By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — A football team laden with speed led by an offensive-minded head coach with strategies ahead of the times and a girls tennis team that defied the odds and brought home the lone state championship in school history will be honored with induction in the Port Angeles High School Hall of Fame on April 20.
The 1959 Roughriders football team was led by head coach Jack Elway, and produced more collegiate athletes than any other team in school history, with nine of 11 starters playing at the next level.
And the winners of the only Port Angeles team state championship, the 1985 girls tennis squad, will be recognized along with 15 individual former athletes and coaches that have already been announced.
Tickets for the event set April 20 at Port Angeles’ Vern Burton Center can be purchased at www.pahshof.org.
Hall of Fame chair Bruce Skinner was a sixth-grader back in 1959 and fondly remembers those gridiron greats.
“If you grew up here, there was no Mariners, no Seahawks,” Skinner said. “We had Husky football and Rider football. These guys were our heroes at that stage in our lives.”
The 1959 Roughriders piled up the points on the ground and through the air, leading the state in scoring average with a then-state record average of 40 points per game.
Four players from the team were voted to the Associated Press All-State team. Guard Ed Wallace and running back Sonny Luke made the second team, while quarterback Gary Gagnon and fullback Mike Briggs earned honorable mention.
Gagnon set the state passing yardage record his senior year, breaking his own mark that he set as a junior the year prior. Two members of the team later played at Division I Schools — Briggs went on to be an all-Pacific Coast Conference selection for the Washington Huskies and an Academic All-American, while Gagnon was a two-year starter at quarterback for Idaho.
Luke was a junior college All-American at Gray’s Harbor, and played at Oregon Tech, while running backs and receivers Mike MacDonald and Bob Brodhun played at Pacific Lutheran.
Tackle Myles Phipps started for four years at Western Washington, Wallace played as a walk-on at Washington State, Jim Little played as a running back at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., while center Jack Estes played at the Coast Guard Academy for legendary NFL quarterback Otto Graham.
Coached by Jack Elway, who went on to become a collegiate coach and the head coach at Cal State Northridge, San Jose State and Stanford, the team only suffered one loss, to top-ranked Everett.
However, they beat Kelso, the state’s No. 5 ranked team by 20 points later in the season. Elway is the father of the legendary John Elway, who starred for the Denver Broncos and is currently the general manager of the team.
“Elway was [an innovator],” Luke said. “He’d split the end out to the sideline, Bob Brodhun, and have him catch passes. And Gary Gagnon, Elway taught him this reverse turn with the football, so nobody on the defense ever knew where the ball was. All sorts of misdirection stuff.
“We’d throw to the running backs, Bob and I myself could catch the ball out of the backfield.”
Luke said the team was given summer homework by Elway once track practice was over for the season.
“He’d give us plays after track was over and he’d let us into Civic [Field] to practice in the summer.”
Thirteen members of the team were named first team all league. Three had coaching careers – Estes at Gray’s Harbor and Peninsula College, Gagnon at several high schools and as an assistant at Washington State and Stanford and Phipps at the high school level.
Skinner said that Luke is considered one of the top running backs in school history.
“Anybody who has been around PAHS athletics would say Joel Thomas and Sonny Luke,” Skinner said.
Thomas played at Idaho and has progressed through the college coaching ranks to serve as running backs coach for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
Luke said he benefited from an offensive line that was large for the times.
“Back in the 50s, if you had offensive linemen that were 200 pounds they were considered huge,” Luke said. “Our right guard was 205, another guy Dugan Messerschmidt was 240, so a lot of the time I wasn’t touched until the secondary.”
Unfortunately, postseason play was still years away for football.
“I wish they would have had the state playoffs back then,” Luke said.
1985 Roughrider tennis
Coached by Kay Dill, who will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame as an individual, all five members of the 1985 tennis team placed at state, including her daughters Mary and Penni.
“That was an amazing fete, as we don’t have any indoor courts in town to allow for winter play like a lot of schools do,” Skinner said.
The sophomore doubles team of Mary Dill and Carolyn Crist teamed to win the state doubles championship 7-6, 6-2 at the state tournament in Wenatchee, by beating junior teammates Leigh Morgan (inducted as an individual basketball and tennis player last year) and Nicole Ostrowski, who therefore finished second.
Kay Dill said the advice was pretty straightforward before the title match.
“Coach yourselves girls, you know what to do,” Dill said “It was interesting because my daughter and her partner, they won the league title and Leigh and Nicole won the district championship match.”
As both parent and coach Dill was conflicted.
“You cheer for the best points, every point that was played brilliantly I cheered,” Dill said.
“Carolyn Crist’s mom said something like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if both teams could win?’ “Obviously, she had never played sports.”
And nerves got the best of Dill during the doubles final.
“I didn’t stay for the whole match, I wanted to see how the boys [state competitors] were doing,” Dill said.
It was Penni Dill’s fourth place finish in singles that secured the title. She won four out of her five matches, including her final victory over fourth-seeded Leona Lang of Meadowdale, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
“We have a six-month season here,” Kay Dill said.
“The gym’s volleyball courts became tennis courts, we dropped the nets down and never missed a practice.”
Dill thinks practicing on the wooden surface gave her team an advantage once they transitioned outdoors.
“The ball flies a lot faster off of a gym floor, so the ball looked this big [like a grapefruit] when you started playing outside. And the players on the other teams never had the chance to practice.”