Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Hard Time of Year

Greg was a classmate of mine in grad school. He made the classes more fun. We were older than most of the students, we both had our master degrees, but we wanted to change up what and how we were teaching. We sat together, laughing, sharing stories, enjoying the same perspective. When I worried about taking a class in assessment, Greg laughed and told me we'd do the work together. He promised me I'd be fine and we would have another three hours toward our SPED certification.

Now this. Life just doesn't get any harder or sadder.

Teacher's passing leaves void at North

Greg Beggs loved kids.

As a biology teacher for 24 years at Olathe North High School and a football coach much of that time, Beggs’ passion for young people shined through. And that’s the legacy he leaves behind, family and friends said.

Beggs, 56, died Monday from complications involving meningitis and encephalitis. He had been hospitalized since Jan. 24.

“We were hoping this week would be the week they would come up with a diagnosis,” said Sharon Beggs, Greg’s wife. “The doctors knew he had meningitis and encephalitis, but after that they didn’t know the cause of it.”

Beggs appeared to turn a corner last week and even was moved from the intensive care unit at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

An infection Feb. 20 in an intravenous line in his arm caused his fever to spike and landed Beggs back in the ICU.

The faculty and staff at Olathe North were caught off guard Monday by news of Beggs’ passing.

“He was a tough guy, and we knew he was fighting hard, so we just expected that he would come back,” said Scott Calder, who teaches at Olathe North and coached the Eagles sophomore football team with Beggs for several seasons. “That made it hard. There’s just a vacuum at North.”

Beggs loved laughter. He was quick with a joke in the classroom or with the faculty.

“Plain and simple, he was a great guy,” said Josh Carroll, who played for and later coached with Beggs. “He could always put a smile on your face. He was always a guy that, even if you were having a bad day, when you go talk to him it put you in a good mood.”

Beggs taught Carroll’s mother, Toni, when she attended Bishop Ward and later coached Carroll during the Eagles football program’s glory years.

Beggs, who coached primarily offensive line as Olathe North won seven of eight Class 6A football championships beginning in 1996, had Carroll’s younger brother, Jake, in class this year.

Josh Carroll described Beggs as a demanding coach but fair. Bryan McCall, who played at North from 1998 to 2000 and also now coaches the Eagles, agreed.

“He demanded a lot from you, but you respected him for that,” McCall said. “And he was always very complimentary when we did what he wanted. He was one of the favorite coaches on the football team. You knew that he cared about you and he was a great motivator, always trying to get the best out of people.”

The center for the 1973 University of Kansas Liberty Bowl team, Beggs always took a special interest in hard-luck kids, Sharon said.

“He liked the underdog a little bit, not necessarily everybody’s favorite kid. The project kid,” she said. “He always had a special place in his heart for those kids.”

Beggs wasn’t shy about offering paternal advice and taking extra time with those kids he felt needed it most. In that way, he had a tremendous impact.

Beggs probably could identify with those kids as an ornery sort himself.

Viewed by some as gruff and known for the occasional off-color joke, Beggs often could be found adding someone’s face to a picture with Photoshop or some such prank.

“He was ornery on the outside but a teddy bear on the inside,” Sharon said. “He really was just trying to do what’s best for the kids. I hope that’s what people will remember about him.”

Those same characteristics came off as an Eagles football coach. Beggs was famous for having the sophomore team run trick plays or use goofy language for play calls when scrimmaging against the varsity.

“That may not sound like much, but when you’re out there freezing and getting thumped around by a varsity player, little things like that can make it much more enjoyable,” Calder said. “He made football fun for the players, but he also got the kids to play hard.”

Greg and Sharon had three children — Elizabeth, 29, Tim, 27, and Catherine, 25.

Tim played on the Eagles’ first three state championship teams from 1996 to 1998.

Even for Greg, who was never the sentimental sort and didn’t spend much time reminiscing, those three titles were special, which makes sense given his devotion to his family.

“His family was his first consideration at all times,” said Gene Wier, head coach during most of those championships. “It sounds like that’s what everybody should be, but he was very, very proud of his family.”

That too is a big part of Beggs’ legacy — the sense of perspective he imparted to colleagues.

“He made sure that, as serious as football is, you didn’t take it too serious,” Carroll said. “There are always more important things, and the fact his family always came first rubbed off on a lot of guys.”

In other words, Beggs will be greatly missed at Olathe North for a great many reasons.

“It was certainly the news none of us wanted to hear obviously,” Eagles football coach Pete Flood said. “We lost a great friend, a great faculty member, a great teacher and just a great resource in our building at many different levels.”

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