Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion In this Feb. 28, 2015 file photo Kenai Central High School women's basketball coach Stacia Rustad talks her team through a strategy during a game against Soldotna High School. Rustad is moving to Wasilla to become the athletic director for Wasilla High School.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion In this Feb. 28, 2015 file photo Kenai Central High School women's basketball coach Stacia Rustad talks her team through a strategy during a game against Soldotna High School. Rustad is moving to Wasilla to become the athletic director for Wasilla High School.

Bevy of coaching changes hits Peninsula

  • By JOEY KLECKA and JEFF HELMINIAK
  • Saturday, June 6, 2015 11:37pm
  • Sports

The end of the school year marks not only a change in high school sports team rosters, but also an annual shift in coaches, administrators and athletic directors.

2015 is no exception, as eight positions will see new faces come the fall season among Peninsula teams.

One of the most significant changes at Soldotna High is athletic director Kent Peterson, who is moving out of the AD role and into the school’s musical chair as a band teacher. In Peterson’s vacancy, Soldotna girls basketball coach Kyle McFall will step into the role.

“Kyle is young and excited, and it’s an active position he wanted to explore,” said Soldotna High Principal Todd Syverson. “It’s really nice because Kent will still be in the building, and will be able to help (McFall). He’s got a good support group built around him.”

Syverson is also opting for a change of scenery, retiring as SoHi principal after a decade to become an education consultant. Tony Grant will be replacing Syverson as school principal.

His reach goes much further than 10 years, however. Syverson’s impact on local athletics goes back a quarter century, when he became Skyview High’s first football coach from its inaugural year in 1990 to 1994.

Prior to that, Syverson was a head coach of high school football and basketball in North Dakota, including stints in Richardton from 1982 to 1987 and Mohall in 1987 until his move to Alaska. Before that, Syverson had graduated from Dickinson State University, where he also played college football for the Blue Hawks.

Syverson said even though he is winding down, he will still be around, taking in the sights and sounds of local sports teams.

“I have a passion for all extracurricular activities, I think they are close second to a student’s education,” Syverson said. “They provide so many leadership opportunities, and they help kids strive to set goals.

“I was a product of extracurricular activities, and I wanted students to have the same opportunities.”

Syverson’s proudest achievement is seeing the multiple game and practice venues for all sports, including football, soccer, hockey and track and field. With three gyms at SoHi, a new turf field and eight-lane track, and the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, the communities of Kenai and Soldotna are provided nearly endless opportunities to practice and improve.

“It’s really a great situation for the average athlete,” Syverson said. “They can practice earlier in the year, and the venues provide a great economic impact for state events.”

Syverson said with the added venues and infrastructure, the school is also looking to host state events like football, soccer and track meets.

The biggest change at Kenai Central High School is the departure of athletic director and girls basketball coach Stacia Rustad, who is moving to the Matanuska-Susitna valleys to take the AD position at Wasilla.

Rustad has coached the Kenai girls hoops squad for the past six years, and said the move was made to pursue an administration degree. While Rustad added that the decision to leave Kenai was a tough one, it is the right one.

“The position was open, I applied for it, and I’m ready for a change,” Rustad said. “It would give me additional time to pursue my ultimate goal.”

Rustad said no decision has been made on who will take over the girls hoops team.

Kenai Central baseball coach John Kennedy will be retiring after 28.6 years of teaching with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, but he said his coaching career is far from over.

The 28.6 comes because Kennedy taught a partial year, and another year he was a victim of a reduction in force.

But despite all those years as a teacher, Kennedy only got one year of teaching physical education, which he majored in at college.

“I love coaching,” Kennedy said. “But I only taught PE for one year.

“Coaching to me is my physical education I get to deal with. I love to give kids information and see them grow.”

Kennedy’s string of coaching credits confirms his passion. He has been involved with coaching volleyball, hockey and football at Soldotna High School, football and volleyball at Skyview High School; and football, volleyball, baseball and basketball at Kenai Central.

The 1978 graduate of Kenai Central also spent six summers coaching with the American Legion Twins and four summers coaching with the Peninsula Oilers.

In addition to that, it’s not unusual to see him refereeing a volleyball match or a football game.

His lasting legacy at his alma mater will be the baseball program. The program, now in its fifth year, was started by Kennedy and made an appearance at state in its second year.

While Kennedy is done with teaching, not surprisingly he still sees a lot of coaching in his future.

His dream has long been to coach baseball at the junior college or college level, and his four summers with the Oilers have given him the connections to make that happen.

“Me and my wife have things to take care of,” Kennedy said. “If I don’t get Outside this year, maybe the year after.”

Kennedy also would like to take time to pursue other interests, like hunting, but that won’t keep him from athletic events.

“I’m definitely going to stay coaching, there’s no question about that,” Kennedy said. “If I’m around, I know I’ll be involved with Kenai baseball.”

And even if moving up and coaching the next level of baseball works out, Kennedy still expects to retain ties to the area.

“I’ve been here for 46 years and have a house here,” Kennedy said. “I want to keep it. I would definitely want to be back.”

Other changes at Kenai include the departure of cross-country running coach Teri Ostrander, who is relinquishing the reigns to former cross-country assistant Maria Calvert.

At the small-schools level, the Cook Inlet Academy Eagles will see the departure of a longtime presence in boys basketball.

Head coach Justin Franchino will be moving on to become a pastor at Peninsula Grace Brethren church in Soldotna, so the good news is that he will not be moving very far. However, the six-year head coach of the CIA boys is leaving behind nearly 20 years of involvement in the Eagles basketball program, whether it be a middle- and high-school player or at the coaching level.

“For the sake of hyperbole, it’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” Franchino said. “I love the community feel of small-schools hoops, especially our region, which is so tightknit as opposed to the bigger schools.”

CIA athletic director Rick Musgrave said no one has been named as a replacement yet.

Franchino said he started with the basketball team as a grade-schooler in 1995, and every winter, save for a few years when he was away at college, has been spent with the team.

“A lot of it is my identity,” he said. “Especially in Alaskan winters, that’s my thing.”

As a player, Franchino was a part of two Class 2A championship teams, winning the title as a freshman in 1999 and as a senior in 2002. He won a third title as an assistant coach under Bruce Gabriel in 2005, when the CIA boys went undefeated.

As a head coach, Franchino guided the Eagles to two Southcentral Conference championships and subsequently two state berths — 2010 and 2012 — and helped them to the region championship game on three other occasions. In all, he has coached CIA to the region title game five out of six years.

Self described as a hoops enthusiast, Franchino said he first considered leaving last fall, when Peninsula Grace asked him to consider the position, but it wasn’t until this spring that he finally made the decision to become a pastor. With it comes a schedule that will fill up weekends and weeknights, times that he usually spends working on basketball strategy and practices with the team.

Franchino will be completing a student teaching internship this fall through the University of Alaska Anchorage at the Kenai Peninsula College, which he hopes to finish in December.

In other changes, CIA volleyball head coach Kevin Baker will be moving on to the Valley, where he will be coaching Birchwood Christian, and girls basketball coach Kenny Leaf will not return after one year at the helm, although he still remains as coach of the successful CIA coed soccer team.

In Homer, Neil Romney will be taking over as swimming coach from Scott Smith.

The girls basketball program will be seeing the lone change at Seward High, as current athletic director Albert Plan will be taking over for Mark Clemens, who has been at the helm for the past three seasons.

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