William Leamer loved coaching basketball.And for many of the athletes he mentored at Canyon Creek Middle School, it was their first real introduction to the sport.
“Coach Leamer did more than coach our athletes in basketball, he also coached them in life,” said Sandi Christensen, principal. “He always modeled polite and respectful behavior, and he expected his athletes to act the same on and off the court. He was very supportive of academics and helped school staff send the message about the importance of learning and school.”
Leamer, a Washougal resident, passed away unexpectedly on Christmas Day, at the age of 46.
“He was like Santa Claus,” recalled his wife, Suzanne. “He loved to give people gifts and just got the biggest kick out of it. I think he chose Christmas Day because he knows I’m terrible with dates and it would be the day I remember because of what it meant to him.”
The Leamers, married for 23 years, have lived in Washougal for the past nine years and have four children together, Kayla, William, Christopher and Austin. He also has another son, Geoffrey.
Mike, as everyone knew him, worked as an 18-wheeler truck driver, but coaching was his true passion.
“He has been coaching in some way or another since he was 12 years old,” Suzanne said. “He was very calm, and liked coaching because he was one of the first coaches to teach the kids. He loved to see them grow and flourish and go on to play at the high school level.”
Leamer was known as a jolly guy, someone who saw the humor in every situation and laughed loudly, even at his own expense. He cared about people, and duct taped his shoes even though he could afford a new pair. Material things were meaningless. People were what mattered.
Noah Merino, an eighth-grader at Canyon Creek, remembers his coach as someone who was encouraging and caring.
“I’m going to miss Coach Leamer a lot because he knew how to coach without yelling at everyone,“ he said. “If you listened to him, practice could be fun while you get better. He always told us that the team is the most important and that the whole team comes first. When the season was over I felt like everyone on our team was better basketball players and better friends.”
The last thing the team did together was go out to dinner. Merino recalled that his coach paid for everyone.
“He cared about us and we all knew it,“ he said. “We should hang a CCMS jersey in our gym with his name on it so that we can always remember what he meant to our school.”
Avy Baalaer, an eighth-grader, played basketball for the first time last year.
“I was a seventh-grader and about four inches shorter,” Baalaer said. “Sadly I didn’t make the varsity team, but fortunately I had Coach Leamer as my coach. He was a kind man who taught the team the fundamentals of basketball which I believe have helped me this year during eighth-grade basketball.
“I was sad he hear of his passing, he was always nice to us. He had a nickname for me, “Money Maker” for my three-point side shot.”
Christensen said Leamer helped students see the value in good sportsmanship and working toward a goal.
“He worked with our blended team athletes, those who were often playing organized basketball for the very first time,” she said. “He was patient and kind, and he knew how to motivate middle school students to function as a team.
“Students learned the fundamentals of the game, and they also learned how to lose and how to win. He even had an undefeated team one year.”
Dan Shilling has two daughters that played on Leamer’s team.
“There’s nothing but fond memories of him,” he said. “It was quite a shock to hear that he had passed on. He never had anything bad to say about anybody and he really encouraged his athletes.”
Shilling’s oldest daughter, Sarah, now plays basketball at Washougal High School as a point guard.
“I think a lot of that has to do with coach Leamer,” Shilling said. “He was a great coach and a great guy.”
Sarah recalled her coach as motivating her to always do her best.
“He was great,” she said. “He did so much for everyone and was also pretty good at making us all laugh until we cried. He really helped me develop a love for basketball.”
Her younger sister, Rebekah, an eighth-grader at Canyon Creek, agreed.
“He was always really fun and very positive,” she said. “He never let you give up.”
Christensen recalled that Leamer always made a point to thank her every year for the work the school does for students and for giving him the chance to be involved.
“I wish I would have the opportunity to thank him again for his service to us,” she said.
An account for the Leamer family has been set up at Riverview Community Bank under William Leamer. To donate, visit any branch.