Football begins without athletic coaches in Tacoma schools

Lincoln played against Lakes in a football game at the Lincoln Bowl in Tacoma, Washington on Friday, March 19, 2021.

Lincoln played against Lakes in a football game at the Lincoln Bowl in Tacoma, Washington on Friday, March 19, 2021.

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Every day before practice, Masaki Matsumoto lugs a cooler filled with ice cream cones down the steep hill and onto the football field at the Lincoln Bowl on the Lincoln High School campus. He also brings a medkit filled with ankle strap and pre-wrap.

Along with all the other things the Lincoln High School football head coach has on his plate, he added another title to his name when practice began in mid-August this year: coach.

That’s the reality not just for Matsumoto, but for most fall athletic high school coaches at Tacoma Public Schools as the 2022-23 school year begins. Four of the district’s five main high schools do not have qualified athletic coaches to deal with player injuries in track and field, and particularly soccer, which is notorious for being a violent sport. It’s left coaches to take care of themselves, diagnose injuries, tape ankles, put ice on players. It’s a position they don’t like to find themselves in.

“It’s very frustrating,” Matsumoto said. “I’m very concerned. It’s not a comfortable place for head coaches, especially at the beginning of games. They have other jobs to do.”

The lack of coaches raises safety concerns for parents. LaShonte Simon no longer has children in high school, but her three sons — Dionte, Jayden, and Julien — were soccer stars and multi-athletes at Lincoln High School. Jayden currently plays soccer for Tulsa and Julien plays for USC. She told The News Tribune she wouldn’t be happy to hear there are no athletic coaches while her sons are in high school athletics.

“I would be freaking out, like, ‘What are you saying to me?'” Simon said. “If someone else has to do this job, they are not certified. Don’t know how to assess injuries, concussion log. That would be very worrying for me just because of her health.”


For years, Tacoma Public Schools relied on Seattle Children’s Hospital for athletic training services. The most recent contract obtained by The News Tribune approved up to $190,080 in the 2021-22 school year. Four Tacoma high schools—Foss, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, and Stadium—each had a dedicated Seattle Children’s athletic coach. Silas (formerly Wilson) offers a dedicated athletic training course at the school and does not require a full-time athletic trainer. Previously, Tacoma Public Schools had a five-year contract with Seattle Children’s that ran from 2016 to 2021.

Earlier this year, the school district changed course and finalized the contract in a Request for Proposal (RFP) to receive bids from other athletic training service contractors. Seattle Children’s decided not to submit a new proposal due to staffing and hiring constraints. In an email to The News Tribune on Thursday, a spokesman for Seattle Children’s announced the schedule.

“This was communicated to the district athletic director (James Neil) in February 2022, in which we indicated our intention to complete the remainder of the contract by the end of July and allow the district ample time to plan our departure,” the spokesman said.

The district’s RFP received only one offer from Olympic Sports & Spine, which is affiliated with MultiCare. A spokesman said the district is still negotiating the 2022-23 contract with the company. Until those negotiations are complete, the four high schools will not have certified coaches on hand.

The 2021-22 contract with Seattle Children’s states that the district has “the option to extend the contract for two (2) additional one (1) year terms.” In an email to The News Tribune on Thursday, a district spokesman wrote that the contract could not be renewed any further because the district had exercised renewal options twice in the past.

“Our original contract with Seattle Children’s was for 3 years and TPS has twice exercised the option to extend the contract,” the statement said.

However, Seattle Children’s said school district officials have never discussed the possibility of a new extension.

“There has been no discussion of the school district extending the contract,” the Seattle Children’s spokesman said. “The District (Director of Athletics) notified SCH that the contract would go through the RFP process for the 2022-23 school year.”

The current shortage of certified instructors poses one problem, but another is looming on the horizon: school leaders say that even if the new contract goes into effect, the new provider may not have enough instructors to fully staff each school.

“Staffing is a challenge, contracts with Olympic Sports and Spine will help, but we recognize it may take some time to fully staff,” the Tacoma Public School told The News Tribune. “As such, we are taking precautions to ensure we have the medical support we need for fall sports (and beyond), regardless of whether we sign a new provider.”

The district has not specified what precautions are being taken.


Lincoln will be without a coach in Friday night’s high school season-opening football game against Auburn Riverside at the Lincoln Bowl. If an injury occurs, a coach must step in or request the assistance of Auburn Riverside’s athletic trainer.

“If kids need serious diapering or have an ankle sprain, we try our best to tape it,” Matsumoto said. “I told them to get braces because we knew we wouldn’t have trainers for a while. … Really now, when a kid is injured, we play it safe. If a kid says, “Hey, that hurts,” we just tell them to sit it down. Earlier the coach did his best to get her back to training.”

Again, it’s a difficult position for coaches. LaShonte Simon recalls a game during Jayden Simon’s senior year when he suffered a concussion and collapsed on the field.

“It was great to have someone there who can do the protocol,” she said. “Looking at the students, asking the questions – to have someone there who can do that, that’s great. … I feel sorry for the coaches. You don’t want to be held responsible if something happens. Be responsible for potentially ruining a child’s future? As a parent, that would worry me a lot.”

Jon Manley covers high school sports for The News Tribune. McClatchy President’s Award winner and Gonzaga University graduate Manley has been reporting on the South Sound sports scene since 2013. Born and raised in Tacoma.

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