YAKIMA, Wash. — From Mabton to Major League All-Star and World Series champion.
There are few personal journeys quite like the one traveled by Mel Stottlemyre, and his passing nearly a year ago was a milestone for the Yakima Valley long before it was for the New York Yankees.
Known throughout the country and beyond as a legendary pitcher and coach mostly for the Yankees, Stottlemyre succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer this past January and the reflection of his remarkable life that followed was named the Valley’s top sports story for 2019, as voted on by the Herald-Republic staff.
After graduating from Mabton High School in 1959, Stottlemyre stayed local with collegiate stints at Yakima Valley College and Central Washington University. He was discovered by the Yankees and signed two years later, launching a playing and coaching career that spanned five decades.
Stottlemyre, whose sons Todd and Mel Jr. both pitched in the majors, was a five-time All-Star for the Yankees and he was the pitching coach for five World Series championship teams, four with the Yankees and one with the Mets. His last season of coaching was in 2008 with the Mariners.
The next five spots in the voting were sorted out by very narrow margins, and two unprecedented events in high school sports led the way.
On January 28, 2019, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association passed a revolutionary amendment to apply socioeconomic adjustments to its classification system and that story, which is still ongoing, was voted No. 2 just ahead of Kittitas’ Brock Ravet breaking the state’s all-time career scoring record.
The WIAA’s new amendment is intended to level the playing field in areas of the state affected by low-income issues. While the full impact won’t be known until the 2020 enrollment cycle is finalized next month, it’s clear already that the Yakima Valley will experience a major shake-up with several schools eligible to drop down a class.
Not only did Ravet break the state record with room to spare, topping the previous record held by Sunnyside Christian’s Lance Den Boer on Feb. 1, but a month later he led the Coyotes to their third straight 2B state championship (more on that later). Den Boer’s mark of 2,851 points stood for 16 years, and Ravet pushed the new record up to 3,094.
Checking in at No. 4 is the Toppenish wrestling team and its colossal 310-point total to capture the 2A state title at Mat Classic XXXI. Capping a tumultuous weather-challenged season, which included the WIAA canceling regionals the week before, the Wildcats confirmed their status as the state’s best team regardless of class with six state champions and 12 medalists.
At No. 5 was March 2 in the SunDome, the day La Salle’s girls and Zillah’s boys won back-to-back 1A state basketball championships.
First up was La Salle, which closed out a 27-0 season with a 56-49 victory over Lynden Christian, and then came Zillah, which produced the highest championship score in 42 years with a 90-68 humbling of King’s Way Christian.
One victory away from celebrating another championship, the Yakima SunKings’ season dissolved into chaos — which rates No. 6 on the list — when coach Paul Woolpert was fired in the middle of the team’s championship series against the Albany Patroons in early May. Then in late October, owner Jaime Campos announced that the team will not play in the 2020 TBL season, although he left the door open to bring the team back at some point in the future.
Selah’s baseball team came in at No. 7, winning the program’s second 2A state title in four years at Yakima County Stadium. The Vikings outscored their four opponents in the state bracket 19-2 and dominated Fife in the title game 7-1.
At No. 8 is the ongoing feud between the two local American Legion baseball programs, who got each other disqualified from the state tournament with back-to-back protests that were upheld. State Legion officials have had to change the recruitment plan to keep the programs as is for the 2020 season.
The Kittitas boys and Sunnyside Christian boys joined forces at No. 9 as they completed 1B state basketball three-peats in Spokane on the same day La Salle and Zillah won titles in Yakima. The Coyotes were 28-1 for the season and 78-2 during the three-year run, while the Knights won 26 games for the third straight year.
At No. 10, the sudden passing of Rich Guerin shocked the community in October. The 49-year-old father of international wrestling standout Cameron Guerin, Rich was a former professional MMA fighter who owned a Yakima MMA training gym and was well-known and respected locally and throughout the region.