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A legacy of success

Jeff Basinski dedicated his entire career as an educator and coach at Forest Grove to helping prepare his student-athletes for the realities of life after high school
by: File photo Former Forest Grove High School athletic director Jeff Basinski, pictured here before his retirement in 2005, will be inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame next month for a distinguished teaching career that included stints as head football and wrestling coach.

Jeff Basinski is easily remembered for the big things he accomplished as a coach and athletic director at Forest Grove. His son remembers him more for what he did in private.

Basinski's door was always open to his students - as a teacher, coach and later the athletic director at Forest Grove High School, 'Coach Bass' was always on the clock.

'I can remember as a fairly young kid, players would come up to the house with a range of life problems,' recalled his son, B.J. Basinski. 'As a kid, seeing them come up to my dad and ask for advice countless times, that spoke to the selflessness of him as a person.'

Jeff Basinski's career at Forest Grove spanned four decades, two varsity sports, a spirited effort to save athletics from budget cuts and finally lengthy service as athletic director. In a tribute to his service to the school, Basinski will be inducted into the Forest Grove Athletic Hall of Fame next month.

Basinski's admission is particularly fitting since he was one of the loudest voices calling for the high school to establish a hall of fame.

'It was his idea when he was athletic director to have this athletic coliseum,' said current Forest Grove athletic director Doug Thompson. 'When I took over he said, 'Hey, one of my goals is I want this hall of fame to happen.'

'I said, 'We'll do it together.''

Thompson credits Basinski as the reason he has any job at Forest Grove, much less one as the athletic director. Basinski was the head football coach when Thompson attended FGHS as a student. When he applied for a teaching job at the school after college, Basinski lobbied for his hire.

'I know behind the scenes he was working pretty hard to get me hired,' Thompson said.

Basinski wore many hats at Forest Grove, and did so successfully. As a football coach he enjoyed seven winning seasons in 11 years, including a league championship in 1985. He also served as a wrestling coach, leading the team to a league championship in 1978 and coaching three individual state champions.

B.J. Basinski was able to play football under his father, who resigned as football coach after B.J. graduated in 1992. His son said he was good at managing his different roles as a dad and a coach, and at maintaining balance in other areas of his life as well.

'He had some very successful seasons (as head football coach) and some not-so-successful seasons, but he was able to separate it from his life,' B.J. said. 'He found time to take (his kids) fishing and camping and help with homework.'

And when the athletic department needed extra effort to save its programs from closure, Basinski took on a leadership role in fundraising efforts to save sports at Forest Grove. Basinski worked with other local leaders to generate money for the school's athletic programs and founded the football team's booster club to generate revenue in future seasons.

Thompson said Basinski's financial savvy is a main reason the football team now enjoys an artificial turf field. It also made his personal finance class a hot commodity among students.

'There's probably hundreds of people he helped do their taxes in that class,' Thompson said. 'I think that's one of the reasons he did so well fundraising. He just understood finances, he knew where to look to make money.'

Jeff Basinski enjoyed his role as a coach and athletic director, but B.J. Basinski said his greatest pleasure - and most important role - was being there as a role model and supportive adult figure for his students. Not every child at Forest Grove High School came from stable home environments, but Coach Bass wanted his students to depend on him.

Basinski stuck with Forest Grove as long as he could. To help ease budget cuts made by the school district in the late 1990s he offered to retire from his position in exchange for being re-hired as a part-time athletic director. He served in that position until 2005 when the school district decided it wanted a full-time athletic director again.

When the school tabbed Thompson as his replacement, Coach Bass gave him his full support along with all the advice he needed.

Thompson took advantage.

'His wife, Connie, was probably laughing at me and cursing me that whole first year,' Thompson said. 'I would call him at 11:30 at night to ask him questions. I don't think there was a decision that was made without Bass that year.'

In his retirement Jeff Basinski decided to team up with his son, then an assistant football coach at Centennial High School in Gresham. Coach Bass would make the hour drive each day to volunteer coach with the team.

On May 27 this year he died at his home. He was 65.

Next month Coach Bass and the rest of the 2011 Hall of Fame class will be honored at halftime of the Sept. 16 home football game against McMinnville. A Hall of Fame dinner the next day will serve as his official induction into the hall he helped build.

Basinski's work at Forest Grove has left a visible mark on the high school, and the shoes of his service are hard to fill. Thompson said it's not only parents and faculty reminding him of the long shadow he works under.

Students also appreciated Basinski's contributions to the school. In the first school year after Thompson took over for Basinski, the new athletic director made a controversial ruling against students' liberties when cheering during basketball games. At the next game a number of students had scrawled 'WWBD' onto their shirts.

'I thought, 'All right, these are probably inappropriate,'' Thompson said. 'I got onto the kids about it and one kid came to me and admitted that they were upset and the shirts stood for, 'What Would Bass Have Done?''

'I couldn't even get mad about that because I thought they were probably right. Of course I called Bass immediately. He was laughing.'