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Honoring Sam Yates, as a foundation in his name is launched

Vashon Island Beachcomber logo: MainLogo Vashon Island Beachcomber 1/25/2023 Elizabeth Shepherd
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The day before what would have been his 25th birthday, the Vashon High School (VHS) basketball team paid tribute to Sam Yates, a beloved islander who died unexpectedly on June 23, 2022.

In a pre-game ceremony on Friday, Jan. 13, Sam’s father, mother and brother, John, Jill and Wyatt Yates, were recognized at the unveiling of Sam’s framed jersey, which will now hang under the scoreboard alongside other honored Pirate alumni.

A standout scholar and athlete at VHS, Sam graduated in 2016 and went on to play basketball at the University of Puget Sound, ultimately graduating from Washington State University in 2020.

“I’m calling it a ‘jersey retirement’, but we are not retiring number 20. I want the number to live to remember Sam for future generations,” said Head Coach Andy Sears.

As a two-time team captain who was named First Team All-Nisqually League three consecutive years, Sam “exemplified everything we desired from the young men who competed in our program,” said Sears.

“He was always ready to go, giving full effort, and wanting to improve on a daily basis. Deeply admired by his teammates, Sam had an uncanny ability to inspire his team to excellence. He not only led the team in various statistical categories — he showed by example how to live your life on and off the court with the highest of character,” Sears added.

Sam was a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, completing training at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia at the time of his death. Its cause was unknown, pending an autopsy — the results of which were not known to the Yates family until four months later.

Now his family and friends have founded the Sam Yates Community Foundation both to honor Sam’s commitment to community, and to protect others on Vashon from the condition that took his life — cardiac arrhythmia, which was triggered due to an imbalance of electrolytes in Sam’s system after he had gone for a run.

The most immediate aim of the foundation, said John and Jill Yates, will be to raise awareness, and training in the use of public accessible Automated External Defibrillator (AED) devices on Vashon — especially in school and sports settings including school district fields, parks and places where older athletes play sports, such as Agren Park.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes.

In early January, millions watched as a professional football player, Damar Hamlin, collapsed on the field during a nationally-televised football game, following a hard blow to his chest — another circumstance that can cause arrhythmia in young athletes.

Hamlin’s life was saved by the immediate efforts of first responders on the scene, and a key to that response was the quick application of a defibrillator — a device that is now registered for use at some island locations, including businesses and other places, according to VashonBePrepared.

The device and its use by citizens, saved a life on Vashon as recently as Sept. 2, after a ferry rider at the dock suffered a major cardiac event. Terminal staff members took charge, with Jen Hartle, Lindsey Morris, Kimm Shride and Ian Fisher initiating CPR and twice using an automated external defibrillator.

The Yates family said their aim, through the foundation, is to further increase the number of AEDs on Vashon, as well as training to use them, through partnerships with Vashon Island School District, Vashon Park District, Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, and other organizations.

“We wanted to do something to give back to the community,” said Jill Yates, who said her family had been supported by so many islanders following Sam’s death and his return to Vashon in a solemn procession from the north-end Ferry Dock to Island Funeral Service on July 8.

The procession, witnessed by thousands of islanders standing on Vashon Highway, included an honor guard of Marines from Joint Base Lewis McCord.

Contributions to the foundation, an approved 501(c)3, can be mailed to P.O. Box 912, Vashon WA 98070. A website,, is soon to be online.

— Cheryl Pruett contributed reporting to this article.


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