Celebrating Reardan football

By Matthew O. Stephens

REARDAN – Tradition runs strong in the Reardan football program, and on April 23 at 6 p.m. the Reardan Booster Club is hosting an event in Smith Gym to invite the community out to celebrate the accomplishments of three coaches over a 50 plus-year span, and welcome the new coach into the position.

Coaches Gene Smith who served from 1969-1992, Dan Graham from 1993-2003, and Eric Nikkola who coached from 2004 through the end of 2021 will all be recognized for their dedication to the program.
“It’s really a way to honor those three coaches because it’s rare to have coaches stick around that long,” said booster club board member Krissi Bell. “So that’s why we’re wanting to honor them, and they are three living legends in Reardan.”

Bell described how each coach had followed in the steps of their predecessors to continue to program tradition.

from left to right: Coach Gene Smith, Coach Eric Nikkola and Coach Dan Graham.

“Over the last 50 years they are the only three to have coached Reardan football,” Bell said. “Each one basically working under the other and becoming the head coach. So, Coach Smith had Dan Graham on his staff, and then Graham took over. Eric Nikkola then worked under Coach Graham and took over in 2004.”

The coaches all put up good numbers during their time as well. Smith ended with a record of 138 wins and 75 losses in 24 seasons, while Graham produced a winning record over 11 seasons. Eric Nikkola was at the helm for 18 seasons, and ended with a record of 117-61 when he retired last year.

Former Coach Eric Nikkola said it means a lot to him, and to the other previous coaches.

“Yeah, it’s quite an honor,” said former coach Eric Nikkola. “There aren’t many programs that can claim that kind of longevity.”

Nikkola described a couple of high points in his career, and how his team won the state championship during his second year as coach. He attributes that accomplishment to the kids overperforming and working extremely hard as a team.

“We weren’t the most athletic and we weren’t the most talented,” Nikkola said. “As a group put together though, those kids could play football.”

Bell explained that Coach Smith was the longest acting coach and is also in the Washington Basketball Hall of Fame with over 500 wins. That is one reason the gymnasium is named after him. Smith served as a coach for both programs, and as a teacher simultaneously during his career.

She continued by describing how the tradition will be carried on through the newly named head coach, Matt Clouse who will be the fourth coach to represent Reardan football. According to Bell, Clouse was a Reardan football player under Coach Graham and then ended up working under Coach Nikkola, so he is very well versed in the way the team has been run. Clouse has also coached the junior varsity team.

Former coach Nikkola explained that Clouse has been the team’s defensive coordinator for over 10 years as well, and that he anticipates a continuation of good things for the program.

“Matt realizes there are some things we have run for the last 50 years that we have to continue to run,” Nikkola said. “But he has his own ideas on how to run that offense, such as spreading things out a bit. But there are plays that have been in our book for over 50 years, and you just don’t throw those out. There were kids that learned those plays in the 1970’s, and as adults can recognize them when the team runs them now.”

Bell said she has been familiar with the coaches since she was in high school, and coach Graham was running the show then. Her interest in community connectivity has grown as she has lived in the small rural town, and has since become directly involved with fundraising for the athletic programs.

“My son is also in the program,” she said. “He will be a junior next season and played under coach Nikkola and now Coach Clouse.”

Bell explained the booster club helps host events in hopes to help raise funds for different needs the school sporting programs may have, and that is another reason this event was organized.

Salish Smoke is a local barbecue club that was organized by the Reardan Future Farmers of America director, and consists of students that will be providing the food. Some of the menu items will be pulled pork, smoked sausage, Caesar’s salads, coleslaw, desserts, and more.

Commemorative shirts will also be available to purchase at the event, and those are being made by Jack Hammer Productions according to Bell.

Bell said they anticipate at least 200 guests, but hope for the entire football community to come out and help them celebrate. Tickets are on sale now, and can be found at Highline Grain Growers or at the school district office.

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