After the Brewster boys basketball team lost in the State B semifinals to Lind in March of 1974, head coach Dick Olson declared to a Wenatchee World reporter that the team was going to win its next 82 games.
It was a bold thing to say, but Olson knew what he talking about. That’s how many games the star-studded Class of 1977 had left in its high school career, and he didn’t see any reason why they should lose another game.
“He wasn’t shy about being confident of his teams,” remembers Nick Babcock, the reporter to whom Olson made the prediction. “They went to state a lot, but they could never get over the hump. But the night after they lost to Lind, that was Game 1 of the 82-game winning streak.”
Olson proved to be right on the money, leading the Bears through a Washington state-record winning streak, taking three State B titles in the process – the last of which came in a 50-49 overtime thriller against St. John in what turned out to be Olson’s final game as Brewster’s coach. He stepped down afterward.
For many, it was Olson who got the powerhouse known as Brewster basketball started.
Now, the community is without one of the big connection to its early successes.
Olson, who made his mark as a coach in basketball, football and track and field at Brewster, died at Spokane’s Sacred Heart Hospital in mid-July because of complications from hip surgery. He was 70.
He is survived by a daughter, Kim Kraemer of Maple Valley, Wash., a son, Rick Olson of Spokane, a sister, Lois Toolin of Tacoma, two granddaughters and two great grandsons.
It was a quiet and unceremonious way to go for such a large figure in North Central Washington sports. A massive stroke in the late 1990s put him in a retirement home, and he lost touch with many of his acquaintances over the years, friends say.
The news of his death didn’t make it around to the majority of his friends, former players, coaching adversaries, and even Brewster community members until weeks after the fact.
“Most people don’t know about it, and that’s the sad thing,” said Karl Word, radio announcer for Brewster football and basketball who grew up in Brewster during Olson’s tenure.
Though a funeral will not be held, a memorial will take place at 1 p.m. Sept. 12 in the Brewster High School gym.
Born in North Dakota in 1939, Olson attended high school in Tacoma, before arriving in Brewster in 1965. He brought a drill sergeant-like mentality to coaching, which the Bears’ athletes quickly accepted.
“If anything sums up the man, he was a disciplinarian,” Word said. “Growing up in Brewster, you always wanted to play sports and be on one of his teams.”
“He was the consummate high school coach,” said Gary Driessen, who was Olson’s assistant basketball coach from 1972 to 1977. “He was a taskmaster, but (his players) would always do what he wanted. When Dick got (to Brewster), he was able to rally the troops and really sell the program.”
While he demanded a lot of discipline out of his players, Olson wasn’t exactly known for self-discipline. He was an old-school type of guy, not one to turn away a drink or cigarette.
“He was an outstanding coach, but he was not very disciplined in his own life,” said Howard Gamble, a Brewster athletics statistician and longtime fixture at Bears sporting events. “He was a ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ kind of guy.”
“His lifestyle was a little different from what he expected from the kids,” Driessen said.
Despite any shortcomings, Olson quickly became known for his ability to get the most out of his players.
“He taught kids to play ball the right way,” Gamble said.
“He was a good coach because he utilized that talent,” said Okanogan girls basketball coach Gary Smith, who coached against Olson at rival Bridgeport.
Olson also was an accomplished coach on the gridiron, and he helped build the Bears program into what became a three-time state runner-up in the mid-1970s under Doyle Payne.
“People forgot that he wasn’t just a top-notch basketball coach, but that he was an all-around coach,” Word said.
When it comes to his legacy, it’s hard to look at anything other than his career as a basketball mentor, however.
Olson accumulated a 263-50 record in 12 seasons as the Bears’ hoops coach, and he took them to nine State B tournaments.
The highlight of it all was the winning streak, which occurred thanks to a perfect storm of Olson’s coaching and a talented class of 1977 that included Roger Boesel and twins Dale and Dave Smith.
“The teams were just awesome. It was a whole new level of basketball,” Gary Smith said.
“Our class did have some talented athletes, but it took a special coach to hold it all together and get the most out of it,” said Boesel, who runs an auto dealership in Brewster. “He made sure we were in better shape than our competition, and he worked at learning more about the game each year.”
Olson spent a few years coaching in Hermiston, Ore., before finally hanging it up, but he never reached the same amount of success he achieved in Brewster.
For those who were there during the Olson era, there’s little doubt of his effect on Brewster basketball.
“He was everything,” Babcock said. “Brewster was OK before he came, but he once he got there they started winning.”
“I would say he had a large part in what has become a pretty good basketball town,” Boesel said. “For all of the young kids to watch the teams of ’75, ’76 and ’77, and to see the excitement that was generated, heck, who wouldn’t want to grow up and be a part of something like that?”