Longtime Columbia River High School teacher, coach, state champion and Title IX pioneer Dana Blair has died, Vancouver Public Schools confirmed Friday afternoon in an e-mail to the community.
Blair, the head coach for volleyball for 23 seasons, led the Chieftains to state championships in 1991 and 2000. She also was the head softball coach, leading the program to the championship game in 2005.
After leaving volleyball and softball, she brought her championship touch to the Columbia River bowling team. That squad won a state championship in 2015.
She was teaching physical education this year and was a month away from starting another bowling season with the Chieftains.
In all, she spent 36 years as a teacher in Vancouver.
An e-mail from Alex Otoupal, the principal at Columbia River, was sent Friday afternoon.
“This morning we received the tragic news that Dana Blair, a longtime and well-loved teacher and coach, died,” the e-mail states.
“Understandably, our school community is deeply saddened by the news.”
A cause of death was not given.
Students did not have school Friday, but teachers were on campus for an in-service day.
“It’s still, for lack of a better word, shock,” said Tony Liberatore, the school’s athletic director.
Blair also was a student at Columbia River before becoming a teacher — a true, lifelong Columbia River Chieftain.
“As a student, and a teacher, and a coach, all the key moments of athletic history, she was a part of them,” Liberatore said.
Blair also was a champion for equal rights for women in athletics. She was part of a landmark 1979 lawsuit against Washington State University, “a decision that helped entrench Title IX and ensure its enforcement,” according to former Columbian Sports Editor Greg Jayne, who wrote about Blair’s historic achievement in 2004.
“I think maybe I was born a little too early,” Blair told Jayne. “I would love to have these kids’ opportunity. They’re pretty lucky.”
Her athletes at Columbia River received equal treatment because she, and others like her, were willing to fight for it in the 1970s.
“In order to have change and make change, people have to speak up,” she said. “You have to push some buttons.”
Vancouver Public Schools will have extra counselors and support staff at school Monday to help students and staff.
“At this point, we do not have any information about services that will be held for Coach Blair, but we will keep you updated when we know more,” Otoupal wrote.
“Our thoughts are with Coach Blair’s family and friends.”
The Chieftains beat Camas in the Class 3A state volleyball championship match in November 2000.
“I could see a couple of them had tears in their eyes,” Blair said of her players when they were one serve away from victory. “When we scored the final point, they burst into tears.”
There are a lot of tears this week at Columbia River. But they go with a lot of memories, championship moments from a woman who fought for her rights and then shared the rewards of that victory with thousands of students and athletes throughout her career.