ARLINGTON — With high school sports becoming more and more competitive, it’s increasingly rare when an athlete has the opportunity to lead their team to a state championship. With the effort, dedication and practice required to advance to state in a single sport, it’s even more rare that an athlete has the opportunity to advance in three sports.
This year at Arlington High School, senior A.J. Passalacqua managed just that — leading his teams to state in football, basketball and track and field — all while succeeding academically.
“This year is the first time I’ve actually gone to state at all,” said Passalacqua. “I was so fortunate to be able to go three times in one year.”
Passalacqua has been playing football for 10 years, starting with the Arlington Youth Football Association. At AHS, he competed on the freshman football team in his first year and was selected to play on the varsity team at the end of the season.
“I was on varsity in my sophomore year, and incorporated onto the special teams,” said Passalacqua, who plays both as a tight end and a punter. “My junior year is when I took a major part on the team.”
His influence on the field only deepened each year.
“Honestly, there were so many good kids in the class above me that I wanted to prove myself,” said Passalacqua, who was a captain of the team. “I was stepping into a role that wasn’t supposed to be mine at the beginning of the season, and filling that role.”
The Eagles qualified for the postseason and fought Camas in the first round of the WIAA 4A Football Championships at Doc Harris Stadium on Nov. 10. Although the team’s championship plans were defeated on the field, the experience of playing with a close group of friends would prove most valuable of all.
“Everyone on the team is literally like my family, I would not have wanted to experience that with anyone else,” Passalacqua said. “I’ve been playing football with those guys since we were kids, and that was our dream, to go to the state playoffs. Our ultimate dream was to win the championship and we fell short of that, but being with those guys was great.”
Once football season ended, Passalacqua started his fourth year on the Eagles’ varsity basketball team, this year as a captain. The Eagles advanced to the Hardwood Classic, kicking out Richland in an intense 72-60 first game on Feb. 28 at the Tacoma Dome.
“Winning that first game at state, knowing we were advancing on, was amazing,” said Passalacqua. “We knew that as a team we were something special, and we wanted to take advantage of that and keep working as a team.”
After losing to Jackson in the quarterfinals, the Eagles ultimately took fifth place at the state championships. And once basketball season was over, Passalacqua returned once again to track and field.
“I started in seventh grade and I was originally doing long distance because my brother ran long distance and he inspired me,” said Passalacqua. “Along the way I picked up javelin because it just looked fun.”
He didn’t know at the time that the javelin he picked up for kicks would eventually place him on a state championship podium.
“One of my good friends, Blake McPherson, his dad was my coach this year, and he lives up the road from me and I would go and get advice,” said Passalacqua, who noted that Paul McPherson is the current old javelin record-holder, while his son is the new javelin record-holder. “I learned from them and did whatever I could to go to state.”
All of the training paid off on May 24, when Passalacqua went down to Tacoma once again, this time to compete in the javelin throw. He took fifth place overall, bringing home a medal for his throw of 172-05.
His overall success as a leader doesn’t stop at athletics either. He received three scholarships at the Senior Scholarship Award Ceremony at Arlington High School, including the Superintendent’s Scholar “Leadership with Heart Award” from Dr. Kristine McDuffy, the Dwayne Lane’s Arlington Chevrolet Scholar/Athlete Scholarship and the Afton Chapter Order of the Eastern Star Scholarship.
Sue Passalacqua, A.J.’s mom, noted that the Arlington community played a role in supporting the Passalacqua family.
“We are fortunate to be in a community that is so caring,” she said. “Both my husband and I are in the military, and on several occasions, either when my husband was deployed or I was deployed — and on one occasion we were both deployed at the same time — our families and friends helped care for our boys, including helping to get them to and from their practices and games.”
A.J. is just as thankful for his family, friends, coaches and community.
“The atmosphere here is absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have asked for anybody better to play for,” he said. “Arlington is truly a town that loves to watch their sports, and it’s fun to perform in front of them and make them proud. I had the honor of being football and basketball captain. My teammates picked both of those and the coaches had a say in it. Each of the teams was a big part of my life that I will never forget. In the end we came together and just bonded, and played how we always dreamed of playing. We all loved each other no matter what happened on and off the court and the field.”
Passalacqua is planning to attend Western Washington University in the fall to pursue a career in supply chain management and hopes to walk on to their track team. He took time to thank all the people who helped him achieve his goals.
“I just want to say thank you to Holly Christmas, Paul McPherson, John Boyden and Guy Kennedy for everything they have taught me. It means so much to me. And I want to thank my parents and family for always being there and supporting me. I love them will all my heart.”