It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
While this adage is usually used in a humorous context, in this case it is heartfelt.
The gift is Tom Roehl, and although he died in 2003, his contributions – especially to the youth of Central Whidbey – live on today.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Roehl ran the Coupeville youth basketball program for two decades, sacrificing his weekends so the kids of Central Whidbey could enjoy the sport and the lessons a team activity teaches.
Roehl was also an assistant high school football coach for 15 years and was involved in the Little League baseball program for several others.
In addition, he served on the Island County Planning Commission and Coupeville school board, helped develop the Freeland Water District, was a project manager for the South Whidbey Port District and served as a History Day judge.
His passion, however, centered on helping the younger set, and the vehicle he used was athletics. He touched the lives of several generations of Central Whidbey athletes, and his imprint continues today through the Tom Roehl Memorial Scholarship awarded to a Coupeville High School senior each spring.
“He liked how sports could teach kids positive life lessons that were transferable at all ages,” Noah Roehl, one of Tom Roehl’s sons, said. “I also think he liked it because athletics can be a way out for kids that might not have many other positives to lean on. A good role model — a good coach — can help get them through. I also think he looked at it as a great way to help keep kids moving forward, give them positive team skills and perseverance, things we all need in the next stages of our lives.”
Another son, Virgil Roehl, added, “He was definitely passionate about the development of the whole person, not just an athlete, but in a unique way for him he could connect with young people through coaching. His mother was a German immigrant and a single mother, so he knew how important other male role models, and in particular coaches, are in the life of young student athletes.”
Those lessons, of course, were stressed at home as well.
“I know it was extremely important in my development, and I still remember specific times and conversation I had with my father which inspire me even now,” Virgil Roehl said.
Noah Roehl said he learned from his father that community service isn’t a chore but “being part of a community.”
“Doing things for the good of the community is what makes good communities great,” he said.
Tom Roehl emigrated from Germany when he was 5 and grew up in Pennsylvania. There he learned the influence of athletics and coaches as he developed into a high school basketball and football player. He went on to play football at Drexel University in Philadelphia and the Merchant Marines Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.
The major fundraiser for the Tom Roehl scholarship and the Tom Roehl Foundation is the Roundball Classic, which was held for the ninth time Dec. 26.
For several years, a flag football tournament during the Thanksgiving weekend was also held.
The Roundball Classic rolls out each Christmas holiday season when many alumni return to the area. Originally the annual basketball tournament attracted primarily Coupeville graduates but has morphed into an all-island affair. As the tournament grew, so has its reach. This past spring, in addition to providing a scholarship to one Coupeville senior, a second scholarship was awarded to a South Whidbey grad.
“We hope to do the same in Oak Harbor in coming years,” Noah Roehl said.
Sponsors (Harada Physical Therapy, Island Periodontics, Cascade Custom Homes, Jason Joiner with Windermere Commercial Real Estate, Davido Consulting Group, Schisel Construction, Ashley’s Design, R&R Tree services and Sherman Farms) help with the fundraising.
While the purpose of the Roundball Classic is to support the Tom Roehl Foundation, it offers more — a time for friends to reconnect.
“When we started the Roundball Classic and then the Tom Roehl Foundation, we were not really sure where it would go,” Virgil Roehl said. “We knew we wanted to pass on his memory as much as we could, but then the basketball tournament has become this fellowship of old friends as well as new friends with connections to the same small town.”
The tournament sponsors recognize this as well, according to Noah Roehl.
“The event has become a bit of a tradition and most of the sponsors have been supporting us since the start of the tournament and feel a sense of contributing to the community in more ways than simply providing funding for a scholarship.”
As the former Wolves gather and share stories of their glory days, some of the tales, rightly so, revolve around Tom Roehl and the impact he had their lives.
Former players, Noah Roehl said, often recall things that his father said “that have really stuck with them” as they have moved into family lives and careers.
Through the scholarship and community basketball tournament, Tom Roehl will continue to mark to the lives of a new generation of student athletes.
That’s his gift to Coupeville.