News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Coaching remains a challenging gig in Sisters

Coaching high school sports can be extraordinarily rewarding - helping young people grow and realize their potential, and creating bonds and memories that last a lifetime. Sports means a lot in Sisters, and many programs have had exceptional success.

Coaching also comes with a high degree of stress and pressure, even in - perhaps especially in - the most successful programs.

Last month, two-time Coach of the Year and 2023 state champion volleyball coach Rory Rush resigned her position. She acknowledged that coaching comes with pressure, but she feels that the scrutiny and criticism she faced - even as she led a winning program - was out of line and that the administration did not support her sufficiently or shield her from it.

Photo by Jerry Baldock

Rory Rush, state championship coach and Coach of the Year, has resigned from the Outlaws Volleyball program.

In a letter of resignation to Sisters High School Athletic Director (AD) Matt Hilgers, Rush said that, "I fully understand in coaching not everyone will like you or agree with your decisions, but there is a system we have in place to protect coaches to allow them to make decisions and feel supported by their AD and administration. I no longer feel that is the case. Parents are allowed to attack the coach's character, make accusations, spread rumors, and constantly question every decision. The main attacks are coming from district employees... I feel it has become a hostile work environment and feel I have no place to turn when I feel attacked."

Hilgers told The Nugget that there are limits on what he is able to say in regards to a personnel matter. He said that he was surprised by Rush's resignation.

"She did a lot of great things for the program," he said.

He acknowledged the pressures Rush felt, but he says that they are not specific to the volleyball program.

"I would say it's any sport in Sisters," he said. "In my experience, it's everywhere. It's prevalent across the state."

Hilgers knows firsthand that dealing with some parents can be challenging. He has experienced it as a baseball coach.

"Most of the times, it's one or two who are really intense - and it does wear a person down," he said. "It gets tiring dealing with parents sometimes - and maybe she reached that point."

Many parents and other people associated with the program strongly support Rush. Parent Kati Benson told The Nugget, "For the past seven years, Rory Rush has been the pillar of Sisters Volleyball. Her reputation for building and taking this program to success is because of her skilled expertise not only as a player, but as a leader and coach... Her program will go down as one of the strongest in girls' sports. I not only speak for myself, but many other parents who anticipated their girls making varsity, and working under the expertise of Coach Rush. She was a fair coach, but also played to win. This is a huge loss to girls' sports, and the community as a whole."

Cris Converse, who worked as an assistant coach with the Outlaws volleyball program, thinks highly of Rush as a leader of young girls.

"Rory is the best coach I have ever known," she said. "The depth of her care for each of the girls is something I have never seen in another coach."

But others questioned her approach and her decisions - and were vocal about it, especially after the team lost to Valley Catholic in the semi-finals in 2022.

Rush told The Nugget that she felt personally besieged by critics who took things too far, "causing dissension and chaos."

"It wasn't just left to the realm of high school volleyball," she said. "It began to eat at the foundations of the program." She cited "derogatory remarks that were directed at me personally."

She said that parents have nearly constant access to the coach through emails and texts.

"It's like there are no boundaries," she said. "I never felt that there were boundaries that were able to be put in place to support the coach."

The situation with Outlaws volleyball was complicated by the fact that a couple of the parents with whom Rush was at loggerheads were part of the school administration staff - including Superintendent Curt Scholl.

There is a protocol for addressing athletics conflicts, which starts with the student athlete advocating for herself.

"We really want them to self-advocate for themselves," Hilgers told The Nugget. "In my experience, 90 percent of the times (an issue) is resolved there."

When it's not, parents can meet with the coach and the athletic director. Hilgers said that the Scholls adhered to that protocol.

"I wouldn't say they were any different," Hilgers said. "Parents in a similar situation would have done similar things, I feel like."

Assistant volleyball coach Jason Myhre noted that it poses challenges when parents have other roles in the schools.

"It's hard if you're in the school administration and you do that, because it's going to be scrutinized more," he said. "It just puts them in a tough spot as a parent and as a school administrator."

Perception can create reality.

"There's just a different level of pressure from them than if there's just an average parent who's unhappy with your coaching," he said.

"I felt like there was pressure from a standpoint of having to do things a certain way to keep everybody happy," Rush said. "There was pressure to change how I coached, how I communicated, how I looked at things."

She felt that the athletic director should have intervened, but she said she recognizes that Hilgers was in a tough spot.

"At what point do we say, 'This is kind of where we're going and this is how we're running the program?'" she said.

