Community, Sports Zone

McClain bringing youth, energy to Billies athletics

PLEASANT HILL – You might say that athletics is in Kyle McClain’s blood. McClain, the athletic director at Pleasant Hill High School since the beginning of the 2022 school year, is the grandson of Dick McClain. 

Grandpa McClain was the founding athletic director at Linn-Benton Community College, was the head coach for the American Legion team the Corvallis Marketmen, and was executive director of the Northwest Athletic Conference. In 1969, he became the only Oregon coach to win an American Legion World Championship and was named National American Legion Coach of the Year. The 1969 Legion team was later inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

Growing up around his grandfather influenced young Kyle’s career aspirations, he said. 

“A big reason was my grandpa. Just because I grew up going to all these hall of fame dinners, these functions and events that were centered around the work that my grandpa did,” McClain said. “There’s these keynote speakers that are talking about how he impacted their lives, and so that really inspired me to pursue that career.”

McClain was born in Portland, raised in Sherwood, and was a third-generation Duck, graduating as a history major. While a student at UO, McClain started as the assistant wrestling coach at Springfield High, eventually taking over the program for six years.

He then was hired as a PE teacher and wrestling coach at North Douglas, a Class 1A school in Drain with an enrollment of around 100 students. Shortly after arriving at North Douglas, McClain was promoted to dean of students and athletic director.

Small-school dreams

McClain said that while things happened quickly at North Douglas, he saw it as a unique opportunity because of the size of the school and the community.

“In a small-school community you have a lot more impact, and you have a lot more ability to make and create positive change. Compared to my time at Springfield or Hamlin, where I was just kind of in my own silo,” McClain said. “At North Douglas, I really felt confident in myself to build those positive relationships, not just with students, but with community stakeholders, with teachers and with coaches.”

Building relationships is key, and those relationships impact a large percentage of the community at a small school, something McClain always knew he wanted.

“I just don’t really see myself at a large school where I might not have as big of an impact on the average student who may not be in athletics,” he said. “I’ve grown up not being as social as some people, so I always knew if I were to get into education, I would want to be in a small district where the scope of my work isn’t too big.”

Jody Cyr, McClain’s superintendent at North Douglas, said McClain’s personality and style matches exactly what small-school districts want in an AD.

“I think Kyle is just a very good personality to match with the small-school mentality. I mean, sports are king at small schools,” Cyr said. “When you have successful athletics, you have successful school years. And I think he understood that and put a lot of value on athletics, while also holding people accountable in the classroom.”

After being at North Douglas for three years, one as AD, McClain got the offer to take over at Pleasant Hill starting in the 2022 school year.

“I live in Thurston. And (at North Douglas) the dean of students job wasn’t an admin job, I was a teacher on special assignment. I loved my time there; I loved the community, the coaches, the staff, the kids. I’m still in touch with a lot of them today,” McClain said. “I just felt like I needed to take that next step into full-time administration. And especially with a school that’s eight minutes away from my house. I just couldn’t turn it down.”

Fans supporting the volleyball team at the state tournament were a clear indication of greater engagement and enthusiasm under athletic director Kyle McClain’s leadership.

Building his culture at Pleasant Hill

And so McClain stepped into the full-time administrator role at Pleasant Hill, being the AD and assistant principal for the Billies. McClain said that as an AD and assistant principal, there are two main parts of his job. The first is the reactive aspect.

“There’s a lot of reactive things to it, like the scheduling piece. There’s going to be times where schools reach out and say, ‘Hey, you want to schedule volleyball,’ and it’s wintertime. And it’s like, I don’t really want to focus on volleyball but you do it anyway because you want to stay on top of things,” he said. 

The other part is the proactive piece, which is less focused on the day-to-day and more focused on implementing the systems and initiatives that drive the school and athletics program forward.

“The proactive piece is how can we create initiatives that build community? It’s going to be a lot of front-end work. That takes a lot of coordination and organization, but in the long run, it’s going to help build that community,” McClain said.

Finding his style of how best to be proactive and reactive isn’t easy, all while putting together a group of coaches around him that share his vision.

“I feel like I have a really positive impact on school-wide culture and the systems. I’m really confident in the fact that I can surround myself with people that have the same mindset as me,” McClain said. “I want people who are here to build a positive culture where students come first. And have people that are involved in it not just because they want to win, but they’re in it because they want to build positive relationships, and build community and create a legacy.”

Getting everyone invested in his vision hasn’t been easy. McClain knows that he’ll make decisions people don’t agree with. But getting a group of individuals on the same page as a team is something he has lots of experience with thanks to his time as a wrestling coach.

