Williamston Remembers Basketball Coach Bauer in Deed and Spirit
Bauer, 48, Died in March from Cancer; Boys Basketball Program Remembers His “Gentle Giant” Legacy
WILLIAMSTON, Mich. – Jason Bauer always cut a striking figure on the sidelines, as Williamston basketball’s head coach. His 6-foot-8 frame immediately told observers that if nothing else, he was someone who had played the game.
Bauer died in late March, at 38, after a two-year battle with brain cancer. The Williamston boys’ basketball team faces its first full season without Bauer on the sidelines, and the Hornet community is again rallying together.
Williamston Athletic Director Tom Hampton says plans are in the works to create a commemorative plaque and board, to honor Bauer, outside the school’s gym. A memorial scholarship in Bauer’s name was established over the summer and has already been funded through donations for the next few years. The scholarship will go to a Williamston athlete yearly. WHS is also planning to put a commemorative chair in their gym on gamedays to place on the Hornet bench.
“There were lots of options,” Hampton said. “A flag or sign or something in the gym, to the chair, it felt like the best way to honor him, because it has the best value and will last the longest.”
Bauer’s connection to Williamston runs deep.
He played for the Hornets in high school and continued his playing career at Grand Valley State. He came back to Williamston and served as the head boys’ basketball coach for five years. Although he started Williamston’s streak of six straight division titles, he, most importantly, left a legacy of a “gentle giant”.
“He was a family guy,” current WHS head coach Tom Lewis, who served for three years as Bauer’s assistant, said. “He had that big presence, but once you got to know him he was just a gentle guy. He was a great dad.”
Lewis and Bauer worked closely and were responsible for some major successes on the court, while also teaching their teams to work hard and respect opposing teams and officials. Williamston made the state playoffs in 2011 and has made it to postseason play in each of the eight seasons since.
“His teams were always very well-prepared,” Hampton said. “They always knew what would happen in the game, who was going to be doing what. Some of that Tom [Lewis] taught him because Jason was pretty young when he started.”
Bauer officially stepped away from coaching two years ago, after a pair of cancerous brain tumors were discovered during the early stages of Williamston's run to the 2016 state semifinals. Bauer had been away from coaching a year before that, and seniors on the current varsity Hornet squad were freshmen when he stopped coaching.
He made progress after an initial surgery and watched in person as the Hornets played at the Breslin Center that year. He also attended other games, including when the Hornets won a regional title by beating Portland last March.
"His family was first,” Hampton said. “It was important to him to just be a good guy. He wanted to leave a legacy of kindness and working hard.”