Scholl vehemently disagrees with any implication that he or anyone else applied undue pressure.

"I think there's a difference in perception," he said. "There's definitely a perception breakdown."

Scholl said that he is sympathetic to the difficulty coaches can have dealing with intensely involved parents.

"I was a varsity baseball coach," he recalled. "I was going up to give my lineup to the umpire and had a parent accost me through the fence and say, 'Why is my kid batting seventh instead of third?' I've lived it."

Hilgers notes that issues such as playing time, position, and coaching decisions are supposed to be off limits for parent input. However, he said, most coaches will address the issue, because they can almost always back up their decisions with stats. As a baseball coach, that's pretty straightforward; it's hard to argue that a player who is batting .400 should make way for another who's hitting .200.

Pressure for recruitment

Parents have always wanted their children to have a chance to shine, since the first kid hit a rock with a stick. But there are very modern considerations that add to the pressure associated with high school sports. And many coaches think that those pressures are distorting the meaning and purpose of high school athletics.

Myhre said that the advent of club sports has changed the landscape. Athletes participate on traveling club teams in a variety of sports - from volleyball to baseball to soccer - and parents put in a lot of time, effort, and money to support them. Club play is regarded as essential to moving on to college play.

"Anybody who wants to play in college is playing in club," Myhre said. "It's all based on this pressure of being recruited and playing in college. Athletes feel entitled to play in certain roles, because of the pressure of being recruited. We're setting expectations in girls' heads to specialize in a certain position."

Myhre said that club and high school sports have different parameters and purposes. Club play is more focused on player development, where high school play is more focused on building a cohesive and successful team with a variety of players. Sometimes, Myhre said, it's hard for parents involved in both to make the distinction between the two. And parents feel a lot of pressure to provide their kids with the best opportunity to succeed.

"Everybody's caught up in this system that adds so much pressure," Myhre said.

With a high school team, the focus is putting the right team on the floor to meet the goals of the whole team. Myhre said that Rush did that.

"Her job is to talk with the seniors, and hear what their goals are," Myhre said. "And their goal was to win the state championship... Her job was to put the best team on the floor to win a state championship."

Impact on coaching

The intensification of pressure on coaches is having an impact on people's willingness to step up to the plate. Hilgers noted that the district had to reach out to all of the eight or nine most recent hires and encourage them to apply for the position. It's a big commitment. Sisters' geographic location means teams spend long hours on the road traveling to games and most coaches have other work and family commitments that have to be worked around. Add in too many unpleasant interactions, and coaching may not seem worth the aggravation.

One might think that a successful program would have people eager to take it on - but Myhre argues that the opposite is the case. Expectations are very high for programs like Outlaws Volleyball.

"We can get a little spoiled where if you don't win a championship, you've underachieved," he said. "What coach wants to step into the expectations that are there?"

Scholl said that issues with recruitment and retention are not limited to the playing court or field. Teachers are facing similar pressures, and it's affecting the willingness of young people to go into the field - a topic which will be addressed in a future story.

Rush said she would like to see tighter protocols laid out by the athletic department and each coach. She wants to see restraint on constant, relentless access to the coach through email and texting, and sanctions for yelling at coaches and negative, derogatory commentary.

"We need to be able to hold parents accountable when they're out of line," she said.

Hilgers said that one critical area where parents have to show restraint is in making derogatory comments about coaches in front of their kids. That undermines a coach's standing and damages relationships and programs.

"What I would love to see is positive involvement from parents, and supporting your kid," he said.

Rush acknowledged that she is dealing with a significant health issue, but she said that was only a small part of the decision to step away from coaching. She feels a sense of loss at leaving the program and having an uncertain role in a volleyball community she's been part of for 30 years. She's not sure what's next for her.

"Volleyball was my go-to," she said. "It was everything to me. This has left a big hole for me, so I just don't know right now."

Myhre sees a lot at risk in the erosion of relationships and the spirit that make high school sports special:

"High school sports is the last sacred place that needs to be preserved for students to play a sport and have fun, and I don't know if that's possible anymore, to be honest."

Hilgers and Scholl said the school district is working on finding a new coach in the wake of a June resignation, and looking to support the program going forward.

Hilgers said that prospective coaches should recognize that coaching can be tough everywhere, and Sisters actually has a lot to recommend it in terms of a supportive community.

"You've got to know the community," he said. "It can be difficult at times, but it's also very supportive. I've never seen a community as supportive as Sisters in virtually everything."

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


Reader Comments(0)