Canzano: A giant loss -- and a nod to big hearts
A coach gone too soon.
Roland Aumueller was a giant man. He stood 6-foot-3 and weighed north of 300 pounds. Those who saw him play offensive line at Portland State or suit up as a replacement player with the Houston Oilers during the 1987 NFL strike tell me he could run-block with the best of them.
Later, ‘Coach Aum’ became a fixture as an assistant at Milwaukie High School. He brought kids peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, handed out Gatorade, and opened the weight room for anyone who wanted in.
Aumueller attended the high school’s volleyball matches, home and away. Same for basketball, boys and girls. Wrestling, too. For more than 30 years, he showed up big.
He died on Friday.
Aumueller was 59.
When a person dies too young people like to say things such as “He died doing what he loved.” Or “He was surrounded by those who loved him.” Those things are true when it comes to the death of Roland Aumueller.
He was riding on the team bus after Milwaukie High’s football victory last Friday over Parkrose High when he took his final breath. Everyone thought he was napping, but it turns out that giant heart of his gave out.
Players and coaches tried to wake him.
Then, they attempted CPR.
Said Ken Buckles: “They tried everything, but he was gone.”
Buckles spent 16 years as the Milwaukie High head football coach. He hired Aumueller as a football and track assistant in 1990. I called Buckles this week to tell him how sorry I was that his old friend died and also to ask what made him hire the guy all those years ago.
They held the job interview at Memorial Coliseum at halftime of the Oregon state high school basketball tournament title game in the winter of 1990. Buckles peppered the candidate with questions about coaching philosophy, his football knowledge and asked about Aumueller’s full-time job at the juvenile detention center.
“He said all the right things,” Buckles told me. “The guy never married, never had kids, but his whole life became those Milwaukie High kids. He adopted them and took care of them.”
I suppose this would be a good time to give a nod to all the paid and unpaid coaches who give so much of themselves. They donate time and encourage, teach, inspire, and mentor.
My high school campus had a few of those. They were angels. One of them was a coach named Jim Fahey. He’d been a legendary athlete in our small California town. He’d gone off to college at Cal Poly on a football scholarship and had the misfortune of being on the team plane that crashed during the 1960 season.
There were 48 souls on the plane, only 26 survived. Fahey was among the lucky ones. He suffered a broken neck and internal injuries. I will never forget his account of the accident — the terror in his voice, the faraway look in his eyes — as he described in detail how he carried teammates, dead and alive, from the burning wreckage.
He instructed us: “Take nothing for granted.”
Fahey had the spirit of a Navy SEAL. He could have been anything he wanted, but chose a career teaching at the local middle school. He coached wrestling. His teams never lost. And he’d show up all over the place, helping wherever he was needed. In fact, my senior year of high school, our varsity football team was short one assistant. No surprise, Fahey heard about it and volunteered.
One practice he grew increasingly frustrated with the running backs hitting the hole too slow on a run play up the middle. They were running tentative, not anticipating and trusting the hole to be there. They weren’t getting the timing right and Fahey knew words weren’t helping.
Fahey, then in his mid-50s, jumped into the full-contact drill without pads or a football helmet. He got in a three-point stance and barked “snap the ball!!” He took the handoff like a mad man, ripped through the A-gap untouched, blew past the wide-eyed linebackers and rumbled into the secondary.
None of us dared to tackle Fahey — and not because we loved the guy.
Fahey died a few years ago. He was 83 and it took cancer, Parkinsons, and emphysema to stop him. That old coach meant so much to so many kids I grew up with. I never got the chance to tell him myself. I hope he knew. There were lots of others who made a difference, too. Teachers, coaches and counselors help provide the roadmap of adolescence. Children don’t always listen, but there’s no shortage of wonderful people out there trying to help.
Do we do enough to recognize them?
Before they die?
I thought about that when I heard about Aumueller. He was one of the great ones. He gave relentlessly and selflessly. He asked nothing in return. His death on Friday night hit like a bag of bricks. The subsequent candlelight vigil on Sunday was attended by hundreds, per news reports.
“It might have been a thousand,” Buckles told me.
Ask around. Check with kids who attended Milwaukie High anytime in the last 30-plus years. Ask them about their biggest influences and their favorites coaches. Have them tell you about the people who made a difference in their lives. You’ll get some variations, but most of the lists will include ‘Coach Aum.’
Buckles said: “There have been great coaches there. And that school has had some great athletes, even NFL players, a couple of Olympians, but none of us — no one — has given more time, energy and money than him.”
Like I said, he was a giant.
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