Former Big Sky High School football coach and teacher Gary Ekegren passed away last Friday after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer.

Last week, the celebration of the new year came with some sad news as well. Gary Ekegren, who coached the Big Sky Eagles football team for 20 seasons, passed away due to pancreatic cancer.

Coach Ek discovered the cancer in November of 2009 and retired as head coach shortly after. Although he wasn't always at full strength, Gary helped out Big Sky's new head coach Matt Johnson in a variety of different ways this year as an assistant coach.
And that's what makes Coach Ekegren so great. It was never about him. His number one priority was always the people around him. And he never forgot a face, whether it was one of his many All-State football players, a former student, or a sports reporter just breaking into the business.
When I first began my sportscasting career in the fall of 2008, one of the very first interviews I conducted was with Coach Ek. And he couldn't have been kinder, fielding what I'm sure were some very amateur questions right in the middle of a two-a-days practice session.
As I got to know Coach Ek over the past three years, I realized what a truly special person he was and how many different lives he touched, including my own. So while you are watching the NFL Wild Card playoff games this weekend, or the BCS National Championship on Monday night, take a moment to reflect on all of the great coaches across the country. It's not an easy gig, and not everyone can handle the job with the grace and humility that Coach Ek did for a majority of his life. Coach Ekegren may be gone, but the virtues and values he instilled in so many people around him will continue to carry on.