A cordless power drill buzzes as Kyle Sprague, Centralia High School’s assistant basketball coach, unscrews Christmas-themed billboards lining Fort Borst Park as Centralia senior football player Paris Chavez lifts them into the back of a pickup truck.
Further down the road next to the pond, Centralia Athletic, Activities and Facilities Foundation (CAAFF) President Jeff Thummel and his young son, Evan Thummel, roll up strands of Christmas lights while younger son, Max Thummel, clips the zip-ties holding the lights to stakes in the ground.
It’s part of a collective effort by Centralia High School coaches, a few players from the baseball and football teams and a couple members of CAAFF Monday morning to help the City of Centralia take down the Borst Park Drive-Thru Light Display.
It started two years ago when the school district and city decided to team up to help the gargantuan task of retrieving the annual Christmas lights display at the park that brought in over 22,000 visitors in 2019. That first year it was about 10 coaches who helped out.
“The idea behind it the first year was to get some adults here to get some type of routine or tradition established and then start adding our athletes as we move on,” Centralia Athletic Director Scott Chamberlain said.
This year, the school district was able to bring out a few players as well. Brady Sprague, who plays golf and baseball, helped unscrew the signs, while Chavez, who’s getting looks from several college football programs, hoisted them into the back of a truck.
It’s the perfect way to get the kids involved, Chamberlain said, as many of them drove through the three-week display with their families.
“Our kids aren’t getting to do much fun stuff these days,” Chamberlain said. “It’s just one day, put some grunt work in and then it’s over. It doesn’t take a lot of time and planning.”
Centralia football coach Jeremy Thibault said this is a small way to give back to the community. It helps the city not have to pay anyone to take the lights down, and it keeps the price of admission for future light displays affordable for everyone.
He hopes to get more of his football players out here next year to help, and said it was difficult getting them here this year with no football going on and not seeing them in school every day. That, coupled with a bunch of them working while also taking classes, made it hard to get them out here. The baseball team alone has five players who work jobs right now. Most of the coaching staff work jobs outside the school, so they couldn’t take the time off to help either.
“Hopefully this grows bigger and more coaches and kids come out,” Thibault said. “I think it’s important younger kids know you can volunteer. I come drive through here, take my kids, and Chamberlain says, ‘here’s an opportunity to give back’ so here we are.”
This is all part of a bigger message Centralia athletics is trying to send to its kids and athletes. Five years ago, Chamberlain and the coaches came together to figure out what exactly it meant to be a Centralia Tiger and Yellowjacket. They started looking at what their core principles and goals were. One of those was serving the community.
“That’s important for a couple reasons, obviously, because our community gives to us,” Chamberlain said. “These kids go out, knock on doors, ask for sponsorships and sell Gold Cards. And people continue to support them, so it’s their chance to say, ‘Thank you.’
“The second part is hopefully those kids go out, do what they need to do and come back to our community. They have a connection here.”