Jim “Coach” Leierer’s legacy was officially cemented in a fitting place on Friday night.
South Whidbey High School’s football stadium was renamed after the South Whidbey sports icon at a halftime ceremony during the Falcons’ season-opening game against Coupeville. The new name, Jim Leierer Stadium at Waterman Field, also continues to pay tribute to the late Bud Waterman; Waterman donated land to the South Whidbey School District in the early 1980s, which was later used to build the high school. The field was formerly known as Waterman Field.
Leierer’s son, Stephen, said his father wasn’t known for shedding tears. But, he was confident that he would have shed tears of joy on Friday night.
“I think it would be the highlight of his life,” Stephen Leierer said. “…This would have really touched him. It is like his legacy was won. It’s complete and fulfilled.”
Leierer died last summer at the age of 92. He was Langley and South Whidbey high school’s head football coach for 29 years, during which he led the Falcons to numerous league titles and a second-place finish in 1979 at the KingDome. But his presence was felt beyond the gridiron as he impacted hundreds through his willingness to impart wisdom wherever he went. His corny jokes and strong faith were popular too. A memorial ceremony following his death was attended by around 600 people.
Jon Chapman, a community member and 1985 graduate of South Whidbey High School, led a grassroots effort over the past year to rename the stadium after Leierer.
“Rather than tearing down statues, it was refreshing to see the South Whidbey community come together to celebrate and appreciate two men and their families,” Chapman said. “Bud Waterman and Coach Leierer gave so much of their lives to make South Whidbey a better place.”
Nanette Pierson, who is also Leierer’s daughter and a Langley resident, said the ceremony was a culmination of the celebration for Leierer’s life. She said that she heard stories throughout the night about her father’s impact on people.
Lowana Dunckel, Leierer’s daughter, said her family was “more than thrilled” with the outpouring of support from the community.
“It’s just a tender moment,” Dunckel said. “You just feel that they really loved him and cared about him.”
The Leierer and Waterman families were recognized during the ceremony. Both families were given dedication plaques in Coach and Waterman’s memory.
Waterman’s daughter, Debra, felt the ceremony was “heartfelt” and “community-spirited.”
“I always appreciate an opportunity to honor my parents,” Debra Waterman said. “I always felt like my father quietly gave so much.”
She said her family also supported Chapman’s idea from the beginning.
“It’s time for a change and new energy, new spirit and new names,” Debra Waterman said. “They did a great job.”
Mick Heggenes, who played for Leierer and later coached the Falcons for 30 years, felt the ceremony was a “fitting” tribute to both Leierer and Bud Waterman.
“It’s a pretty cool deal,” Heggenes said. “We’re fortunate to be in a community like this.”