Notre Dame football and girls soccer coach Scot Bemis passed away of lung cancer Sunday night. He was 45.
The school’s only coach since its inception in 2002, Bemis took a leave of absence from coaching and teaching in mid-September after an MRI revealed the tumor. But his condition worsened.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately known. He is survived by his wife and four children.
“When I first heard the news I was in shock,” Saints quarterback Jordan Gehrke said. “You want to refuse to believe it.”
Bemis originally thought he injured his elbow while on vacation with his family in San Diego this summer, but when the pain worsened, he went to the doctor to get it examined. An MRI showed the cancer, which began in the lungs and spread to other parts of the body.
The Saints defeated Goldwater 31-6 on Sept. 16, and after the contest, Bemis announced he was taking an indefinite leave.
Bemis kept news of his condition quiet until the end, as few knew how bad it had become.
“I would ask athletic director (Monica Barrett) three times a week how he was doing,” said Ted Gehrke, Jordan’s father. “Scot’s a very private person.”
The Notre Dame football players met at the school on Sunday night to remember their coach.
“You think back to all the fun times you had with him,” Jordan Gehrke said. “It’s tough.”
Bemis started the football program with the Saints and led the team to consecutive state championships in 2007 and 2008. He was 57-32 in eight seasons at the helm.
Bemis began his football coaching career as the junior varsity defensive coordinator at McClintock, where he also was a standout linebacker. Former Chargers coach Mike Gibbons had to plead with him to join the staff.
“The first 10 times I asked him to coach he said no,” said Gibbons, who was the Chargers‘ junior varsity coach at the time. “Then he caught the bug and ran with it.”
Bemis was promoted to varsity defensive coordinator after two years before being hired for the same position under Pat Farrell at St. Mary’s in 2000. He was then hired as Notre Dame’s inaugural coach. The team went 1-9 and 3-8 in his first two years before becoming one of the state’s top programs.
Notre Dame petitioned up from its original enrollment spot in Division IV this season to play larger-sized schools.
Notre Dame began this season 2-4 but won its final four regular season games to make the playoffs. The Saints upset Tucson Salpointe in the first round, but lost to Tucson Ironwood Ridge in the Division II quarterfinals.
“He built a program from scratch and did it with excellence,” Gibbons said. “The program will always have his stamp on it.”
Bemis was also a science teacher and the girls soccer coach. He led the girls soccer team to a 4A-II title in 2009 and a runner-up finish last season.
“He was just an icon,” Ted Gehrke said. “When he walked around campus, everyone would stop what they were doing and look at him with awe.”
Gibbons joined the Notre Dame staff when Bemis was originally hired, and he returned this season after he and McClintock parted ways in 2010. The pair played football together in high school at McClintock and remained good friends into adulthood.
“I feel like a giant has left the stage,” Gibbons said.