The front of the stage at the south end of Jake Maberry Gymnasium was lined with 26 yellow football helmets – one from each season coach Curt Kramme led the Lynden High School program.
The back of the stage featured padding from the goal posts – “Lynden” on the left and “Lions” on the right – and four green tackling dummies. And on the north wall, of course, hung the seven state championship banners Kramme led the Lions to during his tenure.
It was a fitting tribute to a man who helped turn a basketball-crazy town along the Candian the border into a football town and who left an impact on a generation of Lynden High School players and students.
“Coach Kramme, to me, was the ultimate man builder,” said former player Chad VanderKooi, who was part of Kramme’s first team in 1991, which won a state title. “If I was to give him a title, it would be man builder. He cared more about us becoming men than football.”
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More than 500 former players, students, colleagues, friends and family turned out Saturday to honor Kramme, a Washington State Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee who died two weeks earlier following a yearlong battle with cancer.
Coach Kramme is the catalyst that has brought us all together. His spirit burns bright in all the somebodies in this room.
“Those of you who knew Curt knew what a humble man he was,” former assistant coach Blake VanDalen said. “He would be so honored to see so many people turn out for him.”
They were treated to stories of how Kramme, a man with an often serious public persona had a jovial side in private by VanDalen, VanderKooi, assistant coach Terry Kaemingk, assistant coach Blake Witman, pastor Loren VanWoudenberg, childhood friend Darryl Sharp and daughters Alayna Haynie and Zoe and Maddie Kramme.
“When I think of Coach, I like to close my eyes and think of the things that used to make him smile and laugh,” VanDalen said. “Because, those of you who knew him, when Coach smiled and laughed, you’d end up smiling and laughing with him.”
Among the things Kramme enjoyed, VanDalen said, were cartoons, looking back on victories his team wasn’t supposed to win, working on his golf swing at odd times, dancing during practice and finding humor in endless hours of watching game file with assistant coaches and players.
Coach Kramme, to me, was the ultimate man builder. ... He cared more about us becoming men than football.
But perhaps the most impactful moment of Saturday’s memorial came when VanderKooi asked anyone who had been taught or coached by Kramme to stand up – nearly half of the gymnasium stood.
“Mrs. Kramme, this is the impact your husband has had,” VanderKooi said. “He has touched each of these lives. He quietly loved each of us.”
And if Saturday’s memorial was any indication, that love and respect was reciprocated and will be remembered long after Kramme’s 248 career coaching victories, the seven state titles he won as a coach and the one he quarterbacked Blaine to in 1978 are forgotten.
“Coach Kramme is the catalyst that has brought us all together,” Kaemingk said. “His spirit burns bright in all the somebodies in this room.”