The Obit For Skip Rowland

Legendary player, coach Gene 'Skip' Rowland dies at 84

Contra Costa Times
By Bob Keisser Staff Writer
12/17/2011 10:24:22 PM PST

Long Beach has lost one of its most beloved and well-known former athletes and coaches.

Gene "Skip" Rowland died Saturday morning at Long Beach Memorial Hospital from complications of pneumonia. He was 84.

Rowland was a star football, baseball and basketball player at Wilson High, playing on the 1943 Bruin "Jinxbusters" football team that beat rival Poly for the first time in school history.

He also coached baseball, football and golf at Wilson High School - which named the baseball field after Rowland for his contributions to athletics.

"He was a living legend," said Andy Hall, the current Wilson baseball coach. "To have gotten to know him and his pearls of wisdom was a great thing for me, and he was tremendously supportive of the baseball program and all sports at Wilson. He's an inspiration to me."

Rowland, who moved to Long Beach from Cincinnati in 1943, was a three-year letterman in football, baseball and basketball; an All-CIF player in football and baseball; and the 1945 Long Beach football player of the year.

He went on to become a four-year letterman at UCLA in baseball and football, leading the Bruins in rushing (540 yards) and to a 10-0 regular season record in 1946 before a loss in the 1947 Rose Bowl against Illinois. He was an all-league player in baseball, and the 1947 Bruins went 29-15 - the most wins in school history until 1963.

Contribution As A Coach
He was Wilson's baseball coach for 14 seasons (1964-77), winning 163 career games and a CIF title in 1977; was the football coach from 1951-54 and 1957-1963, winning five Moore League titles and reaching the CIF semifinals in his last season; and was the golf coach for 17 years, winning 230 matches, nine league titles and one CIF title.

CIF-Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod, who played and coached at Wilson, said that next to his father, "Skip Rowland has had the greatest impact on my life.

"I was so fortunate to have had Coach Rowland as my high school football coach. He was so organized, had an incredible attention to detail and inspired us each and every day to give our very best."

Wigod said he became a coach because of Rowland, and it was always important to him to try and live up to the great example he set.

"I will miss him very much, but I will never forget what he has meant to me, to Wilson High School and all of us who were so blessed to have known him so well," Wigod said.

Among the players Rowland coached were football players Dennis Dummit, Sid Smith and Carl Peterson, who went on to become president and general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, and major league baseball stars Bobby Grich, Jeff Burroughs and Bob Bailey.

He also coached at Riverside City College for one year, and two years at College of the Pacific, where he earned his master's degree and coached future NFL stars Tom Flores and Dick Bass. He also befriended the new basketball coach at UCLA, John Wooden, in 1948, and retained a lifelong friendship that included Wooden participating in Rowland's annual fundraiser for Bruin athletics.

"Skip was one of the most loved, honored and acclaimed athletes and coaches in Long Beach," said Dan Gooch, a Wilson product and longtime friend who has helped run Rowland's golf tournament to benefit Wilson athletics since 1988.

"His gruff exterior hid a soft, compassionate human being that endeared him to teammates, students and opponents," Gooch said. "His legacy lies in the many lives he so softly touched and their ability to pass along the wonderful gifts he gave to them. We won't soon see another like him, and we're all the better for having him in our lives."

Gruff but endearing
His son-in-law, George Harper, said that Rowland became ill with pneumonia on a summer trip to Germany with his wife, Lorna. He never shook the illness and was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 5, two days after his 84th birthday.

"We don't think the pneumonia ever cleared up," Harper said. "He was a very active person and he competed in the last senior tournament at Rec Park and was happy to shoot a 101. But he started coughing pretty hard a few weeks ago and (doctors) determined it was an aggressive bacterial pneumonia."

He was on a ventilator in his time at the hospital. Harper said that when doctors said he could be sustained longer with a tracheotomy, feeding tube and ventilator, Rowland declined.

"He was an unselfish person," Harper said. "He didn't want his family to be burdened by long-term care."

Soon after moving to Long Beach, Rowland launched a successful high school career. After UCLA, he became a teacher and coach at his alma mater for 35 years before retiring in 1988.

That year, he started the Wilson High Alumni Golf Tournament which will hold its 25th event in February. The event has raised more than $300,000 for Wilson sports.

A life of giving continues
Rowland has a spot in six different halls of fame: Wilson, Century Club, UCLA, UCLA baseball, CIF and Long Beach baseball. He was also named one of the 100 most important sportsmen in the Press-Telegram's 100th Anniversary special publication.

He is survived by his wife, Lorna; daughters Kathy, Robin and Sandy; a son, Terry; and eight grandchildren. His late brother, Jim, also played football at Wilson.

Rowland's remains will be sent to the UCLA Medical Center for research purposes, an agreement he made years ago.

A memorial will be held for him after the holidays. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to the Skip Rowland Scholarship Fund being organized by the Long Beach Community Foundation. For more information, visit www.longbeachcf.org, or call 562-435-9033.