Camas boys basketball coach Scott Preuninger resigned four weeks prior to the first day of practice — a surprising move considering the date.
Camas High School has hired Skyler Gillispie as its new coach — a surprising move considering Gillispie’s age. He is 22.
Camas athletic director Terry Cavender said age should not be a factor in a hiring, and the sports world is full of success stories for programs who gave young coaches a first opportunity.
“Somebody had to take it over. You have the option of deciding to go on an interim basis or finding out if there is that person out there who can do the job,” Cavnender said. “There are a lot of advantages of being a young coach. He’s enthusiastic, passionate, intense. He has a great fundamental background. He’s young and ready to go.”
Gillispie, a 2007 graduate of Hockinson High School, is working on his Master’s degree at Concordia University in Portland with the goal of becoming a teacher. A member of Hockinson’s 2006 state tournament team, Gillispie played a season at Yakima Community College before an injury directed him into the coaching ranks. He has been a part of the Dan Dickau basketball academy as a coach and coached the freshman and junior varsity teams at Hockinson the past two seasons.
Cavender said Gillispie joins Camas after a number of veteran coaches in the area recommended him.
The opportunity itself is newsworthy, as well.
Preuninger, who had coached the Papermakers for eight seasons, first resigned in June. But after talks with assistant coaches and others associated with the program, he rescinded that resignation two days later. This fall, though, he realized his heart would not be with the program but his own children instead.
Scott Preuninger said he wants to be available to watch his son Drew play his senior year at Concordia. Scott’s daughter, Kendra, is a guard on Camas’ girls team.
“I just needed to be a father. I needed to be a dad and watch my kids play,” Scott Preuninger said. “I’ve been doing this for so long. My family has sacrificed a lot for me. I needed to take a year off, support my kids, and be a dad.”
Preuninger said he was hoping it would just be a year off. He asked to take a sabbatical from the head coaching position, in hopes that one of his assistants could take over for a season. Preuninger said he would become a part-time assistant, with the flexibility to watch his children play.
The school denied that request.
“We just haven’t granted them. It’s not a practice of ours. There is no process in place for a someone asking for a sabbatical,” Cavender said.
That left Preuninger with a decision to make. He resigned.
Preuninger, who has coached the sport for 24 years, including 19 as a head coach, said it was not his intention to abandon the basketball players. He just wanted some flexibility this season.
“I get where Scott is coming from,” Cavender said. “He wants to watch his son and daughter play. I tremendously admire him for that. Any decision made regarding this was not personal.”
Preuninger is not done with coaching. Still on staff as a teacher at Camas, he said he hopes there will be other coaching opportunities that he can pursue beginning next school year.
His only regret is not sticking with his resignation in June. He acknowledged the timing of his final resignation was not ideal.
“But if I had to do it all over again, I’d still resign,” Preuninger said. “I owe this to my family.”
For his part, Gillispie said he appreciates taking over a program that Preuninger turned into a winner.
The Papermakers won the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League title last season — the first league title for the Camas boys in 49 years.
“I’m going to take what he’s built and put in my own philosophy into it,” Gillispie said.
When the job opened, Gillispie said he initially applied to get interview experience. He promised himself to do his best. Evidently, he impressed Camas officials.
“Obviously, I bit off a lot to chew. I didn’t really see it coming, but I’m extremely happy about it. It’s a pretty cool moment. I got the job (Monday), and I have seven days to prepare. I’ve got my hands full. But it was one of those opportunities in life ... you don’t think there’s any way you can pass it up.”
He knows some will question his experience, his age.
Cavender said if that is the only negative that people can come up with, well, it won’t be a negative for too long.
“It’s never a negative if you can turn it into a positive,” Cavender said.
“There is a lot to be said for the youth,” Gillispie said. “I’m excited about relating to the kids with the energy and passion I bring. I’m excited about it. I don’t plan on it being a one-year team. I plan on making it my future there.”