Ken VanSickle likes to joke that “no one sang the Titans fight song more than I have.”
After an education, coaching and administrative career spanning 38 years and a lifetime supporting the athletic department, University High School’s athletic director announced his retirement effective at the end of the school year.
“It was just kind of a decision that, you know, at the end of last summer our family had a great summer, and this is year 38 for me in education. There’s lots of great things happening in our district.
“The more I started thinking about it and the timing of everything, I just felt like it was a good time to step down and get a new athletic director at University High School.”
VanSickle said the September 2021 opening of Ridgeline, the new high school in the Central Valley School District, played a factor in his decision.
“It wasn’t the factor, but it was a factor – something I thought about,” he said. “If I had waited a year, we would have had a new AD at U-Hi, (and) a new AD at Ridgeline. It just made better sense to have someone come on board at U-Hi and then the following year (open) Ridgeline.”
VanSickle doesn’t have any immediate plans after retirement, other than catching up on missed time with his wife, sons and grandchildren.
“(The grandkids) are old enough now that over the last year or so I’ve started to miss things that they’re in,” he said. “I don’t want to miss out on my grandkids’ stuff.”
VanSickle has nearly 55 years of memories at the school. He grew up across the street from old University High School with his parents and sister, and he wore his first Titans jersey at the age of 5 – as a bat boy with the baseball team.
“I went over and I’d shag balls,” he said. “I lined the bats up, lined the helmets up.
“I lettered seven times before I was even a student at U-Hi.”
VanSickle counted those memories as some of his fondest.
“You know, (the players) always made sure I was taken care of, even though sometimes they didn’t watch their language as much as they probably should have,” he said. “They treated me like one of the guys.”
Once he reached high school, he lettered in football, basketball and baseball. He graduated in 1977, then played baseball at Spokane Falls CC and earned an education degree at Eastern Washington.
His first teaching job came at North Pines Junior High in 1982. He moved to University in 1986 and has been there since – first as a history teacher and assistant coach, then head softball coach and finally as athletic director for the past 20 years.
VanSickle said his family was always involved in U-Hi athletics, whether it was official business or not.
His folks helped set up the Titans booster club after seeing the Richland parents’ group on a road trip. Since the family had a pool and was across the street from school, the VanSickle house was a popular spot.
“It was always great having everybody come to our house and go swimming,” he said. “We were literally right across the street, so it was easy after practices and stuff like that for everybody to come to our house and jump in the pool.
“My parents were always supportive of having everybody come to our house.”
VanSickle said with all of the terrific athletes to roam the halls of U-Hi, he’d have hard time narrowing down the list of favorites.
“The one that that probably sticks out the most is Angie Bjorklund,” he said. “She was just such a hard worker, excellent student. You know, a great person.”
He recounted a story of when he came across Bjorklund late one night as he was closing up the gym. She was shooting free throws and running sprints in between.
“I just yelled to her and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ and she said, ‘Well, I’m acting like it’s the end of the game, and I’m running lines to get tired, but I still have to make my free throws.’ ”
Hall of Fame coach Dan Iyall was Titans manager when VanSickle was a bat boy, and he played for three more successful U-Hi coaches: Dave Holmes (football), Marv Ainsworth (basketball) and Don Ressa (baseball).
“The coaches that I had really helped form my philosophy and my attitude about coaching and teaching,” he said.
“I just feel so blessed that I’ve been able to not only have great teachers and coaches that mentored me, but I had the pleasure of working with so many great teachers and coaches throughout my career.”