High school wrestling is about helping individuals reach their goals, while also getting them invested in the team aspect of the sport. Not an easy combo to juggle, but one McClain’s translated to the Pleasant Hill athletic department.

“Everyone says wrestling is an individual sport. But really, it’s a team sport. Yes, you’re out there on the mat by yourself, and that’s one great thing about wrestling. But you’re trying to accomplish one mission together as a team,” McClain said. “It’s not just going to be centered around that individual. It’s going to be centered around the whole team, and that’s something that I bring as an athletic director.”

McClain’s current superintendent Jim Crist was hired a month into McClain’s first year at Pleasant Hill last year, but he noticed right away the impact McClain was having.

“Immediately I noticed that he had already built a really good connection with the students, the parents, and the staff. He was liked and well-respected, and he brought a lot of energy that people were looking for in an athletic director,” Crist said. “Kyle brought a lot of energy and thoughts and excitement. And I think parents felt really rejuvenated to have somebody with some new ideas, and some energy toward sports programs. And kids picked up on it as well.”

That energy showed in the program right away. Last season, seven of Pleasant Hill’s eight traditional team sports made the postseason. The Billies also came in fifth in the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) Cup, a year-long competition where schools earn points based on where they finish in each sport.

“That’s amazing, and that’s a testament to our coaching staff, our student-athletes, and our families. And we were rejection-free last year. It’s really fun to be an athletic director and see that success firsthand,” McClain said. “You may not really see that as a principal or school administrator, but we’re changing the culture here.”

Changing the culture of an entire program is no small task. But it’s one of the reasons McClain always saw himself at a small school. Being an AD and assistant principal means he can affect the vast majority of the student body on a day-to-day basis. Something Crist said the district needs coming out of the pandemic.

“For the Pleasant Hill community, having a young, enthusiastic athletic director is really critical right now. Going through the change they have as far as a new superintendent, new middle and high school administration, coming out of the pandemic, people are ready to get back to activities,” Crist said. “To have somebody young and energetic, he’s in a great opportunity in a community like this, which is fully supportive of anything you want to do. … And that’s all part of the enthusiasm that Kyle is bringing in.”

Pleasant Hill’s run to the Class 3A state volleyball championship game was one of several team success stories for the Billies in 2022-23. “We’re changing the culture here,” AD Kyle McClain said.

Student leadership

One of the most important impacts McClain hopes to bring is to student leadership. It’s why last season he created a captain’s council, which turned into the student-athlete leadership council this year. The council has a student-led board with a president, vice president and treasurer, with two representatives from every program.

It’s important to McClain that each program gets a voice and that athletes are involved in the athletic department, not just involved on the field or court.

“It’s a chance once a month where they can come together as a community, share how things are going, share struggles, how we can meet those struggles head on, and problem-solve together,” McClain said. “Then it’s also leadership development. I want to bring leaders from the outside to share what it means to be a student-athlete. What does it look like to be a leader, not just in sports, but in your school community.”

McClain doesn’t just want the leadership council to be influencing the school. He also wants to teach them how to build community throughout the town.

They will  be hosting, once a month on a Friday morning, the breakfast of champions, which is a chance for student-athletes to share with the community and with families.

“They’ll share how things are going, what are some big games coming up, how can the community support us, and what are some challenges that we’re facing?” McClain said. “It’s just a chance for students to elevate their voices and share directly to the community on how their experiences are going, what successes they’re seeing, and what challenges they’re facing.”

McClain said he believes amplifying student and coach voices gives him, and the school, more info to work off of because, “You may hear one thing from a coach, but you might hear a completely different thing from the student-athlete.”

The lessons learned by student-athletes when they step into leadership roles not only help the Pleasant Hill community, but they help young adults blossom.

“For him, and for me, it’s having somebody with those ideas and that desire to really bring leadership to athletics. And not necessarily just because you’re an athlete, you have to be a leader, or we’re going to put you on a pedestal because you’re an athlete,” Crist said. “But really setting up the opportunities that, if they want additional knowledge and exposure as leaders, then he’s there to provide that.”

McClain wants to continue growing the Billies athletic department, which might soon include three of the OSAA’s emerging sports: boys volleyball, girls flag football, and eSports.

When McClain isn’t at school, he can often be found out on the river, enjoying life on a drift boat.

“I love to fly fish. I fly fish up the Middle Fork of the Willamette, and up in Oakridge. I fly fish on the McKenzie,” McClain said. “If any readers are reading this right now, and they want to take a trip out on the drift boat, don’t hesitate to reach out, and we can get on the water.”




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