In this current era of transfer portals for high school sports, Kaeleb Cvitkovich was a breath of fresh air.
Just to be clear, there is no transfer portal for high school sports. It just feels like it.
Last Friday, Cvitkovich played his last high school baseball game for Fort Vancouver High School. It culminated four years as a three-sport athlete as a Trapper.
“Right now, I can’t believe it’s over, for here,” Cvitkovich said after a 2-1 loss to Woodland on Fort’s home field. “Coming here as a little freshman, I still remember the very first day of football practice, I got greeted by all the guys. It was just amazing. And at the moment, I didn’t think that it would ever end. I thought it was going to feel like it was forever. And looking back on it now, it really wasn’t. The time, it absolutely flies, and I wish I had more.”
That’s a common sentiment for any athlete at the end of a high school career. But Cvitkovich is a bit different.
He was a starter and major contributor to Fort’s teams in football, basketball and baseball, earning all-league honors.
But in 11 varsity seasons — the pandemic robbed him of his freshman baseball season in 2020 — wins were hard to come by. In his junior and senior seasons, the number of victories Cvitkovich experienced could be counted on his fingers. That’s all sports, all seasons, combined.
“I come to Fort and all I hear is ‘Why do you go there?’ You’re so much better than Fort. You could play for any other school. Why did you choose Fort?’ ” Cvitkovich said.
And why did he stay, when so many other athletes would have taken a different path?
“Obviously our sports didn’t go the way that we wanted them to,” he explained. “We didn’t win a lot of games. A lot of games were blowouts. But I would have rather have all of these blowout games and have the friends that I do now and the people that I’m around right now, out here right now on this field, on the football field, on the basketball court, than be on a team that is blowing people out and be with people that I don’t like. I would much rather be a Trapper because being a Trapper, sure it’s tough times, but it’s not for the weak.”
Cvitkovich was definitely not weak.
Playing three sports was not easy. It was tiring and often different activities overlapped. But Cvitkovich committed himself to every sport he played, mostly because he saw that he could help.
And even though there weren’t many wins, there were plenty of memories.
During football his freshman year, Cvitkovich played receiver and really didn’t play much, until Fort’s starting quarterback got hurt.
“I had never played quarterback before in my life,” he said. “But our coach said ‘You play baseball. You can throw it. You’re in.’ And then I threw my very first touchdown pass, so that stands out.”
He would remain Fort’s quarterback through his senior year, when in Week 3, Cvitkovich hit Evan Mendez with a touchdown pass with 35 seconds to beat Stevenson, notching the Trappers’ first win since that freshman season.
In basketball, there was a memorable Senior Night win over rival Hudson’s Bay in his final game, capping a 2-19 season.
Then there was the 8-5 win at Woodland last Wednesday.
“In baseball, we come in, and we’re winless for 38 games in a row,” he said. “Then we finally get one on Wednesday. It just feels great, very memorable.”
Cvitkovich hopes his baseball playing days are not over, as he had talks with some college programs.
Still, after Friday’s loss to Woodland, there were tearful hugs with teammates and coaches. Then tearful hugs with his parents. Then he lifted and hugged his younger siblings, another big motivator for Cvitkovich.
“My little brother, he’s 10 now, and he’s been playing baseball since he could walk,” Cvitkovich said. “Seeing me play my last high school game I know it hurts him because he looks up to me a lot. But to be honest, I’m looking over him. I play this game for him. I play this game for my mom, my family. I play for them. I want to keep on playing for them. And I want to continue to play for them and for him.
“And even when I grow old and I can’t play this game anymore, I hope that my little brother keeps playing. Because that will mean more to me than anything.”