I haven’t had a lot of heroes in my life, people that I put on a pedestal. It’s been a very exclusive club and standards are rarefied.
My Dad was my ultimate hero. I was fortunate to have him in my life until 2014 and I owe everything I’ve accomplished to him and for making me the person I am today.
Grandpa Zurek and Grandpa Sell were two of my other heroes. I was always told that I was just like my Grandpa Zurek, from whom I acquired my love of baseball — particularly the St. Louis Cardinals. From Grandpa Sell, I acquired my humor and work ethic.
In high school, I had a couple of classmates I looked up to, Craig Palmer and Phil Aitken. They were great guys and both have gone on to successful lives. I’m honored to still be able to call them friends, though I almost never see them.
Since moving to McPherson, my first hero was Johnny (Sunshine) Watkins. I always admired John as he was a role model and never did I ever hear a person say a bad word about him.
My other hero in McPherson is Doug Gayer, the first real star athlete I covered when I arrived in 1979 and fortunately was able to strike up a friendship that has lasted nearly 40 years.
Doug was a KCAC tennis champion and star basketball player at McPherson College, with his senior year being the 1979-80 school year. Once he graduated, he made a seamless transition to being a teacher and coach in the McPherson school system.
Just as he was on the court, Doug was successful in his profession. He is recognized as one of the all-time coaching greats in Kansas tennis history and guided the Bullpups to a pair of state championships, one for the boys and one for the girls. MHS was a Top 3 state finisher 25 times under his tutelage and he produced 13 state doubles champions.
He was inducted into the McPherson College Hall of Fame in 2004 and went on to the McPherson High Wall of Fame in 2016.
Sometimes forgotten is his long tenure as McPherson eighth-grade boys basketball coach. He taught his players the proper fundamentals and by the time they moved on to play for coaches Mike Henson and Kurt Kinnamon, they were far ahead of the learning curve. Doug was an unsung hero in building the Bullpup basketball machine.
He also helped youth in McPherson as a driver’s ed instructor, something he did for many years.
Doug and I played a lot of golf together and he was a tremendous player. We also played a lot of ping pong many years ago and few were better than Doug. He always took it easy on me, never wanting to embarrass me.
I watched Doug courageously battle health problems in recent years, but never once did I hear him complain or feel sorry for himself. He went on with his life, meeting every challenge head-on with a positive attitude.
Early Thursday morning, news came that Doug had passed away. He had battled cancer the last couple of years, though there were times it was thought he had turned the corner. But a recent bout of pneumonia compounded his situation and despite his brave battle, he lost the fight.
I always admired Doug for being the ultimate son, husband, father and grandfather. He and his wife, Tamara, raised a beautiful family and all his children live their lives with the values they instilled in them. If I’d ever had my own family, the Gayer family would have been my blueprint.
He treated everybody with the utmost courtesy and never said a negative word. He was an amazing coach, as I’ve already viewed several posts as to his impact he had on peoples’ lives.
To Tamara and the Gayer family, I can only offer my prayers and condolences. My heart is breaking today and they will be relying on their faith, family and their many friends to get through this difficult time. I’m sure everyone who knew Doug held him in the highest regard.
RIP Doug. Save a spot in your foursome for when I get there. I’m looking forward to teeing it up again.