Wednesday, March 13, 2002
"When Mitch Hecomovich started coaching football at Columbia Union High School in White Salmon in 1946, there weren't even goal posts on the field.
"We had to put up two-by-fours," Mitch recalls. He marked the field with a two-gallon coffee can of lime, dodging the rocks and uneven ground to prepare for the first game of the season. The uniforms were worn; his wife, O.J., would later darn those same uniforms so they would make it through yet another season. The helmets had no chin straps.
Despite the lack of amenities and sub-par equipment, the team went 6-1 that year.
"It was a good season," Mitch says, his eyes twinkling at the memory. There are many memories. Mitch, 88, coached football, basketball and baseball at the high school until retiring in 1976.
He taught, too. Social studies, P.E., driver training. "Everything," he says. But his passion was coaching.
Thanks to Mitch and O.J. Hecomovich, the athletics program in the White Salmon School District should never again want for adequate equipment -- and likely will see improvements to fields and other facilities that were never possible with the always-stretched school district athletics budget.
The Hecomovich's have established the Mitch Hecomovich Fund as part of the Gorge Community Foundation. Monies from the fund will go solely toward the athletics department in the White Salmon School District -- specifically for sports programs at the middle and high school.
The fund was established with $60,000; more will eventually go to the fund from Mitch and O.J.'s estate.
"Hopefully some others will join in, too," Mitch says. The plan is to let the fund grow for a few years before tapping into it. A five-member board of directors will decide where the money will go in years to come.
Mitch is confident the money will be used wisely; his nephew, Howard Krebs, is not only a board member but is also the athletic director for the White Salmon School District.
"The money will basically go for equipment, grounds improvement, uniforms -- those types of things," Krebs says. In the age of shrinking budgets and expanding numbers of students and needs, the money is a godsend. One football helmet costs $125, he points out. The school spends around $15,000 annually on referees, compared with about $300 when Mitch started coaching.
"As a school district, you feel very fortunate that someone like Mitch comes along," Krebs says.
"I've given this thing a lot of thought and I feel that sports are very important for schools," says Mitch, who still hears from former athletes he coached about the impact he had on their lives.
"With this, I can leave some money for something worthwhile."