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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Beloved longtime volleyball coach Buzzie Welch dies

Donald “Buzzie” Welch’s volleyball coaching career included stops at Lewis and Clark, above, Ferris and Rogers. (File / SR)
By Dave Trimmer For The Spokesman-Review

When the coach would stride into the gathering for the pregame meeting he would stick out his hand to an offical, his counterpart or an opposing captain and say, “Eric Stratton, rush chairman, damn glad to meet you.”

The young player might not get the reference to the 1978 movie Animal House but it was perfect for Buzzie Welch, rush chairman for GSL volleyball.

“Our first rule, which we would recite before every practice was ‘Seek fun and enjoyment,’ ” said Julie Brunette, who assisted Welch at Lewis and Clark in the 1990s.

Donald Allen Welch, 71, died early Sunday morning, eight weeks after being told he had cancer. He and Crissie, his wife of 49 years, were just putting the finishing touches on their dream home in Hawaii. They immediately returned to Spokane where two of their three children live.

Welch and the late Linda Sheridan are considered the patriarch and matriarch of Spokane volleyball.

Neice Schafter, who coached with Welch after meeting him in college through her future husband Paul, gave credit to a handful of people for pioneering the sport but said, “It was Buzzie driving the bus.”

He had a 504-185 record with 10 state trophies – three at Rogers and Ferris, four at LC (which included two state championships) – in 18 appearances at state. His teams won 11 Greater Spokane League titles, five with LC, which had never won a league title before he went there. Though he liked to win, the game was more important and he felt that a rising tide lifted all ships. He led the charge to have city-wide camps for elementary and high school students.

“When I was in high school at Shadle Park, I would ride my bike to Rogers and go to his camp, as well as attending the Shadle camps,” Stacey Ward, who was the Ferris volleyball coach before becoming activities director, said. “He never cared if you were on his team or not, if you wanted to learn volleyball, he was willing to teach you.”

Welch’s first year at Ferris was Cheryl (Hanson) Gould’s senior year but after she went on to play at Montana, she returned to help him with camps.

“He called me his Comeback Kid because I would always come back to help him coach,” she said. “I would ride my bike to his house (both on the South Hill) and we would ride to North Central for camp, then ride to Rogers for camp, then ride home. He said to me, ‘You know Cheryl, you should become a teacher.’ So I did.”

Ray Hare became the Saxons football coach the same year and got pulled into the Welch circle.

“Buzzie was one of those unique individuals that comes along and touches people’s lives in so many positive ways,” said Hare, who retired to Arizona but came for a last visit. “He was a valued friend for nearly 40 years. … He was a realist right up to the end with his final words to me, ‘life goes on.’ ”

Over time Welch and Sheridan got the Greater Spokane League to play a double round-robin and five-set matches so the players would get more time on the court against better competition. He played a role in getting a statewide volleyball poll, a coaches network and the all-state series. He and Sheridan came up with the successful Crossover Tournament, now called the Linda Sheridan Volleyball Classic.

“Buzzie had a way with people,” former Ferris and Central Valley coach Bernie Hite said. “He had a way of getting things out of people. He did it in the classroom and he did it on the volleyball court. I played the game at a higher level but the guy always out-coached me. Buzzie, and Linda, could always get more out of their players.”

Welch was an elementary school teacher while coaching at Rogers but moved on to Ferris in 1980 to be an English teacher. He left there because he didn’t want to coach against or miss games for his daughter Shannon.

Shannon tagged around with him through the formative years, played for him and then coached with him, but even with all the attention lavished on others she never felt neglected as a daughter.

“He had a way that made everybody feel important,” she said. “He loved the game and he liked to win but it was about the process and the relationships.”

She also shared his rules: 1, Seek fun and enjoyment. 2, Win with humility. 3, Lose with dignity. 4, Deal with your anger and frustrations in a socially acceptable manner. 5, Coach is the boss.

Welch was at LC from 1990-2004. After retiring he had a couple of seasons as a part-time teacher and coach at Wenatchee while waiting for Crissie, an elementary principal, to retire.

Welch was born on Jan. 23, 1947, in Hamilton, Ontario, and remained a proud Canadian after his family moved to Massachusetts, where he became a rabid fan of the local sports teams. He attended Gonzaga because he was a typical teenager that wanted to go far from home. GU fit that bill, as well as being the least expensive of the schools that accepted him. Plus, back then the school had a hockey team.

He met his future wife at Gonzaga, when she served the tall skinny kid going through the food line what she thought was a needed extra big helping of mashed potatoes, which got her in trouble.

Welch nicknamed himself at Gonzaga, pirating a name he liked from a high school acquaintance. He became Buzzie Bedell, secret spy agent and secretary general of the super heroes club and he gave his fellow GU freshmen comicbook nicknames like Spiderman, The Hulk, Ironman and Human Torch.

Then there was the time, walking down Hamilton with some other students, Welch made the unwise decision to pilfer a presto log for a local business. He didn’t have a fireplace but he didn’t ditch it either. Instead, he carried it everywhere he went for the rest of the school year.

“That was just Buzzie,” said roommate Tom “Spiderman” Bafey, who still has a piece of that old log. “It just became associated with him, like a pet dog. It went to class, to his job in the COG. It never bothered him. Carry a presto log? Why wouldn’t you?”

Gould said, “Whether you were on a long drive to (a club volleyball tournament), a two-day bike ride, at the lake (there was a Welch compound on Priest Lake) or just talking, it was always fun. Buzzie and I are alike, Matt (her husband) and Crissie are alike, they have to think things through. One of us would said, ‘Let’s do this’ and the other one would say, ‘Let’s go.’ It didn’t always turn out well but it was always fun.”

Welch is survived by his wife, three children (Michael, Maria and Shannon), their spouses and nine grandchildren. Crissie said “No sendoff is scheduled yet.”