Juneau coaching legend passes on

Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Allen W. (Bill) Ordway used to joke that his claim to fame was fumbling the opening kickoff of the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup back in the early 1940s, when he played for the eventual champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

But around Juneau, Ordway's claim to fame was as a teacher and as the basketball coach of the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears from 1954-1961.

Ordway, who had been battling a rare lung disease for 31 years, died Sept. 7 in Arlington, Texas. He was 82.

``Bill could take something complex and make it simple for guys like me,'' said Andy Pekovich, who played for Ordway's 1958 team that won the all-Alaska championship.

Ordway-coached teams won four territorial or state basketball championships in his seven years as Juneau's coach, first at Juneau High School then later at Juneau-Douglas High School after the two schools were consolidated. Ordway also ran a summer outdoor recreation program at Juneau's Evergreen Park (now Cope Park), teaching hundreds of swimmers and each year producing an aqua-follies show in the outdoor pool.

``His philosophy of teaching young children, and sometimes the old, was don't say `No,' '' Pekovich said. ``Divert their attention into something constructive and positive. A lot of times they don't understand `No.' ''

Pekovich said if a youngster wasn't doing well in basketball, Ordway would steer them to another sport, like badminton or swimming where they might have more success. When Pekovich was in high school a counselor told him he wasn't college material, but Ordway helped Pekovich get a scholarship to his alma mater, the University of North Dakota, where Ordway lettered in football from 1936-1938. Pekovich recently retired after 32 years with the state's Department of Natural Resources, the last 10 years spent as a regional manager for the Division of Lands.

``If it hadn't been for him, I'd probably have been a ditch digger,'' Pekovich said.

Ordway's first Juneau team won the 1955 all-Alaska championship, winning the third game of the best-of-three series with Anchorage High School (now West Anchorage) on a pair of free throws in a sudden-death second overtime period. Ordway-coached teams also won titles in 1960 and 1961, and the 1957 team took second place. But in a 1991 article on Juneau's basketball history, Ordway said his players should take the credit.

``We just had a good run of kids,'' Ordway said. ``A long, long run of some good people in there. A lot of those kids are awfully successful today. They were successful in life.''

After leaving Juneau, Ordway, who also played football for the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League and then with the Wilmington (Del.) Clippers, spent four years coaching basketball at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, later becoming athletic director at UAF. Following his stint at UAF, Ordway coached baseball at Lewis and Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, then in 1969 coached the basketball team at Glassboro State College (now Rowan College in New Jersey) before retiring for health reasons.

In 1967, Ordway was diagnosed with a rare lung disease called pseudomonas and at one time the National Institute of Health said he was one of only four U.S. citizens known to suffer from the emphysema-like ailment.

He returned to Juneau in the 1970s, serving as the city's director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. During that time he created a recreational basketball league called the Hollingsworth League, named for former Juneau player Dave Hollingsworth who now lives in Monterey, Calif. The league was later renamed the Ordway League when he moved to the Lower 48 because of his deteriorating health.

Even though Ordway was no longer in Juneau, he still kept in touch with several of his former players and friends from Alaska. Pekovich said Ordway was known as a big letter writer, frequently jotting down notes on the backs of newspaper articles and envelopes before former player Allan Engstrom, who now lives in Washington, anonymously sent him packets of stationary printed with ``Allen W. Ordway, Esq.'' It took several years before Ordway found out who sent the stationary, Pekovich said.

``He knew more about what was going on in Juneau than I did, and I lived here,'' Pekovich said. ``He corresponded with so many people.''

Ordway's health was failing for much of the last couple of decades, and over the years he'd had a colostomy, a pacemaker installed and nearly went blind in one eye besides his lung ailment. But Pekovich said Ordway never lost his sense of humor and he never lost his mind.

No funeral services were held for Ordway, and his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered at a favorite local park, Pekovich said.

Ordway, who was born in Mandan, N.D., leaves his wife of 62 years, the former June Beatty. He also leaves a daughter, Tausbee (Kim) Knight, and her husband Rick Knight; and two grandchildren, Lanny Knight and Keeley Knight; all of Arlington, Texas. He also leaves a brother, Girard; and a cousin, Kirk Lanterman.

In recent weeks Lanterman, who is also a University of North Dakota graduate, established the Bill Ordway Scholarship Endowment at UND. Contributions to the endowment fund may be made through the University of North Dakota Foundation, P.O. Box 8157, Grand Fork, N.D. 58202.

``Bill Ordway has shown great courage in fighting a serious disease,'' UND Foundation vice president Earl Strinden said in a brochure on the endowment fund. ``Over many decades, Bill Ordway touched so many lives in such a beneficial way. He has always kept a strong loyalty to his friends and teammates. This endowment, generously established by his cousin Kirk Lanterman, truly honors a unique member of our UND alumni family.''

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