'It was always about the kids'

Friends remember Massie as teacher, coach and gentleman

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2007

A number of friends and former colleagues of Clifford Massie said he would be missed and remembered for his many contributions to student sports and public recreation programs in the Kenai area.

Massie died Monday at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna. He had been battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year. He was 70.

A one-time Kenai city councilman and former school board member, Massie spent a good part of his life as a teacher and athletic coach at Kenai Central High School, where he began teaching in 1968 and remained beyond his retirement in 1988.

"With him, it was always about the kids," said Craig Jung, who began coaching girls basketball at KCHS in 1979 and worked with Massie from 1981 to 1985.

"He imparted to me, as a young coach, 'Do things the right way and the winning will come. These kids have got to work hard and they have to enjoy it.'

"Now it's a responsibility for me and other young coaches that that gets passed on to others ... young coaches and the kids," Jung said. "Cliff was very selfless. It was never about Cliff."

Jim Beeson, who is currently in his 18th year as head football coach at KCHS and has coached basketball for 17 years, said when he first applied for the basketball coaching position at the high school, he was inspired to do so by Massie.

Beeson said Massie had retired the year Beeson arrived and was a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education. Massie also was driving a bus for the KCHS athletic teams.

"I told him I would (apply for the coaching position) if he would come on as my assistant," Beeson said. Massie accepted.

"If you've seen me coach, I can become pretty loud, and Cliff was always quiet. We worked well together," he said. "You would never hear any negative things out of him.

"To me, he was my Alaskan father. He could do anything you needed ... he was a carpenter, he could do mechanics," Beeson said.

"Everything I've done is a direct result of Cliff and Craig (Jung)," he said.

Dale Sandahl knew Massie since 1968 when Massie was a newly hired teacher and Sandahl was hired as a principal with the assignment of opening Sears Elementary School.

"We really started working together when he was athletic director at the high school and activities director and I was working at central office," Sandahl said. "We shared a lot of things on a lot of subjects. It's what friends do."

During Sandahl's last year with the school district, 1989-90, he was superintendent of schools and Massie was a member of the school board.

"He was a tremendous sharer of information and knowledge," Sandahl said. "He was always there to help."

"When they dedicated that floor to him ... that tells you he's had quite an impact on lots of people, lots of kids over the decades," Sandahl said, referring to the naming of Kenai Central's gym, "Cliff Massie Court" in March, when Massie also became the first recipient of the Alaska School Activities Association's gold lifetime achievement award.

Another longtime friend of Massie's — Roger Nelles, who was involved in coaching for 30 years, first at Delta then in Wasilla — described Massie as "the First Gentleman of Community Athletics."

"He always greeted you as a guest and a friend," Nelles said.

"Whenever you think of Kenai high school, you picture Cliff Massie," he said. "He was like the guy that bled red and black for Kenai.

"I was so blessed I got to see him and visit with him during the regional tournament," Nelles said, referring to the basketball tournament in March. "We got to talk about the past and have some laughs."

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter and Councilman Rick Ross worked with Massie during his two years on the city council, but each said they knew him more through his work with their children.

"He was very strong on recreation programs in Kenai, pushing for the Rec Center and for all outdoor recreation programs," Ross said.

Ross has known Massie since returning from the military in 1972 and said the two worked on a number of projects together.

"He was just a tremendous guy," Ross said.

"He certainly had an influence in my son's life," said Porter.

She also said even though one might not see eye-to-eye with Massie on an issue, "he never stopped being a gentleman."

"I always, always respected Cliff Massie," Porter said. "He was a great person in our community and he will be missed."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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