Going Varsity with Vandal Pride
Kamiah Joint School District honors U of I alumna Leah York for 25 years of dedication to coaching
It’s not much of a stretch to say that Leah York has two passions: Sports. And being a Vandal.
“All my brothers and sister went to U of I, and my son just graduated from U of I. We’re pretty much a Vandal family,” said the Kamiah native, who earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education and biology in 1985 from what is now the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.
In fact, her sister, Nancy (Wicks) Dahlquist, was among the second class of people to be inducted into the Vandal Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008 in honor of her performance as a volleyball player.
York didn’t play volleyball while working toward her degree (“I’m 5 foot 4,” she said, laughing — her sister is around 6 feet tall), but has since led countless student-athletes from the sidelines as a coach in the Kamiah Joint School District.
In October, the district honored York, who is also the head teacher at Kamiah Middle School, for reaching a milestone of 25 years as the coach of the varsity volleyball team at Kamiah High School.
In addition to a family tradition of Vandals, York also comes from a family tradition of teachers. Her parents were both teachers, and going to college was never a question for York or her siblings. York’s older brother went first, and she visited him at his fraternity several times during high school.
Upon graduation, she knew that she would be a Vandal, too.
“That’s just where you went in our family,” York said. She also joined the Greek system and was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta.
Dedicated to Education
After graduating in 1986, York returned to Kamiah and settled into teaching. Always passionate about sports, she began coaching the junior varsity volleyball team before taking over the varsity coaching job in 1993.
“I’ve always been really active and played volleyball in high school,” York said. “When I first started teaching, I coached three sports. One year, I started in the fall in volleyball, then junior high basketball, then junior high volleyball, and track, and then softball. One year I coached four sports.”
Off the court, York teaches life sciences, physical education and health. This year, she’s teaching seventh-grade science and health as well as seventh- and eighth-grade P.E. at Kamiah.
“Leah has the same no nonsense and hard work attitude in the classroom as she does on the volleyball court. This is what why the kids respect her,” said Peggy Flerchinger, principal at Kamiah High School.
York also serves as the district’s athletic director.
“I really love the relationships you make with the kids that you’re coaching,” York said. “You just connect with them on a different place and it carries over to the classroom.”
Her students agree.
“She always believed me in when I was down and out and she pushed me to achieve my goals and get better,” said Makenna Jagow. York coached Jagow from 2011-2017, as well as taught her in class. Jagow is now a freshman in U of I’s College of Science. “I had her for a teacher for physical science and biology and I would say she’s an amazing teacher because now I’m majoring in biology.”
Always a Vandal
Some of her biggest life events have involved coaching her teams. Like the birth of her son, Reed, 23, who graduated from the College of Business & Economics in spring 2017.
“The second year I coached, I was pregnant, and I went into labor the first day of the season,” she said. “I had to leave practice and say, ‘Girls, I’m going to have to go have a baby now.’”
But even that didn’t slow her down. After a few weeks of help from her sister Nancy, York was back and finished the season. “And I think we got second that year,” she joked.
Through it all, she remains a devoted Vandal. Co-workers and students will even try to prank her by placing rival institutions’ gear in her classroom.
“It doesn’t stay long,” she said.
In 2007, York received her master’s degree in education from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction through an online program geared toward working teachers.
“It has really helped me in my teaching,” York said of earning the advanced degree. “It gave me ideas for different curriculum in the sciences and ways to find different activities and projects for the kids. It helped to make me a better teacher, giving me tools to improve my classroom.”
She and her husband, Duane, visit Moscow often for games and events, and were in town for homecoming.
“I loved my time at U of I — It was probably the best years of my life. It feels big to Kamiah kids, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s a nice big family up there. I still feel so welcome when I go back up there. I push the Vandals, it’s a great school. For the money it costs to go up there, you can’t find anything better.”
Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications & Marketing