Cambrian: Opinion

Coast 3-sport athlete hopes to enter the political arena

As a sophomore, Riley Kennedy hit .322 for the Coast Union baseball team.
As a sophomore, Riley Kennedy hit .322 for the Coast Union baseball team.

In the nine years I’ve been reporting on the athletic activities, academic accomplishments and the career interests of Coast Union scholars, I never had a student athlete mention aspiring to a career in politics.

That is, until I sat down for a dialogue with Riley Kennedy in mid-December at a sandwich shop in the West Village. Indeed, if Kennedy’s career goals come to fruition, in roughly five years the three-sport, 16-year-old Bronco could be in a position to qualify for an internship in the halls of Congress.

“Hopefully I will study political science at Notre Dame or Georgetown. A lot of internships come out of Georgetown University. Working my way up by interning for a senator or representative — I’d like to do that and get into politics.”

Coast Union sports

Kennedy began the football season as a receiver but he was switched to quarterback after the first game. The team was raw, young and “had a lot of new kids come in who hadn’t played football before,” Kennedy explained.

Hence, the first games were embarrassing blowouts as Coast was dominated by more experienced teams from bigger schools. The combined scores of those five uneven games: 279-31.

Notwithstanding those drubbings, “people kept their heads up,” Kennedy recalled. “We said, ‘OK, that’s fine, we’re going to work harder next week, and we’re going to play better in our next game.’

“We knew we were going to get better,” he said, remembering those long bus rides home as moments when the players “would start off kind of solemn, but after a while, we would talk about getting better, about working hard. There was no point dwelling on our mistakes; we needed to learn from them.”

In hindsight, while Kennedy was in a leadership position as signal-caller, he said Warren Smith, the senior lineman, was truly the team leader.

“Warren was a great player and a great captain. He really inspired everybody,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy clearly enjoyed responding to questions during this interview. He eagerly awaited each query, and paused briefly before answering to think through his replies, as bright young people are known to do.

As a boy, Kennedy was encouraged by his parents to participate in sports. “Absolutely — my dad’s a big sports guy, and my mom’s very supportive. I played as many sports as I could. … I was doing soccer at 4 years of age, T-ball at 5 and basketball around the same time.”

Kennedy’s three sports

Of the three Coast Union sports he participates in — football, basketball and baseball — which is his favorite?

“It’s whatever sport I’m playing at the time,” he said. “Right now, it’s basketball, two months ago it was football, and in three months it will be baseball.”

He gets “super pumped up” no matter what sport he’s involved with.

“I love them all so much that it’s hard to pick just one.” Because Kennedy’s three coaches — Thom Holt in football, Tim May in basketball and Brian Machado in baseball — are significantly dissimilar personalities, the 5-foot-11 junior was asked whether it’s the player’s job to adjust to the coach’s style, or the coach’s duty to relate to players on an individual basis.

I love them all so much that it’s hard to pick just one.

Riley Kennedy on the three varsity sports he plays at Coast Union

“It’s a little bit of both,” he answered. “As a player, you have to play to the coach, because if you don’t, it’s just not going to work. As a coach, you need coachable players to have a successful team. But if you’re so stubborn that you’re not willing to help individual players, to have a little wiggle room to help them out individually, that won’t work either.”

As a football quarterback, Kennedy said, he needs to lower his shoulders while carrying the ball: “I like to hit guys. I like making contact with guys. But I have a habit of standing up straight when I run. I need to get better at that.”

In basketball, Kennedy said he needs to work on his shooting, his passing and his dribbling: “I also need to work on defense. I’m not one of the scorers so my job is getting rebounds.” When asked about his best shot, Kennedy smiled: “I don’t actually know. It’s probably something I should know,” he said, sharing a laugh with his interviewer.

As a sophomore last year — the family moved to Cambria from the Lake Arrowhead area in 2015 — Kennedy played solid defense on the baseball team and hit a respectable .322. He scored 19 runs in 19 games, had 19 hits and drove in 10 runs.

The Kennedy clan

It’s apparent that the Kennedy clan — including Riley’s cousins Connor (class of 2011) and MacKenzie Cunningham (2009), both gifted and accomplished student athletes at Coast Union — has the right stuff to accomplish impressive things academically and athletically.

Kennedy’s sister Ellie played varsity volleyball as a freshman in 2016 — a rarity for coach Pam Kenyon’s team.

“It’s been many years since we have had a freshman make the varsity program,” Kenyon wrote in an email interview. “Ellie is tall, has a great hang time for blocking, has what seems to be an innate understanding of the game and has contributed as a kill and blocking leader for us.”

Riley said his sister was a bit raw in volleyball until last summer, when Ellie received hands-on skill instructions from Kenyon and junior varsity coach Jeff Smith. “She improved so much, and when I saw her playing last fall, I was like, ‘Wow, she deserves to be out there,’ ” her brother explained.

One of Riley’s younger brothers, Caiden, a sixth-grader, is “an amazing ball player,” according to Caiden’s Little League coach, Gary Stephenson. “He’s smart at the plate, smart on the bases, and he’s one of the most fearless infielders I’ve seen on the Reds,” Stephenson added.

Asked what legacy he would like to leave at Coast Union, Riley Kennedy said, “Best-case scenario is to bring a CIF banner to the school. Short of that, I want to help the young players, too. Help them to be better and keep school sports going.”

In order to fulfill his dreams of interning for an elected official in Congress — as a giant step toward assembling a political career of his own — Kennedy will need to embrace the same approach (“super pumped up”) toward university academics that he practices today running and passing the football, grabbing rebounds, and smacking a line drive base hit that brings home the winning run.

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s column appears biweekly and is special to The Cambrian. Email him at johnfitz44@gmail.com.

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