As Steve Humann lay motionless on his deathbed in a Portland hospice, Jamie Roupp and Bailey Hasty pulled up a couple chairs and read aloud from a pile of thank you letters.
Gathered through a Facebook campaign that began less than a day prior, the letters were mostly from other former basketball players who, like Roupp and Hasty, were once driven to play harder and think bigger by a man who was confined to a wheelchair.
And though there is no way to say for sure, Roupp believes Humann took it all in before dying later that day.
"He wasn't able to respond at that point," she said, "but he definitely made eye contact with us. We started telling some funny stories and, at one point, one side of his face went up like he was trying to smile. I have no doubt that he was hearing what we were saying."
There will be plenty more said come Saturday morning during the Steve Humann Celebration of Life service, scheduled to be held at the Ashland Middle School gym where Humann built a youth girls basketball powerhouse. The service will start at 10 a.m.
Humann died July 14 at age 66, three weeks after suffering a heart attack and 30 years after an operation to remove a tumor at the base of his brain went horribly wrong. He endured eight years of therapy in order to learn how to talk and use his left arm again. When Humann returned to the sideline in 1988, the former Southern Oregon University (then Southern Oregon State College) head men's basketball coach used a wireless headset and a speaker to project his voice and relied on assistants to demonstrate fundamentals. The improvised setup may have drawn a few curious glances from Ashland opponents at first, but it didn't take long for those sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade tournament teams to gain respect.
Humann's teams were skilled and disciplined, and also seemed to adopt Humann's can-do attitude while routinely placing high in tournaments in Eugene and Portland.
"He never gave up," said Katie Humann, 34, one of Steve Humann's three daughters, who also played basketball for him. "His famous quote was, 'Coaches never quit.' He told us all the time, 'This is for you girls. I'll never give up on my girls.'"
Humann's stature in the Ashland community became evident when it came time to find a new coach to lead the Ashland High girls basketball program in 2002. Then Ashland High athletic director Jim Nagel received more than 30 letters of recommendation, about the same number of phone calls and several drop-ins endorsing Humann, who was named Ashland's citizen of the year in 2000.
Humann was offered that job and accepted, a position he held for two seasons. He led the Grizzlies to the Class 4A state tournament his first year then stepped down after his second to resume coaching middle school-aged girls.
No matter what level Humann coached, his players always seemed to respond.
Steve Humann's wife, Joyce Humann, 63, said his ability to connect with people had something to do with that.
"He was very animated and fun, a great sense of humor," Joyce Humann said. "The personality of Steve did not change, which I was so grateful for, because with brain injuries you never know if it will change who they are as people. But that never changed. He was passionate about his family and about basketball."
Among those scheduled to speak at Saturday's service are Tom McCracken, another former Ashland High girls basketball coach and a family friend, Roupp, Humann's brother Glen and Paul Pavlich, a close friend who also coached with Humann.
The service will also include a slideshow, for which Katie Humann has spent the past few weeks accumulating photos. The process has been cathartic, she said.
"We've had to deal with some really hard times, watching our parents persevere through everything," she said. "My mom has shown an amazing amount of strength and faith. It's hard to be a wife and all of a sudden you're a nurse and a caretaker for the next 30 years. They showed us how to be in love."
Donations can be made at Rogue Federal Credit Union to the Stephen K. Humann Memorial Fund.