Todd Souvenir reflects on coaching career
April 13, 2023
After volunteering as a youth coach and serving as a junior varsity coach for several years, Todd Souvenir stepped into the role of head coach for the Wahkiakum Mules basketball team in 2013.
At the end of this season Souvenir resigned. While he will continue to be involved, being the head coach is a huge commitment and Souvenir is looking forward to focusing on some new challenges and adventures and spending more time with his family.
Souvenir has been going to the State 2B basketball tournament in Spokane for as long as he can remember. It didn't matter if the Mule boys or girls qualified, his grandma and grandpa, Nova and K.R. McNally were going to make the trip, and everyone went with them.
"It was a family tradition and vacation to go to Spokane," Souvenir said.
When the Mule boys took third place in 1983, he was lucky enough to be a ball boy for the team. But he would never get the opportunity to step back on the arena floor as an athlete, despite participating in football, basketball, and baseball during his own days at Wahkiakum High School.
Those yearly trips and the disappointment of so many Mule teams cemented in Souvenir a desire to make sure his own kids didn't miss out. And as he got involved in coaching his dream developed into something even bigger: he wanted to make sure as many kids as possible got to experience the excitement of the state tournament first hand.
"When you really go back and look over the years and look at the boys and girls sports teams that have made it to Spokane and had a chance to step on that floor, it's really not all that many kids," he said. "It's pretty cool opportunity to get there and experience it."
He started coaching when his son Shane was in third grade.
They ended every practice shooting free throws, and every kid visualizing that they were either down one or tied and if they made the free throw the team was going to Spokane.
In the years since taking over as head coach for the Mules basketball program, Souvenir has developed a more measured approach. He's learned to make the most of what he has been given, and to celebrate every victory, big and small.
The dream remains. He'll always want his players to know the excitement and joy of playing at the state tournament, but more than that, he wants them to walk away from the program as better people, and to know how to treasure every moment they are given.
The team didn't make it to district his first year. Souvenir remembers he was listening to a district game on the radio when someone hit a half court shot to upset the number one team, ending their season and their dreams of Spokane.
It changed him.
"We didn't experience the arena floor, or being in the dome for football, or being in the final four for baseball, but I still I have lifelong memories," Souvenir said of his time in high school. "it made me realize that every game is an opportunity for a lifetime experience for every kid. You never know when that is going to happen or what it is until after the fact."
"Obviously the goal of getting to Spokane is still to get there, but in the end there is only one team every year that doesn't have that feeling in the locker room of sadness at the end," he said.
"It's those moments, like Brodie [Avalon] getting to have that moment and the team getting to have that moment of euphoria at the end of the Cle-Elum/Roslyn game this year," Souvenir said. "Not many kids get that experience. The dog-piling, the end of the game moment, that is is something those kids will remember forever."
He cites former Wahkiakum coaches Terry Bonny, John Doumit, and Paul Spears as influences. Each had their own strengths and were passionate about what they did.
"They are all great guys that had a great impact, not only in sports but in life," Souvenir said. "In the end, that's really what it's all about, seeing these young men developing as adults and as good members of our community, representing not only the school but the coaching staff and our community. That's a big piece of it."
"It's kind of cool to see how they change from their eighth grade/freshman year to the time they graduate," he added. "It's a really neat experience and something that is pretty important to be involved in."
Like the coaches before him, Souvenir admits he was quite capable of showing some passion himself, getting a technical four minutes into the season during a game with Ilwaco.
"I probably averaged one a year," he laughed. "Maybe two, but nothing too over the top."
"A lot of times you are using that as a tool to fire up your kids," he admitted.
When he started coaching, he had a notion of what his team should look like. He stopped trying to mold them into that image. As time went on, he realized it was better to recognize each player and each team's strengths and try to make the most of them.
"I learned to be more flexible in what I wanted versus the tools I had in my bag," Souvenir said. "I'm definitely more patient. I understand more how to deal with adversity. You don't always get what you want. I'm definitely more humble and it's make me more patient, even at work and at home."
"Another thing I tried to do, though I don't know how successful I was at it, I was trying to get them to take advantage of everything in front of them," he added, which included their time in the classroom with their teachers. "Four years of high school sports go by so fast. I think it's a challenge for kids to understand that. Hopefully over the years some of the kids have latched on to that and learned to treat each game as their last game."
Souvenir will continue to volunteer his time as a coach, on a smaller scale. He hopes that students will continue to turn out. For every sport. He knows from his own experience, it's an opportunity for lifelong friendships, to get to know people they might not hang out with otherwise, or to learn how to work as a team, learning from each other and from their coaches.
He'd rather hear someone say 10 years from now that they wish they hadn't turned out instead of wishing they had.
"You never get to go back," Souvenir said.