Kicking off a new athletic year at Nathan Hale High School is a football team set on building more than a typical offense or defense.
Led by new head coach Stan Boone, the Raiders have slowly prepared themselves since spring to hit the field running in their first game.
Calling it a "foundation year," Boone has seen the Raiders' numbers double in size from last year, bringing the once-struggling team to nearly 90 players.
The program incorporated team-building, a skills camp and parent-volunteers, and returning sophomore Cole Kerkhoff sees a cohesive, optimistic football team as key in building Nathan Hale's school spirit, as well as improving the team's record.
"Last year wasn't a giant spirit year [compared to] what people have started to see this year. [People are] getting an idea of what the team is going to be like," Kerkhoff said. "More people are starting to show up [to practices]."
Kerkhoff's father, Ken, agrees. Spending last year as an observer, Ken Kerkhoff sat on the sidelines as he watched his son play on the junior varsity team.
Watching his son's excitement for the game increase since last year, the elder Kerkhoff became involved as director of the first Raider Camp, a team-building occasion that all players are required to attend in Mossyrock in Southwest Washington this week.
"This year I'm a little more involved since Stan stepped in," Ken Kerkhoff said.
Scheduled during the middle of daily doubles, when the team will practice two or even three times a day, this camp offers an opportunity for team-strengthening, Kerkhoff points out.
"The reason we're pulling them outside is to really bring them together," Ken Kerkhoff said. "So when they come back to school, they've already got 90 friends...that are looking out for them."
'Owning' the team
Ken Kerkhoff is not the only parent involved this year. Already busy fund-raising, organizing and looking for donors, Boone began reaching out to parents last spring when he hosted Raiders Football 101, an informative meeting for parents.
"I believe in empowerment - coaches, players and parents," Boone said. "It gives them a sense of ownership of the team. Parents and players have blossomed under this."
Describing the team's new pre-game uniforms, Boone explained that the polo shirts and equipment bags used by players were donated by a local business after a parent heard there was a need.
"You give them the opportunity, and they want to help," he explained.
With 10 assistant coaches, the Raiders have no shortage of support for their players on the field. Boone recognizes that there is a new level of excitement not seen in previous years.
Boone, himself a 1971 Nathan Hale graduate, didn't even play football as a student. Not until his own son, David, played in 1993 did he become a parent-volunteer, eventually becoming coach of the junior varsity team in 1995.
"Our goal is to make sure they leave the program playing better football, feeling better about themselves and their school and having good memories," Boone said.
Starting from day one
Both Boone and Ken Kerkhoff agree the strength and spirit of the Raiders football team will serve as a valuable asset for Nathan Hale.
The team will wear their jerseys the first day of school, to stand out as volunteers for new students.
Cole Kerkhoff is even optimistic that last year's losing record will improve this year because of the confidence surrounding the team.
He may see his prediction come true Friday, Sept. 3, when the Raiders play their first game at home, 10750 30th Ave. N.E. (if construction doesn't interfere), against Cedarcrest High School at 6 p.m.
"Our team has never done well," he said. "If we do well, people will start to see more school spirit."