Match with Blaine set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3
by Nick Clark
Sun POST Newspapers
The plan all along has been to find a way to honor the coach responsible for putting the Champlin Park boys soccer team firmly back on the map.
But, in the midst of what has transpired since Gavin Pugh resigned from his role as head coach following a five-year tenure that saw the Rebels qualify for a pair of state championship and win their first Northwest Suburban Conference championship as a program, finding the right avenue has been difficult.
That is, until they decided to look at Pugh the man, rather than the future in front of their former coach.
“We are focusing on him as a person, versus what has happened to him,” said current head coach Scott Dossett. “We are all heart-broken, but this is what the players really want the focus to be on. He did so much for this program, and that is what we want to recognize.”
It will be tough. Pugh was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in the spring, which was after he had stepped down from his post at Champlin Park.
It is a disease that will likely eventually claim his life, and has already started to take effect on his body.
The Rebels have seen that first hand. Pugh attended game against Andover recently, but his health forced him to miss a match against Centennial that he had also planned on attending.
To honor their coach, the team will have ALS ribbons permanently affixed to their game uniforms. They will also present a check representing the money they have raised to help the family offset growing medial costs – individuals can donate to the family at the Play 4 Gavin Facebook page set up to take donations – but that will be the extent of any mention of ALS when the team hosts Blaine in its regular season finale at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3.
“We just want to make sure he feels like he is still a part of the program,” said senior captain A.J. Gardner. “He put so much effort into the club, so you just want to make sure he knows who much we’ve appreciated what he has done here.”
To do so, they will focus on the work Pugh did in helping rebuild the program, and on an opponent that should stir memories of what was one of his greatest moments with the Rebels.
A year ago, with both teams perfect in Northwest Suburban Conference play, Champlin Park visited Blaine on the final day of the regular season in a match that would decide the NWSC champion for 2012.
The Rebels would enter the half trailing 2-0 that night, and eventually 3-1 in the second half, before blitzing Blaine with four more goals to steal the game, and the league title, with a 5-3 victory for the ages.
Afterwards, Pugh said he was in “absolute awe of the boys.” A year later, the feeling still resonates.
“It was an absolute brilliant game,” said Dossett, who was an assistant coach on the team. “It was one of those moments where all that determination and hard work accumulates into 40 minutes of brilliance. I’ll remember that game as long as I live.”
As will the players, who are in the midst of attempting to make some memories of their own.
The victory over Blaine set the stage for a Section 5AA championship in the coming days , which qualified Champlin Park for a state tournament in which the Bengals would get immediate revenge with a 2-1 victory that served as the Rebels only loss of 2012 and ended their remarkable season.
Repeating won’t be easy, as Champlin Park enters the week just 3-8 overall, which includes a 3-0 victory over Coon Rapids Sept. 26.
Dossett insists the team is close. What better way to measure it than against a rival that entered this week 10-1-1 overall and ranked fifth in the state.
“Of course we would love to beat Blaine, but this is about tuning up for sections,” said Dossett. “They should help us get ready.”
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]