Rob Younger was a medical microbiology major and headed for a lifetime of lab work when Gary Ritchie stopped by on a late August day in 1976.

Ritchie had coached Younger at Corvallis High School while an assistant football coach under Chuck Solberg.

Ritchie had gone on to take the head position at Crescent Valley and was visiting Younger to offer him a job as the Raiders’ running backs coach.

Younger took the job and liked it so much he changed his major and wound up coaching and teaching biology.

All these years later, he is still involved with the game.

“Gary completely changed the direction of my life,” Younger said.

Ritchie, who died at home in Waldport on March 21 at 74 years old, impacted many lives through his years as a teacher and coach.

A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. on April 13 at the Salem Elks Lodge.

After graduating from Linfield and Oregon State, Ritchie made stops at South Salem High, Cottage Grove, Corvallis, Crescent Valley, North Salem, McKay and Willamette University.

He took over the CV program in 1971. The school had just opened and the Raiders played an independent schedule that year.

Two seasons later, the Raiders won a Valley League championship. They tied for the title in 1974 and won it again in 1977.

“Gary was a great leader not only of his football team but also the coaching staff,” Younger said.

“He was a great mentor. He let you do your job but also held you accountable.”

Ritchie was able to put together a solid staff with Younger, Fred Sutherland and Butch Wicks.

Younger said Ritchie had a tremendous offensive mind.

He would allow Sutherland and Wicks to concentrate on the defense while he focused on offensive duties.

“He could visualize what was going to happen on the field,” Younger said. “When he called a play, he was thinking three or four plays down the road.

“He had a real gift for calling an offensive game.”

Steve Holsberry moved to Corvallis from Texas in 1975 and started for the Raiders that season as a sophomore, then as a junior and senior as well.

He said Ritchie was adept at matching his players talents with an appropriate style.

“He was just real good at knowing the capabilities of the players he had and running plays around that and against the defense,” Holsberry said.

“He was not an ego guy that just ran plays he thought best. He would listen to his players.”

Holsberry, who is now a volunteer assistant at Sherwood High, went on to play defensive back at Oregon State.

He said Ritchie’s upbeat approach had a lasting impact.

In 1976, the Raiders struggled through a winless season. Ritchie kept the spirits up despite the losses.

“It was just the positive attitude,” Holsberry said. “During the 0-9 year, he was just encouraging. It wasn’t like the world was falling apart. He was always encouraging.

“He was also encouraging in the classroom. Whether you played football or not, he knew good grades could get you to college.”

The 1977 season was special because the Raiders had gone 0-9 in 1976 and came back with a 9-0 league record.

Ken Reynolds was a lineman during those years and said Ritchie switched from the I and installed the wing-T.

He changed the offense and then the mindset.

“He basically just erased it from our memories,” Reynolds said. “He taught us that the difference between winning and losing was just that little bit.

“Gary made us believe.”

Kevin Hampton is sports reporter for the Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 541-758-9519 or kevin.hampton@lee.net.

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