Play it Smart - Academic Coaches Make it Work

Darren Witcher wakes up at 4:30 a.m. for his job as a project manager at Boeing. He does this so he can leave early in the afternoon to hustle over to Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School, where he’s been the academic coach for 7 years.

Darren Witcher, from his UW Husky Days
Darren Witcher, from his UW days

There, he mentors his kids off the field, as well as on. He’s also the defensive coordinator for the football team, which went to the state semifinals last season.

Witcher’s tireless schedule requires the kind of discipline he hopes will rub off on his student-athletes. He learned that discipline at the University of Washington, where he had to balance academics with athletics. He played safety for the Huskies.

Witcher has created a culture of achievement at Rainier Beach. “We have a 100 percent rate of graduation for our students involved in Play It Smart,” he says. "And nearly every senior on our football team that has wanted to play football at the next level—more than 98 percent—has done so. That includes junior college, D-III, D-II and D-I programs.”

Like all academic coaches, Witcher wears many hats. He’s a mentor, a counselor, an advocate and a trusted confidant. He challenges his kids to grow as students and citizens. And he’s there for them every step of the way, giving them the support and guidance they need to succeed.

“We put structure into the academic program, and introduced a study table and tutors. And we saw big improvements with our kids,” Witcher explains. “Each year, our grade point average and SAT and ACT scores have risen.”

Read more about Play It Smart.

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