LAKE STEVENS — Gary Cease once told a fellow wrestling coach he wanted to give a tithe, a percentage of personal wealth typically donated to support a church.
Instead of giving up the customary 10 percent of his pay, Cease wanted to donate 20 percent of his time to the community by being involved in youth sports. Listening to his friends, it’s clear that Cease surpassed his own ambitious pledge.
He spent nearly three decades as a mentor for young athletes in the Lake Stevens area. He coached baseball and football. He coached and refereed wrestling. He served as the president of the Lake Stevens Junior Athletic Association and made sure no child would have to quit playing sports for lack of money.
“He related really well with young men and was a really good role model for them,” said Lake Stevens High School wrestling coach Brent Barnes, who knew Cease for more than 20 years. “His legacy will endure for a long time.”
Cease is no longer a fixture on the sidelines, in the dugout or at matside. The 51-year-old lost a battle with melanoma in November 2008, about a half-year after he was diagnosed with the aggressive form of skin cancer.
In a way, the coach will still be able to stand by Lake Stevens’ youth.
His friend Gregg Ortega urged Snohomish County leaders to dedicate the ballfields at the new Lake Stevens Community Park to Cease. They agreed. The grand opening of the new $5 million park scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday includes the unveiling of a memorial plaque for Cease.
The park includes three baseball diamonds, four soccer fields and sports courts. The Lake Stevens Junior Athletic Association has committed to keeping up the grounds.
Cease graduated from Lynnwood High School in 1975 and lived briefly in Hawaii and Alaska before moving to Lake Stevens. His busy schedule came to include not only coaching, refereeing and a day job laying tile, but also serving with the Lake Stevens Parks and Recreation Board and the Snohomish County Wrestling Officials Association.
Cease remained friends with the men who guided him as a youth. When his athletes grew into men, they, too, stayed friends.
Ty Human credits Cease’s influence during his elementary-school years with getting him into wrestling. Human went on to become a state champion in 2003, his senior year at Lake Stevens High School. He remembered his coach putting him to work laying carpet, to give him some money.
“He’s the one who got me into wrestling,” Human said. “Even if you weren’t worth the money he was paying you, he would pay you well.”
Dylan Henderson, another 2003 Lake Stevens High graduate, had Cease as a baseball and football coach as soon as he was old enough to play sports.
“He had this unbelievable vibe about him that made kids want to play,” Henderson said. “Great coach, great person, one of the best guys you’d ever meet.”
Wrestling coach John Casebeer taught Cease in the early 1970s at the former Alderwood Junior High School in Lynnwood.
“What he got from coaches in his younger years, he paid back,” Casebeer said. “He wanted to give back what other people had given him. He did a wonderful job of that.”
“He knew he was going to die, but he was real strong in his belief in Christ,” Casebeer said. “He knew where he was going. He said, ‘John, I’ll see you when you get there.’ He was just at peace about it.”
Jeremy Cain, 25, one of Cease’s sons, said his dad kept working with kids through much of his fight with cancer.
“He never showed a sign of dismay, even when it was getting to him,” Cain said. “He never wanted us to see him in a weakened state.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
A dedication for Snohomish County’s Lake Stevens Community Park is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at 1601 N. Machias Road, near the Centennial Trail and 16th St. NE.
The Lake Stevens Junior Athletic Association has committed to maintaining the park. To help sponsor those efforts, contact Brian Menard, LSJAA vice president, at Brian@RCNW.com 425-531-1624.
Size: 30 acres developed, 13 acres with woods
Cost: More than $5 million (including mitigation fees from new housing, real-estate excise tax and a $300,000 grant from Washington’s Recreation Conservation Office.)
Athletic fields: One large baseball field with lights; two smaller baseball-softball fields without lights; four soccer fields; and sports courts with basketball hoops, hop-scotch and four-square.
Other features: Grass meadow, playground and walking trail.