It just made sense. After Rex Ashmore retired as Centralia’s baseball coach in May following an eight-year run with the Tigers, there was one assistant who had been with him since day one. Heck, he’d even played under Ashmore while playing for the Tigers back in the late 90s. Adam Riffe.
Riffe has been the Tigers’ assistant coach for the past eight years, arriving the same time Ashmore returned to take over the helm after coaching at Adna. So when Ashmore hung up his hat, Riffe was the no-brainer to take over. Athletic Director Scott Chamberlain approached Riffe and asked if he was interested in the job, telling him other people were interested in the job as well.
Riffe had been wanting to be a head coach for quite a few years, but also enjoyed the coaching staff he was working with under Ashmore. That led him to stick with the Tigers as an assistant these past eight years, rather than pursue other head coaching jobs.
Chamberlain awarded his dedication, officially hiring Riffe as the Tigers’ new head coach on Nov. 17.
He is currently a fitness teacher at Centralia Middle School and is the middle school’s football and basketball coach as well. Now he’ll take over the varsity baseball team that’s seen plenty of recent success, which includes a state championship in 2015, five state regional appearances and a 100-65 record the last eight seasons.
“Centralia has always had that strong baseball program and that’s what I hope to continue,” Riffe said. “There’s not going to be a whole lot of change, and it’s fortunate because I know all the players. They’ll have that regular routine, maybe just not quite so much yelling like Rex did.”
Riffe’s road to coaching began after graduating from Centralia High School in 1998, where he was an all-league pitcher and infielder. He was asked to play for Bruce Pocklington at Centralia College, but just before fall ball was about to start, Riffe was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Months of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and a long rehab put him behind when it came to baseball. The toll was too much and Riffe’s baseball career came to a halt. He decided to instead focus on college and breaking into volunteer coaching.
“It was tough,” Riffe said. “You learn a lot of things, too, when you’re put in that situation. You kind of put things into perspective. You put things above baseball, which at 18, I really didn’t have things above sports until that happened. Then you put family, friends and life situations ahead of athletics. That really puts things into perspective. You lost a lot but you also gain a lot in the process.”
While one could certainly become discouraged during a battle with cancer, Riffe used his family, friends and connections as motivations to persevere. The relationships he built throughout high school and with coaches, those were the people who were there for him, checking on him every single day to see how he was progressing through treatment.
“It was just a constant morale boost for ya,” Riffe said. “You only get those relationships through athletics. Friendships and building relationships, that’s what kept me going. There are downtimes, but when you have those people that come and visit you on a daily basis, it motivates you to push through it.”
Now he’ll take his life lessons and try to translate them to on-the-field and off-the-field success with his players. Last season ended just after it started in March. The Tigers were able to squeeze in one doubleheader with Timberline on March 15, the day before the season was canceled for good. Still, it was more games than most teams in the state were able to play.
Riffe has had this year’s team working out during the open-practice period, training in two pods of six, sharpening their fundamentals. The new indoor practice restrictions placed by Gov. Jay Inslee and the WIAA on Nov. 15, put a halt on indoor practices until at least Dec. 14, which will prevent the Tigers from using the batting cages for now. Now it’s kind of hit-or-miss getting kids outside with the rain of fall weather arriving.
The Tigers are senior-heavy this year, with 11 turning out to play. Riffe just hopes they get a chance and the season isn’t canceled again like last spring. Baseball season is tentatively scheduled to run April 26 to June 12, depending on if COVID-19 levels are low enough to meet the WIAA’s guidelines for playing.
“I’m really excited about the kids playing,” Riffe said. “My heart still breaks for last year’s seniors. But I’m also excited about these current seniors. These individuals have been working out throughout the year since last year. I’m excited about their dedication and commitment. I’ve got to give them the same.”