New baseball coach at Heritage looks ahead

Hazing incident will serve as lesson, not excuse, he says

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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The coach got a call very late Friday night from a parent of one of his players.

Mitch Ratigan knew right then that his first season as the head coach for Heritage High School’s baseball program was going to be different from anything he had envisioned.

By Tuesday, six of his players, all veterans of the program, had been kicked off the team and suspended from school for a hazing incident. (The number was previously reported as eight by Evergreen Public Schools, but has since been corrected.)

While disappointed, Ratigan said his job now is to coach the current players, teach them to learn from the mistakes of others, and rebuild the image of the program.

“The kids who are still here, they get it. They’re in,” Ratigan said. “Twenty-three of them are in; six of them are out.”

The Timberwolves went from a team considered one of the best in the state, to a squad that will have a lot of athletes playing new positions, younger athletes playing bigger roles than they anticipated just a week ago.

Ratigan said there is honor in this process.

“This event will drastically change how all our sports are run,” Ratigan said. “We want to build it through great character, not through great athletes with a lapse in judgment. We are going to build and restore character here at Heritage.”

Ratigan moved to the area from Arizona, where he had been a head wrestling coach and an assistant baseball coach. His wife got a job in Portland, and he went looking for work. He landed teaching and coaching positions at Heritage.

“I met with the administrators here. A fantastic group,” Ratigan said. “They have a vision of doing great things here.”

Ratigan said he has always been a part of programs that stressed character first, and he was thrilled to be going to a school that shared his values.

In fact, Ratigan confirmed that his players and parents, along with other spring sports participants, met with Leta Meyer, the school’s athletic director, to discuss the expectations the school has for its athletes.

Meyer stressed character issues, noting that bullying and/or hazing would not be accepted. The meeting took place the Monday prior to the Friday incident.

Ratigan, too, said he has been trying to deliver his message from his first day on campus.

“Don’t embarrass yourself, your family, your community, your school,” he said. “We hit all four. We need to repair this and move on.”

After a couple of rainouts this week, the 23 players who make up the varsity and junior varsity squads will be on the road this weekend to open their season in the Tri-Cities.

Ratigan said the Timberwolves will play as two squads Friday against Kamiakin of Kennewick, but will not play the JV games Saturday against Richland because of a lack of pitching arms.

From a baseball angle, the current players will have an opportunity to play new positions.

“We’re going to make you all pitchers,” he told them.

Ratigan feels for the remaining three seniors, veterans who believed this was going to be their championship spring.

“For those guys, it’s going to be a challenge to keep them motivated,” Ratigan said. “They look at this as a letdown, but it can’t be. We’re not going to view this as a letdown. We’re going to use this as an opportunity to show who we are.”

The Timberwolves are scheduled to play their Class 4A Greater St. Helens League opener next Tuesday against Skyview.

“It sucks we lost some really great talent, but it’s not an excuse,” Ratigan added. “We want to move forward and learn how to compete.”