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Lee Insko, center, talks with Jim McDonald, left, of Imbler and Dennis Hunt of Pendleton on Saturday night. (Dick Mason/The Observer)
Former head coach’s contributions celebrated during ceremony
Lee Insko led Eastern Oregon University to many memorable gridiron triumphs during his tenure as the Mountaineers’ football coach. Topping the list were two upsets of national power Carroll College.
Laminated newspaper articles about such triumphs were easy to find in scrapbooks at EOU’s Gilbert Center Saturday night. Finding former Eastern players with stories to tell about Insko the coach, teacher and molder of young men was even easier.
About as easy as moving a first down marker.
The Gilbert Center was the site of “An Evening With Lee Insko,” a program honoring the former coach and retired dean of Eastern’s distance learning program. At least 120 people attended the event, including EOU alumni who played for Insko.
“Lee was a great coach and has a great football mind. All of that pales in comparison to him as a human being,” said Don Salazar of Salt Lake City, who played for Insko at EOU in the 1970s. “The two most influential people in my life are my father and coach Insko.”
Stan Scott of Gresham, who also played for Insko, echoed this sentiment.
“He was not only a coach, he was a teacher about life. He was not only interested in you as an athlete but as a student,” Scott said. “It wasn’t just play football and goodbye.”
Insko coached the football team from 1968 until 1977. He later switched to men’s basketball and his teams won a total of 56 games between 1978 and 1982.
Nobody in the audience saw more football action under Insko than Jack Redling of Salem. Redling played football for Insko a total of six years at Springfield High School and EOU.
Redling was a sophomore at Springfield when Insko took over its football program in 1965. Insko inherited a downtrodden program and did not win a game his first season. Two years later, however, Springfield won its district title and advanced to the state playoffs. Springfield lost to eventual state champion Grants Pass in its first round playoff game in 1967 by just seven points.
“He (Insko) was a god in Springfield while he was football coach,” Reding said. “All of the players (who had recently graduated) wished he had come a lot earlier so they could have played for him.”
Insko later served as dean of Eastern’s distance education program for eight years after ending his coaching career at EOU. Mary Koza of Eastern’s distance education program credits Insko with doing a remarkable job furthering the development of the distance education program. The program was one of the first in the nation to allow students to earn a degree without attending classes on a college campus. Today, it remains one of the most successful distance education programs in the region.
“We are eternally grateful to you,” Koza said.
During Insko’s time as head coach of the men’s basketball team, the Mountaineers had winning seasons in three of his four years at the helm.
Eastern advanced to the district playoffs in 1982, where the Mountaineers lost to Chaminade University in Hawaii in the first round of the district playoffs by about 10 points. This was the same Chaminade team which stunned Virginia, then the top ranked NCAA Division I in the nation, early the next season.
Insko stepped down from coaching in 1982 so that he and his wife, Beth, could have time to attend the high school games of their daughters, Lori and Lisa, and sons, Tom and Matt.
Tom served as the emcee of Saturday’s event. He spoke of how devoted his father has always been to his family. Tom recalled what it was like to visit his father at work to make his point.
“Anytime I went to his office, he would stop everything he was doing. He would completely disconnect. Not many kids have that kind of a relationship with their father,” Tom Insko said.
Lee Insko said that much of the credit for the success he has enjoyed should go to his wife.
“She is the most important person in my life,’’ Lee Insko said.
Insko’s devotion to his family was noted by many at Saturday’ event. Insko’s former players talked like they were part of his extended family, which is not surprising considering the level of empathy he showed for them.
“All kids need is somebody who cares,’’ said Insko, who lives in the Elgin area.
He said that a sport like football is particularly important for youths who come from difficult backgrounds and family situations because of the camaraderie it offers.
“They need something,’’ Insko said.