By Tim Marsh, Lakes High School Class of 1966
Gerry Austin is best known for the outstanding football teams he coached at Clover Park and Lakes High Schools.
In addition to being a Clover Park Warrior and Lakes Lancer, he was also a Kelso Hilander and Washington Husky.
Although his signature was “Gerry D. Austin,” his full name was Gerald Dewey Austin.
His middle name came from the S.S. Admiral Dewey, an American-flagged cargo and passenger steamship on which he was born Aug. 19, 1923, as it was cruising on the Pacific Ocean.
Gerry was born while his mother, Mary, a ship passenger, was traveling to San Francisco to meet up with Edward, her husband/Gerry’s father.
GREW UP IN KELSO
He grew up in Kelso (Cowlitz Co.), Wash., a lumber town named for Kelso, Scotland, the hometown of the town’s Scottish founder.
Gerry was a Hilander (spelling is correct) because Hilanders (spelling is correct) is the nickname of Kelso High School teams on which he played.
Before high school, Gerry excelled in a variety of sports and also in the classroom. Later, being a scholar-athlete served him well at Kelso High and in college. It explains why his career was not only as a successful coach and administrator but also as an excellent mathematics teacher.
At Kelso High, Gerry and Lillian Lorraine Filla were sweethearts. Both 1942 Kelso High graduates, they married March 2, 1944, in San Francisco.
LILLIAN WORKED IN CLOVER PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT
Lillian worked for more than 20 years in the Clover Park School District mostly at Carter Lake Elementary School as secretary to the principal.
They were married was for almost 50 years before Gerry died at age 70 on Jan. 28, 1994. Lillian passed away at age 82 on June 18, 2006.
Because Gerry was born at sea and he and Lillian enjoyed vacationing on Washington ocean beaches, they had a wish. It was fulfilled when their cremated ashes were scattered on the ocean off the Washington state coast.
COWLITZ COUNTY ‘ATHLETE OF THE YEAR’
As a Kelso High Hilander athlete, Gerry played football, basketball and baseball and competed in track. As a senior, he was named Cowlitz County “Athlete of the Year.”
His athletic ability for the Hilanders caught the attention of the University of Washington. He received an athletic scholarship to play football for the UW Huskies.
The success Gerry would have with the UW varsity as quarterback/punter was foreshadowed in 1941 when he played for the Husky Pups freshman team. The Longview, Wash., Daily News sports editor wrote in a column that year: “Kelso’s Gerry Austin is going to town in a big way and Washington coaches are high on the lad. He’s been doing the kicking for the (freshman team) and a darn capable job of it, too.”
According to the column, the UW freshman football coach said about Gerry it was “one of the smartest games against Oregon of any quarterback we’ve ever had here. What’s more his kicking was tops.” The freshman coach “intended to play (Gerry) only part of the time, but when that kid started to move there wasn’t anything else to do. That boy is going far, just watch.”
Furthermore, according to the column, the freshman coach “seldom enthuses about his frosh gridders so when he goes overboard on Austin, it shows just how well Gerry is booming them” for the UW.
GERRY WAS A ‘TRIPLE THREAT’ QUARTERBACK
A newspaper preview of UW’s 1943 Homecoming football game said Gerry was a “triple threat at the quarterback position” with his “speed, passing and punting” making him “a natural.”
Gerry played Husky varsity football in the 1942, 1943, 1946 and 1947 seasons. In 1944-1945 during World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy on a minesweeper.
As a member of the 1943 UW team, he was the Husky quarterback and punter in the Rose Bowl game vs. the University of Southern California on Jan. 1, 1944. Because of World War II travel restrictions, the game in Pasadena. Calif., had two teams from the Pacific Coast Conference competing. USC won, 29-0.
The 1947 “Apple Cup,” UW versus Washington State football game, had a Kelso highlight. Played at UW’s Husky Stadium in Seattle, it pitted former Kelso Hilander teammates as the starting quarterbacks, Gerry for the UW and Tiz Miller for Washington State. UW won, 20-0. At Kelso, Gerry was QB and Tiz halfback. Both played in the 1947 game after World War II military service.
1949: BECAME CLOVER PARK FOOTBALL COACH
Graduating from the UW in 1948, Gerry was an assistant coach on the UW Pups football team that year and became Clover Park’s head football coach starting with the 1949 season.
He coached Clover Park Warriors football for 13 seasons, 1949-1961. He was also Clover Park’s golf coach and taught math.
In the days before high school football playoffs for state titles, special post-season “Turkey Day” games on Thanksgiving were the pinnacle of success.
The most important high school Turkey Day game in the state of Washington was in Seattle with the Seattle City League champion playing a top-ranked opponent.
According to the Seattle Times, the annual Turkey Day game was “one of the biggest sporting events in Seattle in its heyday, and we’re not just talking high-school sports.” There were games from 1947-71, all but one in Seattle Memorial Stadium. Thousands of fans attended each game.
Victory was elusive for Gerry Austin’s Puget Sound League champ Warriors, who traveled to Seattle and played in three “Turkey Day” games.
