By Stacee Sledge
Most Whatcom County residents know Tony Dominguez as head coach for Western Washington University’s men’s basketball – the team’s longtime assistant and then associate head coach who took the helm in 2012 and led his men to a 31-3 record, a GNAC regular-season championship, West Regional title, and into the NCAA Division II final four.
But Coach Dominguez also guides another important group of much younger athletes: those who play through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County.
A father to 15- and 11-year-old daughters and an 8-year old son, Tony has long volunteered to coach his kids’ teams. With a very busy Western work and travel schedule, it’s been another way to fit in extra family time.
“As a college coach, the hours of the job are odd,” he says. “So if I was going to hang out with my kids, I needed to coach them.”
Tony’s history with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County goes back to his days as a Western student.
“When I first came to Western, I refereed there to make money to help pay my way through school,” he says. “I worked flag football, baseball, basketball – everything.”
He enjoyed his experience working for the club. “At the time, I thought if I wasn’t going to get into coaching, maybe I’d try to be an athletic director or something there.”
Eventually, the assistant coaching position with the Western men’s basketball team beckoned and Tony’s career ultimately took a different direction.
Coaching 8-year-olds, for example, is quite different from the young men on his Western squads. For one thing, the mood tends to be a whole lot sillier.
“Kids are awesome,” Tony says. “It’s just fun to be around them. It’s like teaching; every day is hilarious because they’re just goofballs.”
He admits it takes a lot of patience. “Sometimes, it’s not so much coaching as it is babysitting.”
Another big difference between coaching at the college level and leading the elementary school set is competition – or lack thereof.
“I’m super-intense and super-competitive [at work],” he says, “but I go the other way when I’m coaching the kids.”
A demanding Western schedule means he can’t make every Boys & Girls Club practice or game, but two or three parents step in and help make it work.
Tony believes the competition in youth sports has gotten a bit out of control — from the parents, not the kids.
“I do think it’s important to have the concept of winning and losing down,” he admits. “But at eight or nine years old, it shouldn’t be determining their day.”
He says most of the kids don’t let it do that, but the parents sometimes do. “I think the perspective is a little skewed by many of the parents.”
How does he respond when he sees a parent reacting strongly during a game?
“I just kind of smile,” he says. “Everyone has their own way and I’m not judging how people live their lives. It’s not my place to tell them how to react at youth sports and I just kind of chuckle at some of the responses at games. It is what it is.”
Last year, he led what he calls “a good little team” who “for whatever reason, weren’t losing.” They played undefeated for much of the season – like his WWU men’s basketball team.
“When we did eventually lose a game, the gym erupted. Parents [from the opposing team] took pictures and made it into a big deal. Our kids started crying.”
He says some folks think he stacks his team because he is the Western coach. “It’s just friends’ kids,” he says with a chuckle. “I didn’t go out in the community and look for certain kids.”
Tony raves about the work the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County is doing. “It’s a great organization for kids. Very healthy,” he says. “I believe the Boys & Girls Club is the best of all youth sports.”
Having said that, he also thinks the higher-level competitive teams are great for some youth athletes. “I think kids that are good enough to do that need to do that. But the Boys & Girls Clubs have a great mission. They’ve always had great people running the Bellingham branch and I think right now it’s outstanding.”