The story of the Lummi Blackhawk football team is one of the best anywhere at any level. In 1998 Coach Jim Sandusky had just finished a 14 year career as a receiver in the NFL and the Canadian Football League and moved with his family to Ferndale, an area between Bellingham, Washington and the Canadian border. Jim was coaching his son and his friends and when he realized the shortage of fields; Jim built one on his own property. When he found out that some of his players who attended the Lummi Nation School did not have a high school team, with his support, he started one in 2002. The following year, 3 days before the high school season was to begin, Jim got a call and was told that the head coach, principal and superintendent had all left and several parents of former players called and asked him to step in.
Since 2003 Jim has been the athletic director, grounds keeper, trainer, equipment manager and a combination of a demanding and loving coach at the school. The first several years his team practiced and played on “Sandman Field?. At his first team meeting 3 players showed up. In a short time that expanded to 15. The first year the team did not win a game. A positive, tireless worker and motivator, Jim never stopped promoting football and the life lessons it can teach. “A rich guy coming to Lummi was pretty surprising, especially a pro football player. It was pretty cool that he let us play in his front yard?, one of his players said.
Not everything was smooth because the boys liked playing but didn’t care for the disciplines of practice or attending class. Some adults in the Lummi Nation were naturally skeptical about having someone from outside their culture coaching their sons. Throw into that, few if any of his players had ever even put on a football uniform, much less understood the terminology, strategies or complexities of the game.
By year two the Blackhawks had improved to 4 – 5 and barely missed the B-8 football playoffs. In year three they were 9-1 and averaged 45 points a game with his wide open offense (as you can imagine a former receiver would have). The teams have had consistent success being in the playoffs six of the last seven years culminating with a 1B state championship in 2010.
The football team has energized the entire community and a changed school has been the result. A school that had 11 principals in 14 years, and an extremely high dropout rate has dramatically changed. A spectacular new 24 million dollar school now has over 400 students in grades K through 12 and is spotless and rich in Lummi culture. There is also a beautiful new football field on campus. Principal Heather Leighton is a strong and respected leader who matches Sandusky’s drive, energy and passion to develop a first rate school in every sense. The highest award an athlete can receive at Lummi is the “Blackhawk Award?. It is given those players who have taken the lessons from sport and applied them into their lives. It is based upon effort and attitude in the classroom and on the field.
In the Lummi Nation, the present is being celebrated and the future is filled with challenges but also with hope. Coach Sandusky is a humble, caring man who has broken down cultural barriers and changed young lives through a sport he loves. The courage, selflessness, integrity and humility demonstrated by his teams are a direct reflection of their coach.