by Mark Van Streefkerk
Sterling Carter, the new head coach of Cleveland STEM High School Boys Basketball Team, is no stranger to Seattle’s Metro League; in fact, he’s a product of it. He attended Rainier Beach High School before transferring to Franklin High as a sophomore. As a senior, the point guard was part of the Quakers’ 2009 championship team. Carter played division one basketball at Seattle University and Purdue, then went on to play professionally in Germany from 2015–2016.
“I got paid to play basketball,” Carter reflected. “A lot of these kids, that’s their aspiration, to get paid to play basketball. I get to teach and help these young men become not only better basketball players, but better individuals. I get to guide them in the right direction of how to make those dreams come true. Not everyone is going to go play professional, but everyone will have an opportunity to go off and play college basketball. That’s my job as a coach, to make sure I give these kids everything I possibly can to get them to push on to the next level.”
After his return from Germany, Carter started a youth basketball program for Fife High School, then became the assistant coach at the University at Puget Sound in 2017, where his team advanced to the playoffs. In 2018 he became the head coach at Yelm High School, taking a team with a 0-20 record to an 8-12 record in his second year. “I feel like I built a good culture there,” Carter said. “My biggest thing was having the kids believe that they can beat whoever, just because of how hard they worked. I’m big on that.”
That particular experience will come in handy when Carter takes the helm for the Eagles, who finished 3-16 last year and 8-12 the year before. Athletic Director Jon Hughes said Cleveland’s goal is to become competitive in the Metro League, “one of the strongest basketball leagues on the West Coast.” But he also affirmed that the school’s real focus is on academics and college preparedness. “Cleveland has the highest graduation rate in all of [Seattle Public Schools]. We are super proud of that,” he said.
In their search for a head coach, Cleveland formed a hiring committee of parents, student athletes, teachers, coaches and staff led by assistant principal Ray Garcia-Morales. COVID-19 caused some delays while candidates were virtually interviewed. Ultimately it was Carter’s professional experience, familiarity with the Metro League, and record of building up youth as strong individuals as well as athletes that led to him getting the position. “His roots in South Seattle and him wanting to come back here and make a difference was the cherry on the top,” Hughes added.
A visual learner himself, Carter instructs as a player-coach. He invests in getting on the court and showing his team firsthand, and “not just yelling at them.” What remains to be seen, however, is what coaching in the time of COVID-19 will look like. Hughes says the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and the Metro League are working together on guidelines for when schools are allowed to resume normal activities. “Our Athletic Trainer Alejandro Gamboa is working on protocols and guidelines that we plan to share with our fall coaches very soon,” Hughes said.
“It is too early to say what it might look like regarding social distancing, etc., but it will definitely be different. Right now Coach Carter is working hard on reaching out to families and students virtually.”
Whatever the potential COVID-19-related obstacles might be, Carter is excited to return to South Seattle as a coach, giving back to the community that helped propel him to greatness. “Growing up, I was told that I wouldn’t make it as far as I have,” he said. “I’m the living witness that with just a little bit of hard work, and belief and faith, you can get where you want to go.”
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South-Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured image: Hailing from South Seattle, Carter says coaching the Eagles “gives me the opportunity to give back, give back knowledge, give back time. Time that was put into me I get to give the same to other kids, and the next generation.” (Photo Credits: Purdue photo by John Underwood / Seattle University photo by Dawn Wilson.)