To have a high school sports venue named after you is a direct indication of the impact one has had on a community.
To have two? That’s the stuff of legend.
When the high school football season begins next spring (COVID-19 pending), the South Umpqua Lancers will run into Kent Wigle Stadium.
Two hours west, the Marshfield Pirates will trot on to Kent Wigle Field.
Not bad for a kid who played four years of college baseball before starting his high school football coaching career at the ripe age of 24.
“It was a pretty good run,” Wigle joked.
The 1965 Riddle High School graduate went to Southern Oregon State College (now Southern Oregon University) to play baseball. In 1971, he accepted the head football coaching job at South Umpqua.
Today, Wigle is tied for fourth all-time among Oregon football coaches with 307 victories, trailing only Dayton’s Dewey Sullivan (352), Roseburg’s Thurman Bell (332) and current Jesuit head coach Ken Potter (323). Wigle is tied with Craig Ruecker, who had coached at four different schools, and both will likely be passed this next spring by Heppner’s Greg Grant, who has 306 wins.
As Wigle was taking the reigns of the Lancers’ program in Tri City, Bell was entering his first season at the helm at Roseburg.
The two developed a friendship, but later, when Wigle left South Umpqua in 1988 to take the job at Marshfield, that friendship would also become a bit of a rivalry.
“You always compete the best and enjoy the competition more against friends,” said Bell, who with Wigle played on a successful fastpitch softball team in the offseason.
Wigle found almost immediate success at South Umpqua. The Lancers reached the Class AA semifinals in 1972, losing to eventual champion Gladstone. The following season, SU fell to Marist 14-12 in the state title game.
In 1975, the Lancers embarked on a run of five consecutive state playoff appearances, losing 24-20 to juggernaut Vale in the ’75 finale and tying Gold Beach 8-8 in ’76 to claim South Umpqua’s first football championship.
The Lancers thumped Tillamook 35-7 for the title in ’77, then added a dubious co-championship in 1981, a 0-0 tie with Siuslaw at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
In fact, Wigle had a hand in two of the lowest scoring playoff games in Oregon history, both against Siuslaw and head coach Len Lutero. The first came in 1975.
During the week leading up to the Class AA playoffs, the grandstands at the Myrtle Creek field burned down. The game was moved to Roseburg’s Finlay Field, which by game time had been turned into a mud bog. South Umpqua got an early field goal from Will Petterson. Later, the Lancers were pinned deep in their own end and took a safety, then got a monster punt from Brian Bucheit, leaving Siuslaw to navigate nearly 90 yards with time running out. The Lancers claimed the 3-2 win.
“What an ugly night,” Wigle recalled. “There were some people saying we’d been over-watering the field, but the thing was, it wasn’t our field.”
By the late ’80s, South Umpqua’s enrollment numbers were dwindling, as were players coming out for football. After the 1987 season, Wigle and his wife Susan were contemplating a change. Then the Marshfield job came open.
In Coos Bay, Wigle took over one of the smallest programs in the big-school division and went on a run for the ages.
Starting in 1988, Wigle’s Pirates reached the state playoffs 18 times in 21 seasons, beating Ashland 36-21 in the 1992 Class 4A state championship game. There were a handful of clashes with his friend Bell’s Roseburg squad in that time.
From 1994-99, the Pirates went 10-0 six consecutive seasons and amassed a then-record 55 consecutive regular-season wins.
In 2005, he was selected as the National Federation of High School Associations football coach of the year. In 2008, his name was added to the marquee at Marshfield’s Pete Susick Stadium. Also on the dedication board: Steve Prefontaine Track.
Wigle retired after the 2008 season, ending a career of nearly four decades and 300-plus wins. He also coached 13 times in the East-West Shrine Game and Les Schwab Bowl.
Today, he and Susan have been married 45 years. He’s an avid golfer, carrying “about an 11 or 12” handicap. He gets plenty of laps in on the five courses at Bandon Dunes and recently carded an 80 in the club championship at Coos Country Club.
He still misses football. Not for the wear and tear on his body — there is a knee replacement scheduled for December — but for the relationships.
“I don’t miss the other stuff you have to walk through, but the relationships with the coaches, the athletes, the managers. All of that I thoroughly enjoyed,” Wigle said. “I’ve had a very fortunate life from that standpoint.”