There is a place on the sidelines, between the 25-yard lines, where coaches tread.
In that rectangle, amidst the weather, the cheers and the boos, the questionable calls and the heroics, is where we see the character of a coach.
Brandon Mahle’s rectangle on the sideline was not as defined.
His acreage did not end on practice fields and game nights.
His coaching wasn’t 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
His team was not limited to jerseys and numbers.
His phone was not unlisted and his dinner table was never lacking.
“He meant a lot,” Thunder Mountain High School senior Ben Jahn said. “The one main thing I have taken from him going forward, especially pursuing my own football career, is that there are not many people who I have run into that had as much passion toward the things that he did.”
Jahn played for Mahle for two seasons.
“I remember junior year being at his house until 11 or 12 at night working on play books, working on plays, watching films,” Jahn said. “And then we would leave and he would be up another two hours doing more stuff. It is the thing I most admire him for. His passion toward the team, the kids, and for everybody was remarkable.”
Mahle was in the process of helping Jahn with college scholarships when he passed in his sleep earlier this week.
“It is a big loss,” TMHS wrestling co-coach Gary Reid said. “I played pee wee football with him way back in the day. We were on the Cowboys. It is just a huge loss. He played the sport, promoted the sport and was the best part about the sport. The bigger loss is for the family.”
When you care about players your family grows.
Mahle’s family extended across the turf, past the end zones and above the stands.
“He was a great, great young man,” TMHS basketball coach and Olympic athlete Joe Tompkins said. “He was always there helping kids, clubs, junior high, high school. He was just all about the kids. He was a wonderful man.”
Opponents, fans, and community members were all affected by Mahle’s character in some way.
“I have known him since he played in high school,” JDHS coach Rich Sjoroos said. “People remember he was a high energy guy from his playing days up through his coaching. He brought a lot of enthusiasm and was always willing to try new things when it came to coaching kids. He would try to challenge them in what they could learn and what they could handle. He was always willing to try something new and different. I think that says a lot about him that he was willing to take that leap and be a little bit innovative.
“I saw him at the field a lot this year working with the kids. He embraced working with the younger kids. Any time you lose somebody in the community, we are not a big community, it is small enough whether you knew him close or not it is going to have a ripple affect.”
Mahle, a paraeducator in the Juneau School District, stepped away from high school coaching last season.
In a now infamous incident at a football camp where a player was knocked unconscious by a coach during a boxing match, Mahle chose the safety of a player over the fraternity of coaching.
He crossed the sacred white line of smash-mouth neanderthalism and, risking reputation, brought to light an injustice.
His heroism briefly made him one of the villains, but the truth revealed him as the last hope of a failed system.
Mahle sacrificed what he loved for the team.
Instead he became the Director Of Coaches for the Juneau Youth Football League.
“He, by far, had the hardest job on the board,” JYFL president Jennifer Maier said. “He had to corral 45 coaches, and they weren’t always nice to him. I think he maintained a really positive attitude and just kept going.”
The ethics that have been lost in football over decades were woven into Mahle’s character like the numbers engraved on a players back.
“Brandon’s character was about fairness,” Maier said. “We made a lot of decisions together that were controversial, but it always came down to what was in the best interest of the kids. It didn’t matter if it was in the best interest of coaches and that is a hard thing to do, a hard balance, you don’t make people happy at the end. But his kids were the most important thing and that never waivered. That is the most important thing we want to emphasize in keeping Brandon alive — his character. I have worked in many sports programs for many years and I have not met many guys like Brandon.”
JYFL board members remember one of Mahle’s first acts.
While attending a field day with staff, coaches and youth players, a bear took an interest in some young players.
Mahle was the first, and fastest, to get to the bear and discouraged the bruin from becoming a football fan.
“He chased the bear down and stayed by the bear to make sure the kids were safe,” Maier said. “That was really Brandon. Brandon chased down anything. Whatever needed to be done, or asked of him; he just went after it with all his energy and passion. He was very committed to making it work, no matter what it was.”
Mahle coached the Dzantik’I Heeni girl’s basketball team this season.
“He was a really good coach,” DHMS eighth grader Morgan Balovich. “He was really funny and was really good at being a good sport. We always looked to see him around school sometimes and now it is weird. We are really going to miss him at school.”
Mahle was a gentle giant protecting a bevy of energetic lasses, often over-matched, as they took his ideals out onto the hard courts.
Mahle’s actions were above and beyond the playing field.
His feet didn’t wear the young men’s cleats he coached. He wasn’t in it to better himself or to live vicariously through the exploits of an undersized lad breaking or making a tackle.
He was truly there to develop our youth.
He was committed to helping them be good kids in the community and to do the right thing.
His rectangular coaching box had no yard markers.
According to Ben Jahn, “The way that he cared was something.”
A community celebration for Brandon Mahle will be held at Thunder Mountain High School today from 5-7:30 p.m.
Students, families and community members are encouraged to wear their school or favorite team’s gear and to share their stories and celebrate Mahle’s life.
At the end there will be a candle-lit moment of silence on the football field.
On Saturday a funeral service for family and friends will be held at Valley Church, 9741 Mendenhall Loop Road at 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, a memorial account for Brandon in the name of Tiffany, Makenzie and Zoe has been set up at Alaska USA Credit Union.