once cheered me on as a player now cheer me on as the coach. Overall, being back here coaching has been great. I look forward to watching the program grow.”
Nooksack Valley High School
Playing career: Skillman helped the Pioneers take fourth at state in 2006 and third in 2007. As a senior in 2008, he averaged nearly 20 points a game and was named all-NWC and Class 1A state player of the year. He went on to play four years at Northwest University, where he still is among the Seattle school’s all-time leaders in assists and 3-pointers and remains the school’s all-time leader in steals. His senior year, he was named third-team NAIA Division II all-American, a member of the 2012 NAIA Division II all-tournament team, all-league, and the league’s defensive player of the year.
Quote: Skillman took came on board the Nooksack Valley staff as the junior varsity coach in 2013-14 and took over as varsity coach at Nooksack Valley in 2015-16.
Quote: “Coaching at Nooksack Valley is a dream come true. It is a unique thing to be a part of the Nooksack Valley basketball team, and we are excited to add another group of young men.”
Meridian High School
Playing career: Stacy played down his high school accomplishments, calling himself “just an average athlete.” He was a member of the 1996 Meridian team that won the district championship and reached the state tournament.
Coaching career: While his athletic achievements may be just average, his coaching records aren’t. Stacy has not only coached at his alma mater for more years than any of the other six — he’s in his 20th season at Meridian — but he has been head coach at the same school for longer than any current Whatcom County boys basketball coach (17 years). His teams have gone to state three times, taking sixth in 2007 and second in 2010. In addition, he’s one of the few that has been head coach of both the varsity boys and varsity girls basketball teams, coaching the latter for three years and taking them to state in 2004. He also has been on the football coaching staff.
Quote: “This is the only school I’ve ever coached at. I honestly don’t even think about this being my alma mater. It seems like so long ago. It’s a good school with good kids and good parents.”
Lynden Christian High School
Playing career: The 1984 graduate led the Lyncs to third in state, averaged 14 points per game, and was named to the Class 1A all-state team. He also started his junior year when LC took sixth at state. Zylstra would go on to start all four seasons in college, first at Centralia Community College for two years and then Seattle University for two years.
Coaching experience: Zylstra was an assistant coach at Lynden Christian from 2012 to 2020 during which the Lyncs won two 1A state championships and finished second in state twice. He was named the interim head coach last season and now has four other LC grads on his coaching staff.
Quote: “Having that bond with guys who all played at LC is a lot of fun. You’re all hooked into the same message and want to affect the boys in a positive way of life. Our goals are pretty high — both in the community and with our fans — but we just go one day at a time. I want it to be fun for them and for them to have an attitude of gratitude.”