Coach Boggs credited with the win

'Inspiration and dedication' made a difference for decades at Fort

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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Gary Boggs was remembered Saturday as a coach and teacher who helped youngsters achieve more than they thought they ever could.

Boggs, who coached football at Fort Vancouver High School for 34 years, died April 14 from cancer-related causes. He was honored by teaching colleagues, fellow members of the local coaching fraternity and lots of Trappers.

H.D. Weddel (Class of ’75) presided over the event and invited all of Boggs’ former athletes to stand; they ranged from gray-haired baby boomers to 20-something guys who wouldn’t look out of place at a school prom.

It was a pretty disparate group, which is to be expected from people who represent parts of five different decades of graduating classes at Fort. What all of them had in common was Boggs.

“He was the most inspirational guy you’ve ever met,” said Del Brown, Class of ’78.

Boggs’ players were known for getting the most out of their abilities, and “I could not have made one more tackle,” Brown said, recalling his Trapper career. “In high school, it was the only place where I gave 100 percent.”

The Trapper gym was an appropriate memorial setting, for reasons both professional and personal.

“I met Gary in this gym,” said Ellen Boggs, who started teaching at Fort in 1973. “We were married in 1976.”

Mark Young, a member of the Class of 1972, remembered when that gathering space wasn’t even a gym. Back then, Fort Vancouver was the new school in town.

“We had no locker room, no gym — this place was under two feet of water — and we had to use the locker room at Peter S. Ogden Elementary,” Young said. “And we changed clothes in shifts because the locker room was so small.”

Boggs used that experience as a life lesson, Young said: “No matter what’s served up, you can work with it.”

Boggs, a 1965 graduate of Hudson’s Bay High School, had his own distinguished career as an athlete. He was a small-college All-American in football, wrestling and track at Portland’s Lewis & Clark College. Boggs used those talents to help his Trappers.

“I was the state champion in the shot put, and the biggest competition I had was Gary Boggs in practice,” Young said.

Brown recalled how a Trapper wrestling teammate started his path to a state championship by practicing against his assistant coach. Boggs hurt his back in the process — not surprising, Brown said, because his buddy outweighed Boggs by about 110 pounds.

Athletic affiliations are constantly shifting within and between districts, and a few of those at Saturday’s observance knew Boggs as both a mentor and an opposing coach. Mick O’Neill said when he became head coach at Hudson’s Bay, people saw him as Boggs’ rival.

However, O’Neill said, “My first seven years were spent working with Gary Boggs” when O’Neill coached at what was then McLoughlin Junior High.

“I thought I knew a lot about coaching,” O’Neill said. “After an hour with Gary, I knew I didn’t. I thought football was about X’s and O’s. Gary taught me that it was about inspiration and cooperation.”

Jim Rupp said he and Boggs coached at opposing schools, but they shared a job.

“Gary knew that the only reason for our being teachers and coaches — they’re the same thing — is that there are young people who need us,” said Rupp, whose career in the Evergreen School District mirrored Boggs’ tenure in Vancouver.

Rupp recalled dropping in at Fort Vancouver one day. He found Boggs talking and laughing with some students in that same Trapper gym. Rupp asked Boggs what was going on.

“Gary told me that he had talked them into helping install the first weight room at Fort. ‘They don’t know it yet, but there are some athletes in that bunch,’” Boggs told Rupp.

“Gary could find students who didn’t have any idea what they wanted and introduce them to athletic experiences,” Rupp said.

While Boggs affected the lives of countless students, “I want you to know that you had a huge impact on us,” Ron Boggs said.

He described life as a member of a coach’s family, and recalled how his dad’s teams showed up in some unusual ways at home. In the era before video game systems, an electric football game used little plastic players moving around on a vibrating gridiron.

“My players,” Ron Boggs said, “all had your names.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or tom.vogt@columbian.com.