Hermiston mourns loss of popular softball coach Bequette

<p>Long-time Hermiston softball coach Tom Bequette died Sunday at 53.</p>

Hermiston High School head softball coach Tom Bequette died Sunday night at Kadlec Medical Center in Richland, Wash. He was 53.

Bequette agreed to coach the Bulldogs in 2010 on a volunteer basis after spending five years as head coach of Blue Mountain Community College. He was in his second stint with the Bulldogs.

Bequette led the Dawgs to four Intermountain Conference championships after he took over for Kay Edwards to begin the 2000 season. The only years he didn’t win conference championships were 2003 and 2005, but the Dawgs still qualified for the state playoffs.

In 2002 under Bequette, Hermiston played in the Class 4A state semifinals, the deepest playoff run in school history.

David Drotzmann, a Hermiston optometrist and long-time assistant coach for the Dawgs, began coaching the same year Bequette took the reins in 2000 and was with him every step of Hermiston’s rise to relevance in Oregon softball.

“Tom definitely had a larger-than-life personality,” Drotzmann said. “Sometimes it was a little bit abrasive, but once you got to know the guy, he had a heart of gold.”

Last season in his return trip with the Dawgs, Bequette guided the team to the Class 5A quarterfinals before they lost to West Albany, 7-6. That was the farthest Hermiston had advanced in the playoffs since its semifinal bid.

The team shattered just about every offensive mark, including a .356 batting average, 21 home runs and 156 RBIs. In 2010, Hermiston managed just five homers and and 136 RBIs and hit .318.

He was named the IMC coach of the year four times and was the Class 4A coach of the year twice.

In the 2002-2003 academic year, he was named the coach of the year in Oregon over all classes and female athletics.

“Tom was an incredible softball coach,” Hermiston athletic director Mike Kay said. “He epitomized that passion all great coaches have to have.”

Bequette’s success didn’t stop in Hermiston, however. He took a dismal Blue Mountain Community College softball program from a 10-31 record in 2006 to the NWAACC playoffs in 2008 and 2009.

His record in the NWAACC Eastern Region after 2006 was 59-53, including a third-place finish in 2009, when the Timberwolves went 18-10.

But when given the chance to come back to Hermiston to coach a second time, Bequette very much wanted another round in purple and gold. And Kay couldn’t wait to get him back between the chalk lines at Rocky Heights.

“We jumped at the chance to get him back,” Kay said. “The door was always open for him if he wanted it.”

On an interim basis, assistant coach Saul Castro has been promoted to head coach, Kay said. Junior varsity coach Candice Castro, Saul’s daughter and former player for Bequette at Blue Mountain Community College, will still hold her post.

Kay said the HHS athletic department will try to find another assistant coach to join Candice Castro and Drotzmann.

Before last season began, Bequette said he came back to Hermiston to be closer to his doctors and that he still felt a strong bond with the high school program.

Prior to his involvment in the high school sports scene, Bequette made a name for himself in the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) circuit.

His teams earned national tournament berths seven times at the ASA “A” level and three times at the ASA “Gold” level.

“He was a great coach and great mentor,” Drotzmann said. “His heart is the size of the city of Hermiston.”

Bequette was an Army veteran and was born June 27, 1958, in Los Angeles.

A celebration of life service with military honors will be held at 3 p.m. March 17 at Burns Mortuary.

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