I don’t recall Dad ever being an official coach, but he was around sports so much, probably the result of having six sons.
I started thinking about so many of those times after Dad died early Monday morning.
I never knew much about Dad’s own athletic achievements, but from stories I have heard, he could have been a pretty gifted track athlete growing up in New York.
From my own experience, he was a decent softball player — we used to play as a family at picnics and he played catch with us when we were first playing baseball.
I was a little young to clearly remember when Dad was an umpire for Little League games in Phoenix back when we still lived in Talent and my older brothers were on teams, but I know he and Mom watched all of us playing ball while we were growing up. They watched my brother Andy a bunch, because he went furthest in the game. I don’t know how many hamburgers Dad ate from the Clyde Allen Field concession stand during American Legion games, but I’m sure it was a pretty big number.
Andy had the benefit of being the youngest in the family, so after I graduated, Mom and Dad went to many of his contests, home and away.
But Dad made it to a lot of events for all of us, including grandchildren when possible.
His last sports events were watching my niece Mariella play basketball for Valley Catholic in the state tournament at North Bend High School in June.
He celebrated all of our accomplishments, more of which came from academics because that was a family strength. He had a front-row seat when my son Michael gave his salutatorian speech at his graduation and the proudest I ever saw him was when one of my brothers or I received a major award of some sort.
Long after all his sons were out of school, he became a football fan for Oregon State University, watching games with my brothers, who were season ticket holders. He yelled at the refs along with the rest of us and celebrated with Allen and Steve and Andy in the stadium when the Beavers beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. But I know he treasured those days mostly because of the hours before and after the actual games spending time with his grown family, including late nights a few times with me driving back from Corvallis when we talked about football and life.
Dad of course was a life coach. I learned how to fish from him, though that never really caught on with me. I also learned to change a tire, use a chainsaw and file my taxes from him. Not to mention that a loving marriage means just that, from his marriage of over 50 years to Mom before she died from cancer and his marriage of his final years to beloved Patsy, the newest treasured addition to the Gunther family.
Before all my adult life lessons, I certainly appreciated the efforts he went to getting to my sports contests.
When I was on the B team for basketball at Coquille Valley Elementary School (the equivalent of junior varsity), he managed to get off work every time I was playing at one of the schools in the Bay Area, where he worked for the Bureau of Land Management.
When I was on the actual JV team as a sophomore and junior in high school, he went to work early after driving me in to practice before school started, and made it to the gym in time for tip-off for my home games.
And there were the weekend cross country and track meets.
One of my favorite pictures of me is from the state track meet my senior year, not because I had particularly great form coming out of the blocks for the 4x100-meter relay, but because Dad was there to take that picture at Mount Hood Community College despite Andy suffering an ankle injury a couple of days earlier that should have given Dad plenty of reason to stay home.
The first time I went to Portland, it was when we went as a family to watch my brother Steve compete in the state meet on the same track.
Dad had a front-row seat for a lot of Steve’s track successes as the head timer for Coquille High School. Years later, I found myself in the same role, one that I’ve held for more than a couple of decades. I’m not sure it’s because of anything Dad did specifically, though it’s certainly something I got from him. He had a love for volunteer work, including years helping people file their taxes through the AARP program and three decades or so helping Boy Scouts complete their path to becoming Eagle Scouts.
That’s probably where Dad was our biggest “coach.”
Before he started his work with the Eagle Board, he was a leader for Troop 63 — Scoutmaster for most of us — helping all six of his sons reach the rank of Eagle.
He taught us all camping skills, including knot tying, as well as leadership skills and everything else we needed to become Eagle scouts.
I spent many, many weekends with Dad on Scout trips, both with Troop 63 and for the Order of the Arrow, an honor organization for Scouts.
They are some of my treasured memories.
So are times sharing a bottle of wine and multiple games of cribbage when I was a cub reporter for The World living at home my first year out of college before starting my own road down happily ever after with Lori.
And I will cherish golf with Dad.
Dad loved golf, or rather, he loved golf courses.
We spent many afternoons together on golf courses — me playing and him walking along. I don’t remember Dad ever taking a swing on one of the golf courses on the South Coast, but he loved the nature. When we were at Cedar Bend Golf Course near Gold Beach he marveled at the variety of trees that were there.
Dad was with me the first time I played Bandon Dunes, way back in 1998, the fall before it opened.
He was with me the first time I played Bandon Crossings, too.
Even though he wasn’t a golfer, he knew right away both courses were special. He was right.
In the past few days, a number of people from the community have reached out to tell me Dad was special.
They, too, were right.