Dave Kemper sat at his computer on the afternoon of Dec. 31, 2016, and wrote a letter that he hoped to need three months later.
The newly-hired Ridgevue softball coach was preparing for his first season at the helm in the school’s first year of existence. He knew very little about most of players – or what he was getting himself into.
Once the team was formed he instructed each player to write one word on the outside of the envelope describing what it would take to reach the state tournament.
The envelope was taped to his white board all season long at Ridgevue High School until he put it in his bag for the 4A District III Tournament.
“When we beat Vallivue in districts to qualify for state, I opened it up and read it to them,” Kemper said.
The letter was Ridgevue’s itinerary for the state tournament in Post Falls.
For Kemper’s leadership and belief in his program, he’s the Idaho Press-Tribune’s 2016-2017 Sports Stars Girls Coach of the Year.
“That was really, really cool,” senior Skylar Morris said of the preseason letter. “It showed he had faith in us before we were even together as a team. He knew we’d do great things, which is really cool.”
Kemper’s belief in his young group – the team only had three seniors and seven of the 12 players were freshmen – paid off in a big way. The Warhawks went 22-9-2 and advanced all the way to the state title game in the program’s first year.
“I think the biggest issue was we’ve had a built in excuse since day one,” said Kemper, who previously coached select softball during the summer and was the JV coach at Capital. “We’re a brand new school and nobody was expecting us to do anything. On Nov. 15 I told our girls that excuse doesn’t apply to us.
“They bought in and they believed and we became a team.”
Ridgevue nearly did the unthinkable and finished as state champions. They advanced all the way to the title game from the winners bracket, but suffered back-to-back losses to Middleton.
In the winner-take-all finale, Ridgevue was one strike from a state championship when the Vikings scored two runs on a walk-off single for a 3-2 win.
“It was a tough way to lose, but I was so proud,” Kemper said. “When I got to school on that Monday I saw Dr. Yamamoto (principal) an walked in with her and she said how proud she was of us, and the students in my class were happy for us. That’s kind of when it hit home and sank in that we had accomplished something special.”
And the memorable season wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of Kemper, who motivated his players in a way that will stick with them for a long time.
“What I love about his coaching is that he’s so honest," pitcher Gracie Walters said. “Yeah it’ll hurt here and there, but he made us so much better by being honest and telling us what to do. It made us all work that much harder. He’s a great coach who knows what he’s doing."
The results proved that.