Cutting through the light rain and wind at Stewart Field, the sound of soccer balls struck by a foot echoes with the chatter of Elma High School’s girls soccer team members beginning practice.
Standing in the middle of the drills — and the chatter — is sixth-year head varsity coach Chris Schumacher, talking to the girls and keeping an eye on things as practice started before the team’s first-round state 1A match the next night.
That state match against Meridian of Bellingham didn’t go the Eagles’ way, ending a season everyone on the team — Schumacher included — believed would send them to the state semifinals/finals weekend in Seattle.
“I’m highly competitive and I know the team is, too,” Schumacher said. “We expected to keep winning. But then, that ultimate feeling, that final whistle and it was done, it was so final. It was tough. This is such a good group of girls.”
Over the last six seasons at Elma, girls soccer has become the main sport of choice in the fall. The program’s gradual success, culminating in two straight state tournament appearances, an Evergreen 1A League title and a District IV 1A championship, helps.
Through that success, Schumacher has helped guide the team, using his experience as a youth coach before getting the job prior to the 2008 season.
“It takes a certain type of person to be a coach,” he said. “You have to be organized. You have to know the game. You have to get to know the kids, what motivates them and what turns them away. If you can get it together and still be humble enough to listen to them, you have the best of all worlds.”
Schumacher graduated from Foss High School in Tacoma in 1983 and worked for his father, Harding Schumacher, at Clover Creek Electric right out of high school. He joined the IBEW Local 76 and went through the union’s apprenticeship program.
In 1997, Schumacher and his family moved to Elma and started Schumacher Electrical Inc., which he still owns and runs today. Schumacher also owns ShuJacks Bar &Grill in Elma, which he and a former partner started up six years ago.
He played youth soccer in Tacoma, enjoyed it and then set out into the job market. When his oldest daughter, Kristi, wanted to go out for soccer after they moved to Elma, he got back into the game.
“I got to enjoy it again,” he said. “A lot of times, it comes down to parents stepping in to help out, because there isn’t anyone else who can. They’ll take the kids and the teams so far before moving up and on. I saw a need with (Kristi’s) team and the coach said, ‘I think I’ve done all I can. Do you want to coach?’ That was the beginning.”
“I didn’t think of him as my dad, more as my coach, as a player,” Kristi Schumacher added. “I was the coach’s daughter, but I knew I had a lot to learn from him. My dad has devoted a lot of time in coaching soccer. It has been our time, our bonding and family time. We would be together at practices, to weekend games in Shelton. That was our family time.”
Schumacher would eventually work his way up in the Elma-McCleary Youth Soccer Club to coach both his daughters’ Kristi’s and Sara’s teams. He would also get into the organizational side of the program as a vice president one year and president for six (2001-07).
He doesn’t coach youth teams now, devoting his time completely to the high school team, but Schumacher noted his appreciation for his time in the youth program.
“The transition from youth to high school soccer, it was one of the best things I could have done was to start at the youth level,” he said. “You go from ground zero and work your way up. With soccer in my background, I thought this would be fun. You never stop learning. You are always trying to get better in how to handle the kids and the game. It is always evolving and every group is different.
“Just as my experience level grew, from what I learned, opportunities arose and I took on those challenges,” Schumacher added. “It is really fulfilling. With all of my work, I would play soccer with the teams and my kids. That was my stress relief. I brought the kids along and that was my family time with them. Now, both of my daughters coach for me. That’s pretty cool.”
“Coaching with him has been great,” said Kristi, who runs SmokeALil Smoke Shop, an electronic cigarettes store, with her dad in Elma. “He has certain things he wants the girls to learn and play and the program is very close. (Coaching with Chris and her sister, Sara) is a family affair, a soccer family. We always will be.”
In his time in the Elma-McCleary YSC, Chris Schumacher learned his style and techniques as a soccer coach. You can see it in his Elma varsity teams — aggressive, just physical enough, fundamentally sound — today.
He also learned the other side of coaching, managing the players and putting them in the best position to be successful, regardless of skill level.
“My daughter Kristi’s teams, they always played in the state Rec Cup and President’s Cup tournaments; they were very competitive, so I really wanted them to win that,” Schumacher said. “I took over my other daughter (Sara’s) team from another parent and they didn’t have too many athletes, didn’t win too many games. They improved. They weren’t the champs, but they improved and felt like they accomplished something.
“It is about the kids,” he added. “They want to learn, to get better. I’ve had great athletes who’ve come up through the years. I do my best to help and teach that great athlete where it all comes naturally to them just as much as the athlete who has to work hard and be pushed to make it happen. I just found a lot of fun in that.”
One of the lessons Schumacher tries to impart on his teams is communication and working together as a team. He’s also tried to keep an even-keel approach to coaching.
“In the real world, whether you are an electrician or an architect, you have to work as a team to build that house,” Schumacher said. “You can’t have just one person stand alone. Everyone has to work together. I’m even-keeled. But, when I’m on the sidelines, I don’t sit down. The kids can draw from my excitement. They can also draw from negativity — from the crowd, from me. I’ve coached against coaches and crowds like that and you have to just coach your game.”
The 2013 team was presented a big challenge in Rochester, which won the league title by handing Elma its only league losses of the season. The state tournament berth was on the team’s goals list, but getting a chance at the Warriors one more time was an immediate opportunity.
It also fired up Schumacher’s competitive nature, even if he didn’t show it. Elma lost those league games to Rochester by a penalty kick shootout and a one-goal decision. In the District IV 1A title game at Tumwater Stadium, the Eagles edged out the Warriors, also in a penalty kick shootout, 2-2 (4-3).
It was Elma’s first district championship in girls soccer since the late 1990s. The players celebrated with family and friends. Schumacher looked as if the pressure on his team was still on his shoulders, even after the final whistle.
“Oh no, I was happy,” Schumacher said. “It took me a while to sink in. Our goal was to get to state. For us, (Rochester in the title game) was a challenge we needed to overcome. It was more about beating Rochester than it was winning the district title. I was happy for the girls, definitely pleased.
“This group, these seniors, they’ve grown up together and played soccer together,” Schumacher added. “I’ve been coaching them for a long time. I think I’ve coached every girls soccer player from the age of 13 to 26. I’ve coached a long time. But when it is the team doing something, it is about the girls and what they are doing. I take a lot of pride in the program and the girls who are in the program.”
Rob Burns is a Daily World sports writer. He can be reached at (360) 537-3926 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Rob on Twitter: @RobRVR.