Athletics News

Fred Emerson: Former Western athletic great passes at 82

April 11, 2018


1976 HOF Inductees (L-R): Charles Lappenbusch, Bruce Randall, C.W.
1976 HOF Inductees (L-R): Charles Lappenbusch, Bruce Randall, C.W. "Bill" McDonald, Fred Emerson

Fred Emerson: Former Western athletic great passes at 82

1976 inductee into school's Hall of Fame, 1957-58 Viking Athlete of the Year

BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- Fred Emerson, one of the greatest athletes ever to compete at Western Washington University, passed away on Apr. 8, 2018, at the age of 82.

A Celebration of Life for Emerson will be held on Sat., Apr. 28, at 11 a.m., at the Smokey Point Community Church (17721 Smokey Point Blvd., Arlington, WA)

Emerson was a standout football and baseball player at Western in the late 1950s and later head football coach for the Vikings from 1966 to 1969, the only alumnus in school history to handle those duties.

A transfer from the University of Washington, Emerson was named Western's Athlete of the Year for 1957-58. In 1976, he was inducted into the school's Athletics Hall of Fame.

Fred Emerson (1967)
Fred Emerson (1967)

In 1957, Emerson received honorable mention on both the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-America and United Press International All-Coast football teams. That year he ranked 14th nationally among small colleges in total offense. In seven games, he rushed 81 times for 673 yards, an average of 8.3 yards per carry.

An Evergreen Conference (Evco) all-star that season, Emerson led the league in both scoring with 71 points and total offense with 1,172 yards. In a 39-7 victory over University of British Columbia, he scored a school-record four touchdowns, one of them on a 70-yard punt return.

In the second game of the 1958 football season, a knee injury sidelined Emerson until late in the campaign. In the next to last game, the Vikings visited Central Washington with the conference title on the line as both teams were undefeated in Evco play. Hampered by the injury, Emerson moved from his usual halfback position to quarterback.

With Western trailing, 18-12, with less than four minutes remaining, the Vikings had the ball on their own 4-yard line. Emerson completed two passes, then found his younger brother Tom with a toss down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown to tie the game with less than a minute left. Tom then kicked the extra point that proved to be the game winner.

Brothers Tom & Fred Emerson
Brothers Tom & Fred Emerson

Emerson was a three-time Evco all-star in baseball, leading Western with a .419 batting average in 1957 and playing on a squad that placed third at the NAIA national tournament in 1959. He was an all-tournament pick at nationals.

Had it not been for another serious knee injury suffered during his senior season, Emerson might have embarked on a career in professional baseball.

After graduating from Western in 1959 with a degree in physical education, Emerson took a teaching and coaching position at his alma mater Kent-Meridian (Wash.) High School. He became head football coach for the Royals, posting a record of 38-15-3 (71.7 winning percentage), capturing the Puget Sound League title in 1965 and taking northern division crowns in 1964 and 1965.

Emerson was a three-sport all-conference performer in football, basketball and baseball as a student at Kent-Meridian.

In 1966, Emerson returned to Western to direct the Viking football program. During his four seasons at then Western Washington State College, his 1969 team tied for the Evco title, the program's first league crown since 1958.

Emerson, who was an educator for 30 years, went back to the high school ranks and coached football at Enumclaw, Hoquiam and Lake Stevens. After retiring in 1990, he returned to the sidelines to direct the gridiron program at Darrington, the 2007 Loggers winning their first 10 games and reaching the first round of the Class 2B state playoffs.

Emerson, who was born on March 11, 1936, and wife Lori (step-daughter Jennifer and step-son Eric) were married for 28 years. He had three children from a previous marriage -- Randy, Shelly and Debby.


Steve Richardson - First-team NAIA All-American running back in 1966, a three-time All-Evco selection on both offense and defense, and member of the WWU Hall of Fame.

Fred was my football coach for three years at Kent-Meridian, and fortunately, for my senior year at Western. I also spent an extra year with Fred as a student assistant to begin my long-time dream of coaching football. He was not only an important part of my playing the game, but also in my career coaching it.

Fred had a tremendous desire to win, but it was always about playing the game with class, no matter what the outcome. He truly cared for each and every player on the team ... I owe a great deal to Fred for his efforts, fun personality and support in my career and life. I loved him like a father!

Rick Harder -- Viking football and baseball player, 1966-69

When I was at Western Washington State College (now Western Washington University) Fred Emerson was my football and baseball coach. The one thing that I will say without hesitation is that Fred Emerson was a good man in every sense of the word.

I came to Western in the Fall of 1966 and had planned to play baseball and basketball just as I had done in high school, successfully. Basketball soon went by the wayside, but I did continue playing baseball and Fred was my coach. He also was the Head Football Coach, and at the end of my first baseball season I decided that I would like to also try playing football which we never had at the high schools I had attended as a "Military Brat." He could have very easily discouraged me due to the fact of my lack of experience, but instead he was very encouraging and felt my athleticism would give me a chance at this new endeavor. It ended with me playing three years of varsity football which changed many aspects of my life which, to this day, I will forever be grateful.

Western was a small college that was about eighty per cent white with a very small minority population and even less Black students. Surprisingly, the environment was a welcoming one and I had no problem fitting in the social structure of life and considered those years some of the best, making lifelong friendships that exist to this day.

Western was not immune to the changes happening in the country with the Vietnam War, social upheaval, and the civil rights issues of the day. As a result, I came under many pressures to be a conduit of understanding, for the white students, when the formation of the Black Student Union caused a disruption to the surface tranquility of the campus that didn't understand that students of color did have issues that needed to be addressed.

On the other hand, it was demanded of me by the Black student leaders on campus that I, due to my so called "special status" with the white kids and my ability to "communicate well" should take on the mantle of campus leader for the cause.

Coming from a military family where you followed the rules and didn't do anything to misrepresent the family, this was not something that I was prepared to take on or wanted to deal with. I wanted to be just a regular guy who came to college for the usual reasons, education, sports, and girls, not necessarily in that order. I felt isolated and pressured many times, to the point of being overwhelmed emotionally.

The one person that I could go to and count on for support was Fred. He always had time for me and encouraged me to stand tall and have courage in the face of adversity. Between him, the values that football taught me, and how I grew up, I was able to navigate these hard times and much gratitude goes to Coach Emerson. As a coach he insisted that his players never give up and work hard to achieve in the face of adversity. He tried to understand our generation, trying to identify with us in many ways, sometimes failing, but at least he tried. The most enduring quality that Fred showed me and got my respect was his empathy, which is missing is so many people today.

We remained friends until his passing yesterday at age 82, and I will miss his friendship. I have come to believe that if a person can count on one hand the number of true friends they have had in life, they have lived a good life.

Fred Russel Emerson has a reserved spot on mine. RIP.

Joe Henry, Viking football player, 1966-67

If it wasn't for Coach I would have never survived in the Marines and Vietnam ... He was one of the last of the few REAL MEN I had the pleasure to know.

Bill Hawk, Viking football player, 1967-68

I certainly was far from a core player during my two years of football at Western, but I learned so much about coaching and how to treat people from Fred. Of course I never called him anything but Coach at Western, but when he left Western he became the head coach at Enumclaw High School where I was his defensive coordinator until he left for Lake Stevens. You all would have loved to share a different side of this man as I was lucky enough to. Held us accountable for our position, sense of humor, loved to eat and celebrate. I taught and coached his kids who were a credit to their parents. Wouldn't have changed my experiences with Coach Emerson for anything.


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