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Olympic High School's Eric Allen remembered as more than coach
If it were easy, everyone would do it.
That's what former Olympic High School football coach and classroom teacher Eric Allen told his students and colleagues, challenging them to work hard and work together, said pastor and friend Scott Shaw.
"Sports were simply a vehicle he used to teach life lessons," Shaw said Saturday at a celebration of Allen’s life with a memorial service at Bremerton Church of the Nazarene.
Allen died at his home near Purdy March 17 after a decade-long struggle with brain cancer at the age of 43.
Fiercely competitive and passionate about people, Allen coached football at Olympic from 2005 to 2008 and also taught physical education and social studies.
He considered himself an underdog, instilling that mindset in his athletes and students, convincing them that the hard way was the right way and the only way.
“He got people to believe,” said interim coach Tim Allbee, who met Allen in 2005 when they both interviewed for Olympic's head job.
Allbee shared the sideline with Allen for four seasons and remembers his ability to inspire the players.
On the day of home games, Allbee said, Allen required players to stay on campus after class was dismissed. He wanted the team to band together, and stay out of trouble, so he organized game-day meals and had the players watch inspirational movies before kickoff.
He used themes from the movies to teach life lessons.
“This is why I coach, to teach the kids that life is more than football,” Allen said in a quote included in the program for the service. “There are going to be hundreds of challenges in life and you have to be strong enough to get through them. If you can handle football, you can handle those challenges.”
Allen’s closest friends described him as the type of person who would take the shirt off his own back and give it to somebody else without being asked. He put himself second and others first.
He also made it a point to seek out the students and athletes who needed the most help, making their well-being and progress in life his top priority.
"You could tell it was about more than football, he cared about us," said senior Blake Johnson, who played two seasons with Allen.
Fiery, but tender, Allen refused to give up on others, even when they were struggling on or off the field.
“He would stick with them to the end,” Allbee said.
Shaw, a pastor at Bremerton Church of the Nazarene, described Allen as a man who loved his wife deeply, strove to have a positive influence on young people and constantly sought inner peace.
Shaw remembers the day in the winter of 2007-08 when Allen told him the cancer had taken a turn for the worse.
They talked alone inside a gymnasium, with Allen wearing a pair of duck slippers.
Allen told Shaw he was worried, so Shaw asked Allen if he could pray for him.
“I hope you do,” Allen responded.
Allen’s faith grew stronger over the last two years of his life, Shaw said, which gave him the inner piece he always sought. Allen was baptized at Bremerton Church of the Nazarene and attended weekly services.
Friend Cris Larsen recalled the day when he and Allen golfed together for the final time. They went to Rolling Hills Golf Course in Bremerton for a morning round.
At one point on the course Larsen pulled out a large bucket of golf balls and suggested Allen hit them into a ravine, to be left behind. The golf balls, Larsen recalled, were symbols of Allen's life, each representing an accomplishment or experience or challenge, including his battle with cancer.
”I asked him to leave it all on the field,” Larsen said.
Wife Jill Allen said her husband was a laid-back person off the field, despite his no-nonsense reputation on the sidelines.
He enjoyed snorkeling and eating pineapple, and his favorite color was turquoise, she said. He also loved waterfalls and sea turtles. His favorite flower was the dahlia.
“I’m really lucky to have had him love me,” she said.
Allen grew up in Gresham, Ore., where he worked in strawberry fields, attended school and developed a love for football. His father Woody Allen was a coach too. He attended Humboldt State University in California before moving to Washington state. Allen coached at Lincoln High School in Tacoma before arriving to Olympic.
The Trojans were 1-9 in Allen’s first season, but they defeated rival Central Kitsap High School in year two and were 18-22 overall in four seasons. The team reached the state playoffs twice with Allen at the helm.