Tavis Crittenden began his coaching career with five competitive boys basketball seasons at Waitsburg High School from 2012-13 through 2016-17.

He followed that up as a boys assistant to Jordon Poynor at McLoughlin High School for three seasons.

Now, after receiving approval from the Milton-Freewater School Board at its meeting on June 15, Crittenden has assumed the role of head coach for the Pioneers’ program.

“He has been a phenomenal role model for our students,” Mac-Hi principal Mario Uribe Saldana said in a district-wide email. “I am pleased to have him be the new head coach. I am excited for boys basketball.”

Crittenden had just one losing season at Waitsburg — his first year at the helm.

“We had a young team — all sophomores,” Crittenden said. “But they worked hard and (as time went on) got a lot better.

“We were always in the top half of the league,” Crittenden said. “It was a great community with great kids and a great administration. I had a lot of fun there.”

A combine split with Prescott in 2015-16, reaching the 2016-17 district championship game, and coaching two all-state players — Owen Lanning (‘14-’15) and Kyle Gradwohl (‘16-’17) — headlined Crittenden’s east-of-Walla Walla stay.

Crittenden left Waitsburg to teach at Mac-Hi.

“It was an easy transition because I’ve lived there most of my life,” Crittenden said.

Crittenden said his three years as Mac-Hi’s assistant coach went well.

“It was good to take a step back,” Crittenden said. “It was great to get to know the kids and build relationships. Jordon is a good friend of mine.

“It was nice to help him.”

The high-water mark occurred in 2018-19 when the Pioneers reached the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

“We had a little bit of depth and size,” Crittenden said. “We had great senior leadership (from Alexis Pio, Alexis Perez, and Zach Hodgen). They were strong leaders and hard workers who put their emphasis into Mac-Hi basketball.

“We beat La Grande twice that year,” Crittenden said. “We competed well in the state game against Stayton. They had two 6-foot-8 guys that both played in the all-state game and four-year colleges.”

Crittenden is a 1997 graduate of Long Creek (Ore.) High School — near John Day — where he played football, basketball, baseball, and participated in track.

He lettered in the first three sports for four years and was a three-time all-conference performer in football. Crittenden was named to both basketball and baseball all-conference teams twice.

Crittenden earned a history degree from Oregon State University in 2003.

He worked in the insurance and investment fields for 10 years before starting his education career.

Crittenden claimed a master’s degree in teaching in 2017 from Eastern Oregon University.

“I realized through coaching that teaching was my passion,” Crittenden said.

As excited as he is to get started, Crittenden is aware of the potential limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re not going to have a traditional summer,” Crittenden said. “That puts us a little behind. Hopefully we can salvage something at the end of the summer and follow whatever protocols the district and state implement.”

Crittenden sees the upcoming campaign as “interesting.”

“We have two kids — Hector Castillo and Isaac Earls — that have played varsity minutes,” Crittenden said. “We’re young and inexperienced, and will have to learn on the go. We have talent. We’ll have to harness it fast and get going right away.

“The kids are willing to put in the time and effort into the team and not themselves,” Crittenden said. “It will be fun to coach them and get after it.”

Roy Elia can be reached

at royelia@wwub.com.