The North Okanagan sports community has lost one of its biggest boosters.
Mel Briggeman, longtime Vernon volunteer, teacher, coach and official, died Monday of congestive heart failure at Vernon Jubilee Hospital. He was 79.
Briggeman and his wife, Sandra, both natives of Trail, came to Vernon via the Lower Mainland in 1962 when Briggeman took a teaching job at Coldstream Elementary School.
After a year at Coldstream, Briggeman moved on to Fulton Junior Secondary for one year, then would spend the next 30 years as a teacher and administrator at W.L. Seaton Secondary School. He retired in 1993 at age 59.
Briggeman, who drove Greyhound buses during summer and Christmas vacations for a few years, coached track and basketball at Seaton, and it was on the basketball court that he gained prowess as a top-notch referee.
Briggeman worked all levels of basketball for decades, served on the board of B.C. basketball officials and handed out assignments to local referees.
“‘Hey Stuey, can you be in Lumby for a Grade 8 game in 15 minutes? You are by yourself. Speed if you have to,’” chuckled former official Stu Williamson.
“My buddy Mel was the best thing that ever happened to basketball in the Okanagan. I have many memories of travelling with him to provincials in Vancouver and to the all-Native tournament in Prince Rupert. There was not a nicer guy around.”
After his retirement, Briggeman kept involved in the local sports scene.
He was the executive director of the Funtastic mixed slo-pitch tournament, elected to the Funtastic Hall of Fame in 2008.
Briggeman worked closely with disabled athletes and was also a volunteer with Vernon Special Olympics, working alongside close friend John Topping, founder of Funtastic.
“I first met Mel through Funtastic. He was a doer, he really got things done,” said Topping.
“He would say his piece, but things got accomplished. He was one of the golden star people.
“He was very instrumental in lining up guest speakers for our Special Olympics fundraisers, people like Hayley Wickenheiser and Walter Gretzky. He was very involved and put a lot into it.”
Briggeman also served on the board of the North Okanagan Athlete and Team of the Year awards committee.
He was honoured by that committee in 2012, when he was given a Leadership in Sports award. Briggeman was also recognized with the Brent Gilchrist Community Service Award in 1998, and was given the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for community service in 2003.
Briggeman is survived by his wife, Sandra, three sons, Steve, Gerry and Andrew and four grandchildren.
No date for a service for Briggeman had been established by press time.