Mike Parnell and the glory years of Falcon volleyball

Former Falcon volleyball coach Mike Parnell will be inducted into the South Whidbey High School sports Wall of Fame before next Friday’s homecoming game.   - Photo courtesy of Jan McNeely
Former Falcon volleyball coach Mike Parnell will be inducted into the South Whidbey High School sports Wall of Fame before next Friday’s homecoming game.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Jan McNeely

LANGLEY — Something special happens when you mention former South Whidbey High School volleyball coach Mike Parnell to those who know him.

They remember things.

“He connected with his student athletes on every level,” said former athletic director Dennis Hunter. “He was a focused coach who forged great relationships with all his kids.”

Those students will be among those honoring Parnell next Friday when he’s inducted into the Falcon Wall of Fame, joining last year’s honorees Carl Westling and Jim Leierer.

Also being honored are 12 student-athletes from the Class of 2008 — Parker Barnett, Blake Blakey, Robert Boenish, Darrin Britton, Kyle Hoch, Aaron Mannie, Patrick McLean, Erica Johnson, Lauren Sandri, James Schorr and Levi Sawyer.

“Coach Parnell was a class act as coach, and when I took over the job, I maintained those traditions that he brought to the program,” said Tim Durbin.

Traditions like the annual South Whidbey Invite — which just celebrated its 27th year — team dinners and “The Book.”

At the end of every season, Parnell would gather photos, team statistics, players and honors received into a memento for each athlete.

“And we’d have a slide show that Mike put together; it was a very good way to end the year,” Durbin recalled.

Kenneth “Mike” Parnell was hired as a fourth-grade teacher in August 1968 and retired in June 2001 for a total of 33 years. He took a couple years off in the 1970s to serve in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Beginning in 1974, Parnell coached a variety of sports for the school district, including track, volleyball and elementary intramurals.

In the fall of 1979 he was assistant volleyball coach and then ran the program from 1983 to the fall of 1999, when he passed the torch to Durbin.

Over a 17-year period, Parnell guided his teams to league and district titles and reached the state level four times.

Parnell was chosen for his dedicated years of successful coaching, high sportsmanship standards, leading his team to regional and state championships and contributing to high standards of the school and community

“I knew the minute I walked into the gym that this would be a very different program just by looking at the Tropical Falcon flowered print shorts all the girls were wearing,” said Jan McNeely, who was Parnell’s assistant coach for many years.

“There are so many memories created by this man because the most important thing to him was never the final destination but the journey it took to get there,” she said.

She recalled tournament trips east of the Cascades that Parnell organized to forge a bond with his team and coaches.

“Going to those tournaments created our ‘family’ for each season. The silly skits, cooking meals, cleaning up and the dreaded hikes on Sunday mornings after playing ball for 12 straight hours the day before, created the framework for what he hoped to accomplish each season.”

McNeely said Parnell rarely lost his cool or raised his voice with any of the girls, officials, parents, opposing team or coaches.

“He knew each of those girls and knew a lot about their home lives and if they needed our team to survive every day or to stay in school, we would make the decision to keep them with us,” McNeely said.

McNeely said Parnell made sure all the girls had what it took to be and look their best, and reminded them often that sportsmanship and pride would be the defining elements of the volleyball program.

Current volleyball coach Mandy Jones was part of those teams, back in the day.

“Mike and his wife always made everyone feel so welcome, whether you were on JV or varsity; everyone was invited, there was great food, games and again more team bonding,” Jones said.

“I remember Mike as a very intense coach, practices were hard and game days were always exciting, especially home games, with our team dinner and meeting before. I always remember playing with so much excitement and killer attitude and having so much fun.

“He was very big on not swearing,

—I always remember him telling us to say ‘RATS!’ instead of a swear word, if we got upset on the court,” she said.

Parnell organized the first Falcon volleyball camp on South Whidbey and brought in exceptional coaches and players from other states and schools to teach players solid fundamentals, but at a cost everyone could afford. He ran college-level offenses and defenses and picked the brains of the brightest and best players without the fear of looking like they knew more than he did.

“He was fiercely protective of his teams and of his program, and to that end he was considered one of the best in his field,” McNeely said.

Sadly, Parnell may not be attending the dinner Friday, because his battle with Alzheimer’s disease continues. His wife Babe will definitely be there.

Not to worry; there will be lots of memories to share.

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