Julie Trivers | For the Tidings
LEFT: Coach Charlie Hall (lower left) and AHS football players listen to a speech by Athletic Director, Karl Kemper, during a memorial ceremony for Ashland teacher and coach, Dave Kitchell, held at the Walter Phillips field on Sunday afternoon. RIGHT: Dave Kitchell's wife, Trisha, hugs AHS Athletic Director Karl Kemper, after his speech at her husband's memorial service on Sunday.
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Family, friends and fans of packed the Ashland High School football stadium to share their fond memories and say goodbye to "Coach K" at a memorial service Sunday afternoon.
Kitchell, who taught and coached football in the Ashland schools for 23 years, died last Sunday from cancer.
Former students sporting letter jackets from the 1980s and friends Kitchell had known only a short while recalled a man with great passion and intensity always willing to go the extra mile in teaching, coaching and in life.
"He is nothing less than inspiring," said Father Sean Weeks, Kitchell's pastor at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church. "I've only known him since July, and I can only imagine the power, impact and influence he has had on many of you."
The crowd, which some estimated to be 2,500 strong, was evidence enough that Kitchell's life touched thousands, Weeks, said.
During his career in Ashland, Kitchell, affectionately known as "Coach K" and "Kitch," coached basketball, tennis and elementary intramurals in addition to his greatest love, football. He taught nearly every grade between 3rd and 8th grade, and was teaching 5th grade at Bellview Elementary this year.
Kevin Hancock, who played freshman basketball during Kitchell's first season as a coach, recalled him as a "life coach" who went far beyond the duty of a regular coach.
"Not only was he my coach, but he really genuinely became my friend," Hancock said.
Hancock told stories of Kitchell's sense of humor, encouraging him despite his less-than-stellar basketball skills and unpromising career aptitude results. Years after Hancock graduated from the team, Kitchell helped support his new mortgage company by referring clients.
No matter what sport he was coaching, Kitchell always had the same attitude, said AHS Athletic Director Karl Kemper.
"His message to the kids was, 'I love you and I care about you, and because of that, I expect nothing but the best of you,'" he said.
Kitchell had the same high expectations of himself, Kemper said, recalling a favorite memory of Kitchell single-handedly loading the entire football team's luggage onto a bus while the players milled around or relaxed on the air-conditioned bus.
"He was the ultimate team player, willing to help out wherever is needed," he said. "I doubt cancer has ever met a more tough person than Coach K."
Coaches that worked with Kitchell throughout his career recalled that same toughness combined with compassion and enthusiasm for his team.
Kitchell helped established many of the team's traditions, former coach Jim Nagel said, such as nailing swords decorated with opponents' names to the ceiling, throwing rotten tomatoes at pictures of opponents' mascots and pre-game affirmations.
Even after he left the football field this season, Kitchell still contributed to the team in any way he could. He led his last positive affirmation session with the team just before the Corvallis playoff game a few weeks ago, Coach Charlie Hall recalled, ending with his favorite affirmation "We love and care for each other."
Kitchell leaves a legacy of love from his ability to get teams to love the game and each other, Hall said.
"His spirit lives strong in all of us," he said. "I know we'll ask ourselves from time to time 'What would Coach Kitchell do?'"
Russ Pellars, Kitchell's brother-in-law, reaffirmed that legacy.
"If the world was made of nothing but Dave Kitchells, it would be a great world," he said. "He cared for people, he helped people, he loved people. He was that kind of person."
Kitchell's son, Brian, ended the service thanking everyone for the celebration of his father's life.
"It truly is a celebration," he said. "He did not have a sad life. He was an amazing person."
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Teacher honored for life of service
Julie Trivers | For the Tidings