Thursday, November 26, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Emmett Watson

Dynamic Coach Leon Brigham Was Years Ahead Of His Time

It is fitting, I think, that the new football scoreboard at Seattle's High School Memorial Stadium should be named after the late Leon H. Brigham.

Brigham was no stranger to scoreboards. He put so many points on them.

It was a lovely brisk day as the people gathered to honor this former coach.

Present were school officials, old friends, former players, ancient Garfield grads, coaching rivals and no fewer than two of his three children, four of his grandchildren and two of his great-grandchildren.

My God, has it been that long ago?

We called him "the sly fox."

He seems, in retrospect, to be out of another age, yet the men who coached against him or played for him - or the men and women who saw his teams - would defend his modernity at the top of their lungs.

Brigham, they will tell you, would be a winner today: an innovator, a crowd pleaser, a champion, always one step ahead of his rivals.

Here is a glimpse of what he was: Back in the late 1930s, a man named Clark Shaughnessy revolutionized football when he introduced the T-formation to the college game at the University of Chicago, then popularized it at Stanford. It is the basic attacking formation now used by virtually all teams today.

Brigham had introduced the T at Garfield High before Stanford ever heard of Shaughnessy.

Brigham? You know, he looked like a dutiful 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shipping clerk.

Thin of frame, he wore metal-rimmed glasses and affected a thin, neatly clipped mustache.

Beneath this demeanor teemed an athleticized computer brain and the heart of a riverboat gambler. His teams were meant to be feared.

Under Brigham, Garfield exploded on rival teams. They were quick-hitting, disciplined and unpredictable.

They ran not only from the T-formation, but from the single-wing and the double-wing.

Brigham teams ran "bootleg" plays, exciting "naked reverses," hidden ball plays, sleight-of-hand maneuvers that sent rivals screaming to the rule-makers.

But above all, his teams were soundly coached in fundamentals and they moved in swift, attacking unison. Between 1928 and 1938, Brig's football teams won or tied for eight city championships.

By 1944, he had proved all there was to prove. He was the best. He became the Seattle school system's first director of athletics, probably to the vast relief of rival coaches.

What went unmentioned during the Memorial Stadium scoreboard dedication was how he did it - the way he accomplished so much.

You see, he was also far ahead of his time in the matter of race relations. His teams were a veritable United Nations.

At Garfield he took Wasp kids, Japanese boys, Chinese, African-American and Jewish kids. He melded this mix of ethnicity and heritages and taught them, above all, to have respect for one another.

He turned out great African American athletes like Sammy Bruce, Homer Harris and Brennan King. Japanese boys with names like Shiro Kashino, Mike Hirarhara, Sadao Baba and Harry Yanigamachi took their places among Seattle's young sport heroes.

Some of Brig's kids went on to become military generals, college teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians and civic leaders. His coaching achievements were great, but his legacy was far more enduring.

As athletic director he pushed to build the playing field that now bears his name. He brought to administration the same bold, innovative and precise gifts that he gave to coaching.

He brought Seattle public schools into the State High School Association and for the first time Seattle teams could compete for state championships. He introduced night football and made it possible for Seattle's high school track teams to travel to state meets.

He urged, even forced, the building of spacious new gyms - now fixtures at all Seattle high schools. He devised and implemented new ticket procedures to school events and he created a central accounting system that saved his school system hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Leon Brigham retired in 1961. He died on July 11, 1987.

So it is that this week they named a scoreboard after him. No scoreboard ever built could list all his victories.

Emmett Watson's column appears Sunday and Thursday in the Northwest section of The Times.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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