Daily Press (Sunday)

Great Bridge’s Boerboom remembered as innovative coach, ‘man of principle’

- Larry Rubama

For the past 20 years, Pete Gale has traveled to Blacksburg, Charlottes­ville, Hampton and Norfolk to attend the Virginia High School League state tournament football games.

But he wasn’t in Charlottes­ville on Saturday for the Class 6 and Class 5 state title games.

That’s because he spoke at the funeral of his good friend and coaching brother, Brian Boerboom.

Boerboom, 54, died on Dec. 1 at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center. He coached Great Bridge High for seven seasons and had multiple college coaching stops.

The news of his death rocked the Great Bridge and football community because not many people knew he had cancer.

It hit Gale particular­ly hard. “Me and him have been to every (state football game) for the last four years,” said Gale, who continuous­ly had to fight through tears during an interview about Boerboom.

And there’s no doubt Boerboom would have been with Gale in Charlottes­ville.

Gale and Boerboom met in 2003. They immediatel­y hit it off because of their love for football.

“It’s rare in life that you meet somebody that has the same passion you do for something, and who also is willing to work as hard as you at it,” Gale said. “A lot of people have passion, but they’re not willing to put everything they got into it. He’s the only person I know who does that.”

The only two things bigger than football to Boerboom were his faith and his family, including his wife, Stacy, and their six children.

Boerboom didn’t just coach for the wins, but he wanted to help develop young men.

“I want to get them to understand that I am there for them,” Boerboom once said.

Those around him — players and coaches — saw this.

“I think the biggest thing he left with me was it’s about relationsh­ips, not so much about the X’s and O’s,” said Trey Bray,

who coached with Boerboom for several seasons and is now the athletic director at Deep Creek Middle. “That’s why (his death) hit me so hard. When I was coaching with him, it was all about the relationsh­ips. I learned that (players) could care less about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Boerboom, a lineman, was a two-year starter at Nebraska. Over the years, he coached at the high school and collegiate levels, including at Southeast Missouri State, Stetson, Greenville College and seven seasons at Great Bridge High, where he introduced the spread offense.

At the time, he and former Landstown coach Chris Beatty were among the few coaches who opted for the spread offense instead of a more popular run-oriented offense like the Wing-T.

Beatty remembers chatting with Boerboom about it.

“I think he showed, one, the willingnes­s to want to throw the ball,” said Beatty, now the wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. “And, two, it helped because they hadn’t really had a good program. So he was trying to get them to be competitiv­e by doing some things a little bit different. I think he did a really nice job and worked really hard at it. I have a lot of respect for him.”

Gale and former player Casey Turner said Boerboom worked tirelessly trying to come up with ways to help his team be competitiv­e.

“Coach Boerboom set Great Bridge up for success with that innovative offense. It took programs like eight years to catch up to what we were doing,” Gale said. “Anytime you coach a program that may not have the best athletes, you have to be doing something special. And at Great Bridge, we did something special that allowed us to have success.”

Turner, now 33, remembers meeting Boerboom at his middle school football game. After his final game, Boerboom handed Turner a 3-inch playbook and told him to “learn it.”

Turner, just an eighth-grader, didn’t know what to make of it. But he got to studying.

“I guess he saw something in me,” Turner said with a chuckle.

Once he got to Great Bridge, he and Boerboom spent hours dissecting film during PE class as Boerboom showed him the ins and outs of the spread offense.

Turner would become one of the most prolific passers in South Hampton Roads history. He finished his career among the all-time quarterbac­ks in yards (8,357), completion­s (609) and touchdowns (84).

Boerboom also taught Turner how to become a leader, even when he wasn’t ready.

“When I was a sophomore, he told me, ‘Casey, you’re not going to be liked as a leader at times, but leaders aren’t always liked,’” Turner explained. “He said, ‘Do you just want to follow these guys or do you want them to follow you?’ He saw more in me than I did in myself.”

Current Great Bridge coach Curtis Campbell, like Turner and Bray, said he wouldn’t be the coach he is today if it wasn’t for Boerboom.

When Campbell was named the Wildcats’ head track and field coach, he looked to Boerboom for guidance.

Later, when he replaced Boerboom as the school’s football coach, he felt he was prepared because of how Boerboom poured into him in every aspect of coaching. From the X’s and O’s to forming relationsh­ips.

“The best way to describe him is he was a ‘man’s man.’ Not just his stature, but other things he stood for,” Campbell said.

“He was a Christian and a man of principle. He had a code of ethics. There’s a right way and wrong way. And he stood by that and he didn’t waver from it.”

Campbell, Gale, Turner and Bray all visited Boerboom in the hospital during his final days. They wanted to pay their final respects to a man who had given so much.

Turner said he’s thankful that he got to know Boerboom outside of football. Years later, Turner and Boerboom got together to watch football or play poker. It’s something that Turner cherishes today.

“He was just a totally different guy. He was super-fun, outgoing, charismati­c and liked to joke around,” Turner said. “That was good that I got to see that other life later. He also was an amazing father. He taught me that it’s family, then football. Man, we lost a really good man.”

The one lesson that everyone has learned from Boerboom’s passing is the importance of telling people how much they mean to you while you got the chance.

“It’s important to let people know how you feel about them while they’re still here because you never know,” Beatty said. “We all kind of procrastin­ate to tell people how we feel about them. We’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ll tell them later.’ But you don’t know if you’ll have later.”

 ?? STAFF FILE ?? Brian Boerboom, shown in 2003, introduced the spread offense at Great Bridge High, where he spent seven seasons as football coach. He died on Dec. 1 of cancer.
STAFF FILE Brian Boerboom, shown in 2003, introduced the spread offense at Great Bridge High, where he spent seven seasons as football coach. He died on Dec. 1 of cancer.
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