Loving the games

Bob Plaisance has come full circle.

He ended his career in the same city where he began, doing the same thing that he loves — coaching high school sports — 47 years after he started.

This spring, Plaisance, 74, hung up his glove for the final time after two seasons with the Klahowya Eagles’ junior-varsity baseball team.

It was the perfect ending for a storied teaching and coaching career that has taken him all over the state and given him the ability to make a difference in the lives of countless young adults.

And his start in sports started when he was a young adult.

After moving from Montana to Bremerton as a child, Plaisance got an early start in sports with some of the area’s most storied athletes as part of the “Warren Avenue Gang,” a group of adolescents playing football in their neighborhood in the heat of summer and bitter days of winter. His posse included West Sound great Ted Tappe, former UW standout and NFL Hall of Fame member Hugh McElhenny and Don Heinrich, who also went to UW and played in the NFL.

Plaisance went on to play football and baseball at Bremerton High School, where he graduated in 1948. He still has his letterman’s jacket to remind him of the good old days on the gridiron.

“We were on the football team that went 12-0 in 1947,” he said. “I’ll never forget watching (Tappe) racing down the sidelines and catching a Heinrich ball that was under thrown without breaking stride.”

And during his time at Bremerton High, Plaisance also had a chance to continue a little friendly rivalry — he challenged Tappe to a race.

“I told (him) that I’ll race him in anything he wants to run,” he said. “He wouldn’t agree to the mile, but he went for the half-mile.

“He was wearing baseball cleats and blew by me.”

As an infielder on a Bremerton-area Legion ball team, Plaisance and his teammates learned the sweet smell of success with a win in the state championship three years in a row.

“The support the town gave to athletics was unbelievable,” he said, adding that fans — eager to see some of the great players like Tappe — were generous with their monetary support so the team was able to travel.

Jack Crawford, a longtime friend of Plaisance and member of the “Warren Avenue Gang” also played on the Legion ball team.

“(Then-Bremerton High football coach) Dwight Scheyer said that our team made so much money that they started a junior high team,” Crawford said.

Although Plaisance didn’t end up playing at the professional level, his love of the game remained strong through his coaching career. Following his graduation, Plaisance spent four years as a communications specialist in the Air Force.

“I was one of the first people to work on facsimiles,” he said. “We used them to send weather maps (in the military).”

When he finished his service in the Air Force, Plaisance enrolled in Olympic College, where was on scholarship to scout teams around the state.

“I suited up as the hot dog quarterback or running back with the other team,” he said. “Boy, did I get the crap beat out of me.”

Plaisance took his first teaching job at Central Kitsap High in 1957 after graduating from Eastern Washington University with a degree in education. He was the assistant football coach and head golf coach for the Cougars.

He then began whirlwind tour of the state’s high schools and athletic programs, starting with a move to Bellingham’s Meridian High in 1959, where he coached football, track and was the assistant basketball coach.

“Boy, those were tough years,” he said. “I think we won three (football) games the first two years and people were delighted because they never won before. The next year, we were league co-champions.”

He went onto Mountlake Terrace High for 12 years and then Woodway High (now Edmonds-Woodway) for another 12 years. At Mountlake Terrace, he was the assistant football coach, assistant wrestling coach, track coach and started the swim team. At Woodway, he coached football, cross country and swimming.

Crawford said when he heard Plaisance was coaching wrestling at Mountlake Terrace, “I went down to see him and he had a police escort.”

In 1987, Plaisance left teaching and took a job at Boeing. He stayed there for eight years before being laid off in 1995, and then decided to move home to the Olympic Peninsula. The Plaisance family sold their Edmonds home and bought one in Allyn, where he still lives.

And not too long after moving back, the lure of prep sports brought Plaisance to Klahowya High in 2003, where he coached junior-varsity baseball after a friend appealed to him for help — “(head coach Bob Reynolds) said, ‘If you can’t help, we won’t have a junior-varsity program.’ ”

“Bob Reynolds is one of the finest hitting coaches I’ve ever seen,” Plaisance said. “I would ride to work with him and he couldn’t see a sign on the road. Yet on the baseball fields, he knew the most minute details.”

After a 14-2 first season and a 12-4 season this year, Plaisance is back in retirement.

Not that he minds, though.

After all, most important to Plaisance is his family — wife Nancy, who he met at Olympic College, and sons Stephen, a deputy sheriff in Snohomish County, Chris, an office manager at a fish-processing company, and Tory, who works for a shipping company.

Stephen played baseball at Edmonds Community College and Chris played there and later at Eastern Oregon University.

Nancy Plaisance said their 49-year marriage has been “a lot of time on the sports field.” She helped her husband by taking statistics at games.

“It was easier to take statistics than listen to fans talking about why their kids weren’t playing,” she said.

And Plaisance has a surrogate family, too. When his mother died during his high school days, Crawford’s mother, Beatrice, raised him.

Crawford said since his friend’s parents weren’t into sports, he thinks Plaisance developed his passion through his friends.

“I think it was the camaraderie of the kids around us,” he said. “We all played together and fed off each other. We were all excited about sports at the time. Back in our day, the professional sports weren’t big.

“We played the first televised high school game against Ballard in 1947. The following of our team was amazing.”

Plaisance said he has a plan for when his football days are over — permanently.

“They’re going to scatter my ashes along the highway and play ‘When the Saints Come Marching In.’ ”

But in the mean time, he’s going to enjoy retirement with some much-deserved rest and relaxation — and he doesn’t have to go far to find it. Plaisance lives across the street from Lakeland Village golf course. And playing has become a five-day-a-week ritual for him.

“I don’t believe Bob really knows what retiring is all about,” Crawford said.

But he does put his own spin on things.

“Thursday’s are nine-holes and we play with our wives and go party afterward,” his friend added.

Just like a true sports aficionado.

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