Gabriel Kent has known what he wants to do with his life for a long time.
He didn’t have to look outside of his own household for inspiration — his father, John, works as a pilot for Delta Airlines, and that’s exactly what he wants to do as well.
“My dad did 26 years in the United States Air Force, so I grew up around bases and planes,” Kent, a Washougal High School senior, said. “He then went to the airlines, so I’ve always known planes, I’ve always been around planes, I’ve always loved them, and I’ve always wanted to fly. It’s something that I’ve always been passionate about, so I figured I’d make a career out of it.”
Kent is now preparing for an examination that will allow him to obtain a private pilot’s license, the first in a series of aviation-related certifications that he hopes to earn during the next several years.
He’s also preparing to help lead the Washougal Panthers’ boys basketball team to a successful campaign in his final season in the black and orange.
“Winning the league is always a great goal, or (finishing) as high as we can or having a winning record,” he said. “There’s no state tournament or anything, but going far in districts would be awesome. I’m definitely excited for this year. I think we have some really good talent.”
Kent has the ability to contribute to the team’s success thanks to his height (6-foot-5), wingspan, athleticism and basketball acumen.
“I’ve always been the ‘big man,’ the post down low,” he said. “I love the dirty work — scrapping for the ball, getting rebounds. While hitting 3-pointers is a flashy thing (that draws) praise, I feel like a good chunk of the team’s (success comes from) down low. It’s a big role, and I’ve always loved filling that role.”
Panthers boys basketball coach Aaron LaBree is expecting Kent to be one of his top players for the upcoming season, which begins on Tuesday, May 11.
“He’s light on his feet and finishes really well around the rim,” LaBree said. “He is extremely bright and coachable, and with his combination of size, speed and athleticism, he should be a problem for our opponents this year.”
But Kent doesn’t see himself as a one-dimensional “big man.” He also hopes to prove himself as an adept passer capable of finding a teammate for an open shot.
“I think a good part of our offense this year is going to be the ball movement,” he said. “I feel that’s going to be a really big role of mine — be ready for the ball low, make moves and make (defenders) want to crash down or double-team me, and make those difficult passes to (other players) to hit open 3s. That’s where I feel like I can make a difference.”
Kent also brings a variety of intangibles to his teams, according to LaBree.
“Gabe is very kind, considerate and well-rounded,” he said. “Not only does he excel in athletics, but he is also a tremendous student and has all of the pieces in place to pursue a career in aviation after high school. I really enjoy coaching Gabe and couldn’t ask for a better person to be a part of our basketball program here at Washougal.”
In order to have the success that he wants to have this season, however, Kent said he knows he will have to stay healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do in previous seasons thanks to multiple ankle and leg injuries.
“I have a bad history of not breaking my ankle but spraining it to the point where the doctors say it would have been better to break it,” he said. “I now wear ankle braces on both my ankles, and I’ve been doing that for a couple years now to prevent any further injury.”
Kent has played baseball and basketball since early childhood and took up football when he was in middle school. He can’t pick a favorite sport — “I love them all,” he said — but he does know what he enjoys about basketball.
“I really love the very personal teamwork that’s involved,” Kent said. “I’ve been playing basketball with this group of guys for a very long time, and the chemistry between us, being able to read each other’s movements and know what’s going to come next, I think that’s my favorite part about basketball. You know that your teammates are going to hit their shot, and you know that if you cut a certain way that they’re going to get you the ball, and you’re going to score.”
After the basketball season ends, Kent will turn his full attention to his future endeavors, which include classes at Washington State University-Vancouver.
After he receives private pilot credentials, he will start working toward attaining a commercial license. He then hopes to become a certified flight instructor and build enough flight hours to be considered for an airline position.
“It’s a pretty lengthy process, and pretty tough,” said Kent, who enrolled in the aviation technology program at Vancouver-based Cascadia Tech Academy for the 2019-20 school year and is currently in the Running Start program at Clark College.
“But since my dad works for Delta, that kind of works out in my favor because Delta is one of the companies that really likes hiring relatives of their employees. I have a little bit of an ‘in’ there, and (working for Delta) is actually my end goal.”
“It’s a very relieving feeling to be up in the air and have nothing around you,” said Kent, who has logged dozens of flight hours with the FlyIt Academy’s Cessna 172 training planes at Grove Field. “It’s a very unique feeling to be able to fly from one place to another. It cuts a lot of time (off your travels and provides) beautiful views. It’s a very relaxing (feeling) — I don’t want to say a ‘de-stressor,’ but kind of like that. It’s like a happy place. I just love it.”