Kentlake swim coach killed in plane crash | Update

Kentlake High swim coach Seth Dawson, 31, was one of three people who were on a plane that crashed in the early morning hours of Feb. 15 near North Bend, according to the swim club he worked for, Valley Aquatics Swim Team.

Kentlake High swim coach Seth Dawson, 31, was one of three people who were on a plane that crashed in the early morning hours of Feb. 15 near North Bend, according to the swim club he worked for, Valley Aquatics Swim Team.

According to the Reporter’s sister publication the Federal Way Mirror, Decatur swim coach Rob Hill, 30, was also a victim. Elizabeth Redling, 29, of Federal Way, was the third victim killed in the accident, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Bruce Rick, athletic director and assistant principal at Kentlake, said he got a call the afternoon of Feb. 15 from Kentwood principal Doug Hostetter.

Dawson had recently started working as a paraeducator at Kentwood so Hostetter told Rick about the plane crash.

Authorities had found a bag of Dawson’s personal belongings at the Renton Airport, including his ID badge for Kentwood, so they called the high school.

“He had not shown up for work or called in, which was not like Seth,” Rick said. “At that point we started sharing information back and forth. They were trying to locate family members to get some clarity whether or not Seth was on the plane.”

At the end of the day on Feb. 15, Rick and Kentlake principal Joe Potts decided to meet with Suzanne Rychlik, who had suggested Dawson for the boys swim coach position when it came open in 2010, because they knew she was close to him and hoped she might be able to connect them with Dawson’s family.

From there into the next morning, Kentlake officials and district staff learned about what happened through the same means everyone else did, but word began to spread rapidly over social media sites such as Facebook by the morning of Feb. 16.

“We had a number of parents (of swimmers), probably six or seven, show up,” Rick said. “The original group that showed up, we hadn’t called them out of class. When it became obvious to us that we had some very distraught students we then acted to pull them all out so they could be together and we could help them out.”

At that time the district was awaiting for the official confirmation to come from the King County Medical Examiners office and was trying to be respectful of the privacy of the families of the victims of the crash, Rick explained.

Rick said staff had encouraged all of the school’s swimmers to attend the state meet at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way to support Falcon swimmer Erik Fulmer as well as represent Kentlake and honor Dawson.

“The kids put messages on a big banner that we’re going to take down there and hopefully hang up,” Rick said.

Dawson was in his second season of coaching the Falcons boys swim and dive team. The plane crash occurred two days before the 4A state boys swim and dive championships.

In the fall he took over the girls squad.

Hiring a swim coach is a difficult proposition, Rick said, because practices and competition take place off campus and after school when administrators don’t have the opportunity to supervise the program.

“You really need to hire someone you can trust to run the program without supervision,” Rick said. “Not only did Seth take care of that aspect of it, he was a great teacher of mechanics on how to be an exceptional swimmer

He had coached everybody from the elite to swimmers who were turning out for their first year. He gave everybody equal time.”

During a meet at the end of the regular season for the boys team, Rick said, he watched Dawson encourage a swimmer who was likely going to finish last in the event yet the coach was right there on the pool deck cheering the young man on every stroke.

“Seth was always involved and always encouraging the kids regardless of where they stood

that was one of the first impressions I got when I first hired him last year,” Rick said. “I remember going out to a practice and the parents were amazed at how hard he pushed the kids. Yet nobody quit and that’s a real tip of the hat to some of the relationships he built. Kids that turned out for him stayed out even though he pushed them to their limits.”

Kentlake’s girls swim team took third place at state, the best finish in school history, in November under Dawson’s leadership.

Dawson was particularly pleased with the way the season ended for the girls in November.

“This means a lot to the team, the girls worked very hard this year and everyone contributed something to the team’s success,” Dawson wrote in an email after the girls state swim meet. “I think the key to winning the trophy was perseverance. The kids never gave up, they kept swimming hard and all of our relay’s really stepped up, we had some really great swims and scored points in all three relays. I was very proud of our kids and their accomplishments.”

When he took over the boys program, he was the fourth coach in four seasons, but Dawson intended to stop the revolving door he told the Reporter in November 2010.

“I plan to be here a long time,” Dawson said in November 2010 after his first practice with the boys team.

Dawson grew up in Vancouver, Wash., where he swam at Hudson’s Bay High before competing on scholarship at California State University at Bakersfield, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and sports management.

In 2009 Dawson was coaching boys and girls high school swim in Corbett, Oregon, but decided he wanted to move closer to home and took a position with Valley Aquatics, a club team where he coached 10 to 14 year olds.

His supervisor with VAST worked at Kentlake and encouraged him to apply for the open position during the fall of 2010.

“I really enjoy working with kids,” he told the Reporter in November 2010. “When you’re on a big club team, it’s more about the individual. But with high school, it’s a team sport and the kids are helping each other. And I enjoy being a mentor.”

Members of the swim teams were provided with extra support at Kentlake Thursday morning as the news began to spread.

Edward Lee Vargas, superintendent of the Kent School District, sent out a message Thursday night to district staff.

Vargas explained in the message that Dawson had recently been hired as a paraeducator at Kentwood High.

“He was 31 years old and leaves behind family, friends, colleagues, and students who will miss him deeply,” Vargas wrote. “This tragedy will impact many in our community, and schools are prepared to make sure our students and colleagues that feel this loss will receive the support they need. Please join me in remembering Seth, his family, and the other victims in your thoughts and prayers.”

VAST released a statement about Dawson and his fellow club coach, Rob Hill, to the media on Thursday. The full statement is below.

“Valley Aquatics is deeply saddened by the loss of our two beloved coaches, Seth Dawson and Rob Hill, who tragically lost their lives in a plane crash in the early morning hours of February 15th.

“Both Seth and Rob were amazing coaches, sons, brothers, uncles, and friends. They dedicated their lives to being positive role models to countless swimmers. They constantly went above and beyond the call of duty and truly helped shape Valley Aquatics to being more than just a swim team, but a family. Many of our swimmers describe both Seth and Rob as their ‘Heroes’.

“They both had the unique ability to find the hidden talents in their swimmers and make them shine, whether those talents were in the pool or in another arena of life. They led by example and brought a sense of purpose to the lives of many.

“Our hearts go out to their family and friends of all three victims as they make sense of this tragedy. We, as a team, are struggling to make sense of it and ask of it as well and ask for a little privacy as we work to heal the hearts of many swimmers, young and old.”