If there’s one man who represents the spirit of Seaside, it’s Stubby Lyons. Lyons, a former teacher, championship-winning coach, volunteer and longtime member of the City Council is 84, living his retirement in the Southeast Hills.
We caught up with him at his home with his wife of more than 20 years, Sharee Opitz, also a former Seaside teacher. Today, son Lance lives in Bend and daughter Lacey in Seaside.
Part Sioux, Raphael Lyons Jr. was raised on a reservation in North Dakota, one of 10 children of Anne and Ray Lyons.
The obvious question: Why the nickname “Stubby”?
“I was born at home, and after about three or four days they thought they should get me to the reservation hospital to get me checked out,” Lyons recalled. “My dad said, ‘Give me a suitcase and a couple of fluffy blankets in there.’ I was stubby enough to fit in it. And that’s what he called me.”
A more unlikely “Stubby” would be hard to find — the ex-Marine stood at about 6-foot-2-inches tall at his full height.
The family moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1942, when Stubby was 7.
Wartime employment was at a high and his father worked in the machine shop in Hanford, Washington. “My dad actually worked on the atomic bombs,” Lyons said. “It was very secretive.”
The family lived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho — the only city in the us with an apostrophe, Lyons remarked. “I went to school there and graduated there.”
As a 20-year-old Marine, Lyons spent 14 months in Korea as a military officer in the demilitarized zone.
After eight years in the service, he returned home and pursued his education on the GI Bill, attending Eastern Washington College in Cheney and earning his master’s at Pacific University in Forest Grove.
His teaching and coaching career began at age 35, first in Nevada, then Washington state.
But the Oregon Coast was his dream destination. “I always wanted to live near the ocean.”
When a vacancy became available in the Seaside School District, Lyons put his application in. “The principal said, ‘Can you be up here tomorrow for an interview?’ I said, ‘Yes, I guess I can.’ I jumped in the car and the principal said, ‘Would you take this job if we offered it to you?’ I said yes. He called the next day, Saturday, and said, ‘You start Monday.’
Lyons taught “everything” at Seaside High School, he said, “English, U.S. history, personal finance, a law class — 16 different classes.”
As head coach, Lyons had already led one team in Idaho and three teams in Nevada to championships, including the first in Nevada to win a girls basketball championship.
Arriving in Seaside in 1980, he served as assistant for Jim Auld before taking the head coach role.
Lyons led the Gulls extraordinary state championship 1994 football team, the first championship team since 1959.
“We had great talent,” Lyons recalled. “Adam Israel. Casey Jackson. Nate Burke. Ben Archibald — he was a lineman, later with the 49ers, Calgary and Vancouver. He was a real dandy. My son, Lance Lyons. He could run and throw, really run. He was 6’-2”, 6’-3”. He wasn’t a good drop back, but he was a great rollout. He threw 17 or 18 touchdown passes that year.”
The team, greeted with passionate enthusiasm throughout the community, was inspired by Lyons’ enthusiasm on and off the field.
“I knew we were going to have a pretty good football team that year,” he said. “So I thought I’d get a personal license plate: ‘FIRE UP.’ Those are the same license plates I’ve got on my truck right now.”
More than 3,000 Gulls fans were reported to have traveled to Autzen Stadium in Eugene to watch the Gulls win the championship 27-14 over Brookings Harbor, overcoming a 14-10 halftime deficit.
After the game, the Signal reported at the time, Lyons went to his knees. “I made a promise I was going to say a little prayer along the sidelines right after the game if we won, and I did,” Lyons said at the time.
Today, Lyons still meets up with team alumni to share memories at Dundee’s.
‘A real good council’
Lyons retired from teaching in 1999, and entered a period of community service and civic involvement.
A lifetime member of the Marine Corps League, Elks, American Legion and VFW, he won election to Seaside’s City Council in 2000.
Looking back, Lyons said he regretted the contention surrounding a proposed U.S. Highway 101 bypass.
He was an advocate of the library’s building plans as a member of the library committee.
City Manager Mark Winstanley “has a real good eye,” Lyons said. “He had a real good crew, a real good council.”
Seaside’s downtown improvement efforts have paid off since his arrival in 1980, he added.
“When I first came into town, I thought, ‘God, this is a mess.’ We drove down Broadway — it was two ways — then, we rode around the Turnaround. There was sand all over the place, lights broken. It looked like hell. These people didn’t realize they had a gold mine here! The beach alone is a gold mine!”
Lyons married his second wife, a former Seaside High School teacher, in 1998 after being introduced by sophomore students interested in playing matchmaker. “The kids came up to me and said, ‘Coach, we have just the person you should take out.’ I said, ‘Who’s that?’ They said ‘Sharee Opitz.’ I said, ‘Oh, she’s really a good-looking woman. She would never go out with a slob like me.’”
“They said, ‘Yes, she would.’”
The students urged him to express his feelings in a letter, which he still has on his wall.
The students told him to sign it “love.”
“No, I’m not going to sign it ‘love,’” he told the students. “I don’t even know her. I’d only met her once, at a reception one night.”
Lyons compromised by putting a little heart by the signature.
The students volunteered to deliver the letter personally.
Unbeknownst to Lyons, they delivered not only the letter, but with a little help from Coach Auld, contributed a bouquet of flowers from Safeway.
“Sharee’s like, ‘Who’s this guy, anyway?’” Lyons said.
After quizzing friends about her potential suitor, she was advised “he’d be a good guy to go out with.”
The romance blossomed and “every night we danced at the Shilo,” he recalled. “We loved to dance.”
Lyons stays close to home these days; his daughter Lacy helps with the shopping.
Lyons still likes to get outside and enjoy his property. “I get out there once in awhile, feed the birds, make sure the water in the bird bath is good,” he said.
“You know, we have a bear up here. It was up here the other night — took off the lid and ate the garbage.”