Larry Bridenback is an two-term Elma School District board member, a retired pipe-fitter millwright at McCleary’s Simpson Door plant (a 38-year veteran) and a lifelong Elma High School athletics booster. Bridenback, a 1964 Elma High grad who attended Grays Harbor College, is a regular fixture at Elma High School sporting events and is an avid angler and outdoorsman.
He is on the facilities committee on the Elma School Board, which oversees all of the district’s buildings, and has volunteered his time at district, regional and state tournaments, most notably the Mat Classic in Tacoma.
As a longtime Elma sports fan, you have seen a lot of good times, changes and developments in high school sports. What are some of the more pronounced changes that you’ve seen in your time in the stands and in the meetings? What are some of the good times that really stand out? What are some of the bad times?
Whoa, where do I start? I have been lucky to see every state championship team from Elma, but two — the first football championship (in 1997) and last year’s woman’s golf team title. As for the events that stand out to me, there are two — the state basketball championship won my senior year in 1964 and the wrestling championship in 1995, which was the first team in state history to win both the academic and team championship. Other great events I remember are the league championship wrestling matches against Hoquiam. It was standing-room-only and screaming fans. Also watching Hoquiam win their state wrestling championship (was exciting). As for bad times, I can’t think of any. There have been disappointments, but all in all, the good times far out-weigh the bad.
As to changes, the biggest has to be the growth of woman’s sports to specialization of our student athletics. When I was in high school, women’s basketball had six players on a team, three on each end of the floor and no games against other schools. Along came Title IX, which was needed.
To those who don’t know, what is life like on the Elma School District Board? What are some of the duties you are in charge of and what are some of the challenges you and your fellow school board members deal with most? How long have you been on the school board?
A school board has three basic duties. First, they hire or fire the superintendent. Second, it makes policy and procedure. Third, it oversees the operating budget (for the district). We approve all curriculum, hires, trips and contracts. I’ve been on the board eight years and I’m running for a third term. Some of the big challenges are finding the money to give our kids the education they deserve and need to lead a great life and trying to meet all the rules and regulations that comes from the federal and the state levels. I feel we have a great board here in Elma. We all get along great and all have the same long-term goal to do what is best for kids. No one came on the board with an agenda and are willing to listen to ideas of others. We have a great support staff who go out of their way to make my job easier.
As a member of the facilities committee, what are some of the prospects for improvements within the Elma district, including Elma High School’s Davis Field, in the future?
Facility improvements all go to what our voters want to pay for. We need desperately a new bus facility, as well as several safety improvements. As for Davis Field, the grandstands are fast approaching the end of their useful life. They were built by supporters in 1948. While our staff does a great job in keeping them useable and looking great, the fact is they are becoming a money pit. They are inspected every year, with repairs for safety being done. They were built in a floodplain, and luckily, we have not had a flood in four years. We have been told the roof will need to be replaced in the next few years at a cost of around $80,000. That is money that would have to come out of the extracurricular budget. As it is now, we use the field for around 20 events a year. With all of the maintenance needed to keep the field playable, the cost comes to about a $1,000 per event.
One of the issues that many in high school sports have to deal with today is concussions — how to treat them, how to recognize them, how to prevent them. Talk about your interest in this issue and how it affects high school sports today.
The safety of the players must come first. There is no more belief in “walk it off and get back out there.” It is not your fathers’ game anymore. The state of Washington leads the nation in trying to protect our kids from concussions with the passing of the Lyseth’s Law. People need to understand that sports have to make changes or they will be made for them. The WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) just passed an amendment addressing football by cutting back on the number of summer practices. The changes in football need to start at the bottom. I have watched the growth in youth football over the years to the point that the youth season lasts longer than the high school season. It is not just the concussions that are causing problems, but research has shown that all the repetitive hits hurt too.
If you were the executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) for one day, what would you do and what is the one thing you’d change?
This is a thankless job no matter what you do. You can’t make everyone happy. The executive director works for the executive board, which follows the rules made by the association’s representative assembly, which is made up of athletic directors and district administrators from around the state. The one rule I would change is the way schools are placed in classifications. The present system doesn’t do what they tried to do, which was to create a equal number of schools in each classifications. The current system has caused a large difference in the size of schools playing each other.
There are several other big issues, such as 16-team state tournaments and public vs. private schools, but all in all, extracurricular activities in Washington are in good condition.
Where are some of your favorite fishing spots? What are some of the big trips you’ve taken lately that has stoked your ever-present interest in fishing and the outdoors?
I am very lucky to live where I do. There is great fishing within three hours of home. While it is not as good as it once was, the Chehalis River is a great fishing system. I just returned from a springer trip to one of my favorite places in Eastern Washington. I make several trips a year to the Forks area. As for hunting, I mostly stay local, but I’m planning a trip to North Dakota.
In closing, I would like to say it is an honor to serve on the Elma School Board. We have, I believe, a great superintendent, great support staff, great teachers and, above all, great kids who keep me feeling hope for the future.