Sully Hester has retired as Woodinville’s soccer coach after 30 years of service. He quietly made the announcement early this summer that he would continue teaching art classes, but that his soccer days were done.
Multiple phone calls to Hester in recent days went unreturned. But as word of his retirement spread to former Woodinville players, some reflected on the impact he made on their lives.
Heather Thomas, currently a grad student at Seattle University, was at Woodinville from 2006 to 2009. Her teams reached the State Final 4 on three occasions, winning it all in 2007.
“I don’t like using the term favoritism, but I was definitely one of his favorites on the team,” Thomas said. “He was good at teaching girls off the field to be mature and to be the right type of player. Going into my senior year, we had been pretty successful, and a lot of girls can get big headed, which I can proudly say I did. I was goofing off at practice, and if he asked us to do something, I would make a smart comment. Everyone would laugh at it, but it wasn’t the very respectful and mature thing to do.
“He wasn’t rude with me, he just said to think about how you’re respecting those around you, because I wasn’t really thinking about the team. I went in and apologized to him about how I was treating him and how I was treating the players. From then on, he and I just had that kind of understanding relationship. We were on the same page with our goals. He was an interesting coach who knew a lot about soccer.”
While Hester could be a tough coach, he did allow Thomas some liberties. For instance, while the other girls called him Hester, Thomas referred to him by his first name.
“I was definitely the only person that called him Sully,” Thomas said. “He hated that. When I look back, it was kind of disrespectful.”
Emma Engen played for Woodinville from 2008 to 2010 and witnessed the banter between Hester and Thomas.
“Before every game it was like a tradition,” Engen said. “She would call him Sully, and he would get mad at her and they’d go back and forth. It was very similar to Jerry Seinfeld arguing with Kramer. It was a begrudging humor.”
Engen also expressed her own fond memories.
“It was a very tough kind of love,” she said. “We knew he would do anything for us. But on the other hand, he would make us run two miles if we lost a game. He always kept a positive attitude. He came up with weird little sayings that wouldn’t make sense. Instead of saying, ‘When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,’ he would say ‘Let’s grow lemons!’ It was weird, but it made sense coming from Hester.”
Engen also benefitted from her coach’s discipline.
“Hester made me very humble,” she said. “I was definitely a little bit of a diva my first year. I threw a temper tantrum and he put me in my place. I needed that.
“I thought I was entitled to start and I wasn’t. I walked on with an attitude. Hester took me off the roster for three games and told me I needed to lose the attitude. I was mad and then he gave me another two weeks on the bench. And then I went to him and apologized and our relationship really grew from there.
“To this day, in everything I do, I am able to check myself, thanks to his influence.”
In the past two years, Hester served as assistant coach to current head coach Nathan Davis.
“It was a shock to me, and I think it came as a shock to him too,” Davis said. “I don’t think he was ready to step down. What happened was there was an extra art class being offered after school and Sully wanted to teach that one. So that would make him ineligible to go to practices. He had to make the tough choice of picking up the extra art class or focusing on soccer, and he made the decision to focus on the art class.”