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West High alum John Sitton to retire from coaching after 36 years
With his hands on his knees, John Sitton leans forward and nearly pokes third base with his nose.
Crouched over, wide-eyed and waving like a windmill inside the coaches box, he shouts encouragement at senior Jayme Beckon as she approaches the base. Sitton is the last figure she sees before turning for home plate.
“He gets more into the game than we do,” Beckon said of the coach, whose commitment to student-athletes goes beyond the diamond. “He definitely cares about each of us a lot, like we are his own child. Whatever we need, he’s there for us.”
The Central Kitsap High School assistant fastpitch coach will retire at the end of the season, closing a coaching career that began in Bremerton in 1975 and spanned nearly four decades.
Sitton, 60, has been an assistant to coach Bruce Welling at Central Kitsap since 1995 and has coached for 36 years total.
He informed the team of his decision Monday.
“Coaching is about teaching those life lessons — how to handle obstacles, how to handle the challenges, how to handle roles you have to take, how to handle all the situations you’re put through by competing,” Sitton said. “I tell my athletes, ‘You are going through life lessons now because you’re in athletics, which force you into these situations. All your peers who are not in athletics will not face these things until they are in their 20s or 30s, then they are going to deal with them for the first time.’”
Central Kitsap has qualified for the Class 4A state tournament three seasons in a row and has made eight total appearances since Sitton joined the coaching staff in 1995.
The team begins the 4A West Central District III tournament Friday in Tacoma and with two victories would qualify for state, a feat the players hope to accomplish not only for the school and their teammates, but for Sitton.
“It’s something we haven’t really talked about, but it’s something I think we all feel,” senior pitcher Kim Chase said. “He is the most inspirational man I think I’ve ever met.”
On game days he is the team’s third-base coach, a position generally designated for the head coach. He has a trademark stance the players find adorable — always leaning forward, hands on the knees, seemingly ready to jump out of the coaches box into the field of play.
“Coach Sitton, he’s incredible,” Beckon said. “I don’t know how he does it.”
He does it because coaching enables him to help student-athletes through what he calls teachable moments.
Those moments are what have kept him going for so many years, beginning in 1975 when he took a job at the former West High School in Bremerton, his alma mater, as an assistant basketball coach.
The 1968 West High grad coached baseball in Bremerton for a short time, and even ninth-grade football, before becoming the first assistant to legendary basketball coach Les Eathorne at Bremerton High School.
Sitton studied the game under Eathorne and other coaches until he earned the head basketball job at Central Kitsap in 1982.
As a head coach in the Olympic League, Sitton went head-to-head with Hall of Fame coaches Eathorne, Jim Harney of North Kitsap High School, Al Gleich of Olympic High School, Dean Scherer of Bainbridge High School and others.
He called those coaches some of the best in the state, saying they were instrumental in his own development as a leader on the sidelines and in the dugout.
“I got to cut my teeth as a young guy against all those guys,” Sitton said. “I loved it. I learned so much.”
Also a classroom instructor who taught student government, biology and played a key role in the growth of the Associated Student Body at Central Kitsap, Sitton joined the fastpitch staff in 1995.
He has been the third base coach ever since.
Welling, who started the Central Kitsap fastpitch program in 1990 and has coached alongside Sitton for 15 years, said his counterpart embodies the true spirit of a coach.
Sitton’s daughters were fastpitch players. He chose to pursue a coaching position in the sport for a change of pace from basketball.
With Welling already building a solid program at the time, it was a natural transition.
“John knows how to talk to youngsters to get his point across,” Welling said. “John has the utmost respect for all players. He does not give up on a ball player. He’ll keep working and working and working.”
Although Welling is listed on the roster as the head coach, he considers Sitton a co-head coach rather than an assistant. Both say they have similar coaching philosophies, and for that reason, they divvy up coaching duties on a 50-50-basis.
Sitton works with the middle-infielders and catchers, and Welling dedicates his time to the outfielders and first and third basemen.
“We don’t necessarily duplicate what each other is doing,” Welling said. “I’m the head coach on paper, but that’s not really true. John and I are both head coaches.”
The coaching vacancy has yet to be announced, so it’s unclear who the leading candidates are to replace Sitton. For now, the coaching staff and players are focused on securing a fourth berth to state in as many seasons.
Whether that feat becomes reality, Sitton has at least two mores games to coach from the box at third base.
Two more games to wave his players home before a final goodbye.
“Coaching, man, what a real privilege,” Sitton said. “I was very fortunate to be able to do this.”