Do you have a high school teacher you will never forget? Oh boy, I sure do! Mine happened to be a brawny man with jet-black hair who wore neon jumpsuits, sported tinted glasses, and kept a well-manicured mustache. Crazy enough, the only thing that overshadowed the unique external appearance of this larger-than-life man was the massive heart that ticked underneath his signature 1980s-era windbreakers.
It is hard to adequately quantify the accomplishments and impact of Gary Baskett. Oh, the state championships (4) and league titles (18) are easy. So are the coach of the year honors he received (3 state, 2 league) and the state champions he produced (33). But I am talking more about the ordinary young men and women he took under his tutelage over the decades. Those students he molded, much with the same care as his beautiful pottery, to become adults with strong work ethic, unbreakable mental toughness, and solid faith. These are the “accomplishments” and “impact” I am most interested in. However, although I know the number of students he had a positive influence on reaches several times into the thousands, I couldn’t give you an exact number.
But I can give you this: I was one of them.
I started my freshman year at Mead High School in 2001. By this time, Mr. Baskett was already a hall-of-famer. He had cemented a rock-solid legacy and was a couple years removed from his wildly successful tenure as the head track and field coach. I suppose he could have just decided to focus solely on his pottery classes during the day while enjoying his evenings and summers to himself but that wasn’t B’s style. He rather be involved in the lives and development of young student-athletes, no matter the role.
As a Panther, I played football and competed in track and field all four years. It would be generous to label me as an average athlete. I lacked natural talent, I didn’t have size, and I wasn’t blessed with speed. But that didn’t matter to Mr. Baskett. The man who groomed All-Americans and state champions went out of his way to give me one-on-one coaching throughout my time at Mead.
I can’t begin to list all the ways Mr. Baskett helped me become a better athlete while maximizing the limited potential that I had. He worked me out in the weight room with incredible intensity. He met me before football practice to work on long snapping. He taught me to run properly. He would pull me out in the middle of class to work on my shot put glide in the hallway (no kidding!). Mr. Baskett was an extremely technical coach who instilled muscle memory. His insistence on doing things the right way coupled with his natural gift to motivate helped an athlete like myself level the playing field with those who were much more talented.
But enough about me, let me focus just for a moment on how Mr. Baskett was revered by his teams. As I mentioned, he assisted with football during my time at Mead. He was the conditioning coach but also worked with the specialists and the offensive/defensive line. B was passionate, honest, and funny. He would lead stretches and you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth. His conditioning sessions were based around technique and heart rate management much more than length and exhaustion. His pep talks weren’t unlike his stretching and conditioning regimens—unorthodox and creative. He could be tough too. Mess around or not give 100% and he might make an example out of you. But if he did, Mr. Baskett would always track you down off the field to clear the air and offer a hug.
Yes, Mr. Baskett was old school. His coaching style was from the same era as his wardrobe but it still resonated with us simply because it was so genuine and passionate. There was a generational divide by the time he was coaching us in the 2000s but it was bridged by the respect we had for him. We truly did love him.
In fact, we loved him so much that we would try to emulate him. Mr. Baskett had a very distinctive voice and a colorful way of speaking that was fun to try and replicate. Many of us tried to master it and few succeeded…but I like to think I got pretty close. Over the past 16 years since I graduated high school, Gary Baskett is the first coach that is always brought up when I connect with my old teammates. When word got out that he passed, the Spokesman-Review article on his life was shared like wildfire among the Mead football alumni family.
For as good of a teacher and coach that Gary Baskett was, he really was an even better man. He cared so deeply about others. Many people might not know that he held a dedicated place in his heart for the special education students at Mead. Or that he was a regular at all of the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings. Or that he would volunteer his time to pull rope at JV track meets. Or that he would selflessly utilize his incredible artistic talents to beautify areas needing some colorful care. Or that he would gladly mock-up a creative t-shirt design for any cause you were looking to promote. The list is endless.
I do have one regret and it is that I never said “thank you” to Mr. Baskett after I graduated. I remember last year reaching out to my siblings and suggesting that we try to get lunch with B but it never materialized. Now it is too late to express my earthly gratitude to him face-to-face.
Although it doesn’t take the place of an in-person “thank you,” I guess this blog post might be the next best thing. On behalf of the countless Mead High School students who became better men and women because of Gary Baskett, we hope his family knows the immeasurable positive impact he had on us. His one-of-a-kind personality, epic storytelling skills, hilarious one-liners, and his deep devotion to others will be greatly missed. May God bless Gary’s soul and may his memory always shine bright at 302 W. Hastings Rd. Don’t Blink.