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Late coach still inspires Columbia River bowlers

Cheers, traditions and wisdom of Dana Blair live on in players

By , Columbian High School Sports Reporter
Published:
4 Photos
A turkey hat is placed on a bowling ball during a Columbia River bowling match as team members laugh (L to R) Jenika Taylor, Becca Gunderson and Maddy Getz, in Vancouver Monday January 23, 2017. When a player gets three strikes in a row, they get to wear a turkey hat.
A turkey hat is placed on a bowling ball during a Columbia River bowling match as team members laugh (L to R) Jenika Taylor, Becca Gunderson and Maddy Getz, in Vancouver Monday January 23, 2017. When a player gets three strikes in a row, they get to wear a turkey hat. (Photo by (Natalie Behring/For The Columbian) Photo Gallery

They still wear their crazy hats, the ones awarded after competition for the number of strikes a bowler has rolled.

They still celebrate for every spare, high-five for every pin that helps Columbia River to a victory.

Before every game, they perform a cheer, with a special addition this season for one of their heroes.

The Columbia River bowling team lost coach Dana Blair just prior to the beginning of the season. The longtime teacher and legendary coach — a state champion in volleyball and bowling, and a perennial winner in softball — died suddenly in October.

The season had to go on, and the Chieftains are honoring Blair by dedicating their season to her.

“She was a big part of my life,” junior Becca Gunderson said. “Bowling is … what I do. She taught me everything I know about bowling. It was really hard on me. I didn’t know how well I’d do without her. I didn’t know how to handle it.

“We’re trying to have fun, trying to make the most of the season.”

The connection Blair had with her athletes has made it difficult, at times, to concentrate on the game.

“Bowling’s not the same without her,” junior Maddy Getz added. “It’s fun, but weird not having her here. It’s a great atmosphere. It’s a great team. Just something’s off. It’s weird not having her to celebrate.”

Senior Jenika Taylor was more direct.

“It sucks,” Taylor said. “It feels like part of our family … it feels empty.”

Yet, the Chieftains are moving on, hoping their will to succeed would make Blair proud. The athletes also are appreciative of coach Logan Burnett, who is trying to replicate Blair’s style.

Burnett has been Blair’s assistant for a couple of years. He got to know her more as they traveled to competitions together. He was impressed with Blair’s passion and competitive spirit.

“I was able to learn how to work with the girls a little bit better, how to encourage them and how to get them fired up about stuff,” Burnett said. “She knew how to motivate kids. She was relaxed around them, and they were drawn to her.

“I’m just trying to continue that.”

Part of that is the tradition of the fashionable hats for strikes. A turkey hat for any player who has three strikes in a game. A pig hat for four strikes. One season, a bowler recorded eight strikes in a game. Blair purchased an octopus hat for the occasion.

This season, the team added to its normal cheer. Instead of “C-R-H-S! Go! Fight! Win!” the bowlers added the word “Enthusiasm” to the end. Only it is said in a cheer as “En-THUUUU-si-asm.”

That is a touch Blair could really appreciate.

All of these things have helped in the grieving process.

Madison Mollahan, a junior, said she talked to Blair just a couple days before she passed.

“She was ready for the season,” Mollahan said.

Without her, the Chieftains have rallied. Dedicating the season to her “gives us focus,” Mollahan said. And the similar coaching traits that Burnett is using have been beneficial, as well.

“Still having the hats is like her still with us,” Gunderson said.

“We all supported each other when she passed away,” Taylor said. “Before every game we say, ‘We’re winning it for Blair.’ ”

There is not a bowler on the team who was not moved, in some way, from Blair’s style of coaching.

“She made sure everyone got the support they needed,” Taylor said. “She wouldn’t stop until all of us were better.”

The Chieftains miss the big things and the little things about Blair. She had a will to win, a competitive fire to match anyone, but also the teacher’s spirit to understand that once the competition was over, win or lose, high school athletics were more than wins or losses.

In fact, the four Chieftains interviewed for this story were asked about the most memorable life lesson they learned from Blair. They all gave different answers:

Getz: “Do what you want. Don’t let anyone tell you who to be or what to do.”

Taylor: “Nobody’s perfect but you’re perfect the way you are.”

Mollahan: “Stay positive.”

Gunderson: “If you get angry at something, don’t let it bother you. Just push through it.”

The bowling team is trying to push through it, along with the rest of the school. Blair’s life had a huge impact on the entire River community, not just athletics.

The school’s spirit rock, often painted and repainted several times a month, has been left untouched since November, when her name was placed on it.

Respect.

“She’s an incredible woman,” Getz said. “I’m so lucky to have known her.”

Columbian High School Sports Reporter

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