Former Player Testimony, Steve Valach

Near the middle of last week, I received emails from Steve Ridgway and Scott Kessler conveying the news that Frosty’s at home, but in fragile condition. I forwarded the email to my wife, Natasha, and she replied, “You should take the boys and go see him.”  So, around noon on Saturday, I piled our boys, Isaiah (10) and Elijah (6), in the car and we headed to Parkland to see Frosty.

The last time I was at Frosty’s house was a pre-season barbecue sometime back in the late ‘80s, so I needed to call his son-in-law Jim Johnson for directions.  Donna answered the door, and led us to the front room where he was lying on the couch. He was quiet and a bit foggy, but in classic Frosty fashion, the longer we stayed, the better he got! Donna was busy preparing a care package of her goodies to send to their granddaughter, Taber, who plays basketball at Tennessee. She offered the boys and I samples of her chocolate covered peanut butter squares, and memories of Donna’s Goodies and Tuesday night offensive film sessions in Olson came rushing back.

In preparation for the trip, I had each boy draw a picture for Frosty and prepare a question to ask. Isaiah presented his picture, a drawing of he and Frosty, with “God made me, and he doesn’t make junk” printed across the top of the page. Then, Elijah sidled up next to the couch and handed Frosty his drawing, which showed him and Frosty in a rocket, headed for the moon where they would “play football together.” Needless to say, the boys and Frosty began to really hit it off.

As Frosty and I caught up, the boys wandered down to the basement, which, if you haven’t been down there, is like a PLU Football museum. Before too long, they began hauling up different items. Elijah bounded in the living room holding a toy blue car: “Hey, Fwosty, why do you have this?” Of course, that led to me explaining the best I could about the blue car vs. the red car mentality. The whole car comparison didn’t become a Frosty staple until after I graduated. As far as I can tell, red car means you’re a Central kind of guy, and blue car means you’re a PLU kind of guy. The boys listened respectfully, and disappeared for another foray into the basement.

Pretty soon the boys scrambled upstairs holding a starfish. “Frosty, why do you have this?” It had been a while, but who can forget the story of the starfish?  I summoned up my story telling skills and told the boys the classic, just as I imagined Frosty telling it. Story over – they bolt out of the living room to do more digging. Moments later, Isaiah appeared with a mini-toilet that actually makes a flushing noise. “What’s this for, Frosty?” Well, I explained that the toilet really symbolized the EMAL attitude of being fearless, and that fearlessness and freedom to give it our best shot enabled us to make many miraculous comebacks. “Isaiah,” I said, “when you make a mistake, you flush it, and you move on.” Frosty had been pretty quiet, but he piped in, pointing a finger at me for emphasis, “But first you have to learn from it, Steve. Then you flush it and move on.” Of course, I’d missed that important step. Dang.

And so it went for the next hour or so,the boys hauling up treasures from the basement, me explaining the significance of different items or deferring to Frosty. Isaiah holding a leather helmet with autographs and messages to Frosty from Eddie Robinson, Tom Osborne, Ara Parsegian, Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and Lou Hotz, and other all-time greats; Elijah wearing an original 1972 PLU helmet; both boys holding a handmade PLU train.

I asked the boys to take a break from their searching around, and ask their questions. Elijah went first, asking Frosty to share his favorite coaching memory. “Oh, boy, that’s a hard one. There’s so many, Elijah. I can’t really pick a favorite.” Isaiah asked next: “Frosty, when did you and Donna meet?” What a great question, and it captured Donna’s attention right away. Frosty and Donna met in kindergarten. They began dating in high school, and Frosty took Donna to the prom. Here’s the kicker, Frosty had wrecked his dad’s car, so he wasn’t allowed to drive (for those of you who experienced driving with Frosty, are you surprised to hear he wrecked his father’s car . . .). Well, Donna, told him, “You’re taking me to the prom, even if you have to take me in a wheel barrow. “ And, what did Frosty do? He picked her up and drove her to the prom . . .  in a wheel barrow.

The boys begged for one last trip to the basement, so they vanished and Frosty and I continued to talk. Moments later the boys appeared with another prize from the basement – a pair of drumsticks. My six year old LOVES the drums. “Fwosty, why do you have these?” Seeing the drums reminded me of our team’s trip to the French Riviera in 1985, and I shared the story with the boys. We’d just finished a team dinner at some restaurant, a band was setting up to play, and everyone’s making their way out to the parking lot, excited to explore the city. All of a sudden Frosty crawls up behind the drum set and begins pounding out an impressive drum solo. Who knew?  “Elijah, let me see those,” Frosty extended his hand to my son.” Steve, clear off this table.” Then, while lying on his side, Frosty proceeded to pound out, skillfully, two different drum rhythms as my boys sat mesmerized.

Not soon after, it was clear that he was tiring and it was time for us to leave. In classic Frosty form, he CHOSE to rally and engage with us. I hugged him. The boys hugged him. I hugged him again and kissed him on the head. “Love you, Frosty. Thanks for investing in my life,” I whispered.

Since we were in the area, we drove to PLU and looked at the new practice fields and walked through Olson Auditorium. Nothing has changed in Olson since I first arrived in the fall of ’83 – same lockers, bathrooms, and showers. A recruit from Colombia River High School was waiting outside “Frosty’s office” for his visit and campus tour with Scott. I let the boys run around in the darkened gymnasium for a while as they shot imaginary baskets. Then it was time to go.

On our way out of Parkland,  I surprised the boys by stopping at Baskin and Robbins. Isaiah ordered a single scoop of birthday cake ice cream, and Elijah had bubblegum ice cream on a sugar cone. As they quietly licked their way through their cones, I asked, “Did you guys have fun meeting Frosty and Donna?” They nodded. A pause. Then Isaiah looked at me, an ice cream “soul patch” forming under his lip, and said, “Dad, can we come and visit Frosty next Saturday?”

As I sit here this morning, I’m consumed with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It happens to me pretty regularly these days. I feel it when I can’t sleep and tiptoe into my boys’ rooms to watch them sleep. I feel it when I look at my wife and think about the miracle that she said “yes” fifteen years ago. I feel it when I think about myself as a 17 year old PLU freshman walk on, learning I didn’t know that I didn’t know. And, I feel it right now, as I think about a divinely appointed Saturday afternoon, as I got to sit beside my coach and share him with my boys.