In 1956, 11,000 fans saw Ballard defeat Clover Park, 37-7. In 1957, Clover Park was rated #1 in the Associated Press prep poll, but lost, 6-0, to Garfield. It was the Warriors’ only loss of the season. In 1959, Clover Park and Garfield played again with the Warriors losing, 13-7.
Gerry was president of the Washington State Coaches Association, 1958-59.
1962: MOVED TO NEW LAKES HIGH SCHOOL
When Lakes High School opened in fall 1962, Gerry moved from Clover Park as the Lancers’ first football coach and athletic director, and he taught math. Quarterback on his first three Lakes teams (1962, 1963, and 1964) was his son, Rick (full name Rick Gerald Austin. The 1962 team played as an independent. The 1963 and 1964 football teams competed in the Puget Sound League.)
Gerry coached Lakes football for six seasons (1962-1967) and retired for the first time from coaching.
One result of a Clover Park School District levy failure was staff cutbacks. Because of that, Gerry returned to Lakes football in 1970 as an assistant coach. In that season, he was in charge of backs, and Lakes head football coach Andy Pazaruski (Lakes head football coach 1968-1970) handled the line.
After the 1970 season Pazaruski was promoted to a district administrative post and Gerry became Lakes head football coach in 1971. Then, he retired from coaching the second and final time.
In Gerry’s 20 seasons as a high school head football coach, he compiled an 118-53-8 win-loss-tie record and Warrior teams he coached won four PSL titles.
Bob Haney was Lakes head football coach 1972-1976. Don McPherson, a player for Gerry’s Lancers, was football coach 1977-1983. Although no longer coaching, Gerry enjoyed discussing Lancer game strategies with McPherson, a Lakes 1965 grad.
Gerry stepped down as Lakes athletic director and as a teacher in 1974 when he became the Clover Park School District athletic director in 1975. He retired in 1981.
ENSHRINED IN HALL OF FAME
Gerry was enshrined in the Washington State Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1986.
He was posthumously enshrined in 1996 as a member of the Kelso High Hilander Hall of Fame inaugural class. Representing him at the enshrinement event in Kelso were Lillian along with son Rick (Lakes Class of 1965) and Cathy (Lakes 1967) and Joan (Lakes 1971).
“In addition to being a tremendously successful athlete and high school football coach, my Dad was a good man,” said Rick Austin.” He was kind, fair and honest, and he made everyone around him a better person. Dad worked very hard to be the best athlete and coach he could be, and he led by example.
“We all knew that we had to earn the right to be respected or to make the starting lineup. There were no favors given to individuals, even to me, his son, on the playing field.
“His positive manner of coaching taught us all many of life’s lessons. Dad’s numerous accolades were well deserved, but none of that recognition ever changed his humble, thankful nature. He was the rock of the Austin family, and he and Mom had a wonderful, supporting relationship.”
Lakes 1964 football season bittersweet
Lakes High School’s 1964 football season was bittersweet for the Lancers.
Gerry Austin was Lakes football coach, and his son, Rick, a senior, was the Lancers’ quarterback.
Playing a total of nine games and all of its home games at Clover Park’s Thompson Field, the 1964 Lancers were twice victorious by the same 27-14 score over the Clover Park Warriors. The Lancers won the non-league season opener for both teams, 27-14. That was played Saturday, Sept. 12, 1964. The next game between the two teams, this time a Puget Sound League (PSL) contest, was Friday, Oct 23, 1964.
During the season’s seventh game, Lakes beat Franklin Pierce, 7-6, on Thompson Field when the teams were respectively ranked #3 and #4 in the state.
When the 1964 PSL season ended, the Lancers were the league’s only undefeated team with an 8-0-1 win-loss-tie record. It was the tie, a 0-0 game at Puyallup on a muddy field, which was the crux. Played Oct. 9, 1964, Puyallup’s quarterback gained 17 yards on a run in the game’s final play. Statistics showed Puyallup gained 12 more yards in the game than Lakes.
League officials picked Puyallup as the PSL Southern Division representative to play PSL Northern Division rep Kent in the league’s championship game. Reason? The reason being those 12 yards and despite the fact Puyallup had lost a non-league game to Kent.
Gerry and Rick, proudly wearing his Lakes High letter jacket, attended the Puyallup vs. Kent championship game played at a neutral site, Highline High’s Memorial Stadium in Des Moines, Wash. Puyallup won, 21-6.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Rick. “We were disappointed to say the least. In our minds, we shared the Puget Sound League championship.”
SOURCES for story and sidebar “Lakes 1964 season bittersweet include the TNT/Tacoma News Tribune, Seattle Times, Longview Daily News, Clover Park High Klahowya, Lakes Highs Legend and Kelso High Tamahnawus yearbooks and an article in the Cowlitz Historical Quarterly by its editor, Bob Gaston. As a part of research, visits were made to the Lakewood Historical Society Museum and the Longview Public Library. The assistance of Rick Austin was invaluable.