BONNERS FERRY — For more than 30 years, Conrad Garner has touched the lives of so many students and parents, and the evidence of that came on Friday, Feb. 7, when a surprise retirement recognition event was held in his honor.
The Bonners Ferry High School gym was packed — and not just for the wrestling duals that were being held there. People came for Garner. They wore custom shirts that said Team Garner, with a message on the back that emphasized the things that Garner is most known for: “Coach … Mentor … Leader.”
Kenton Clairmont, former Badger wrestler, took the microphone as the event began, giving a heartfelt speech. At one point he asked for everyone who had been coached or taught by Garner, or had a child that was, to stand. Almost every person, from both sets of bleachers, to people on the floor, stood up. It was an emotional moment for Garner and those standing.
“I don’t believe that there was a dry eye in the place,” the Bonners Ferry Wrestling Club posted on their Facebook page.
“I was overwhelmed,” said Garner about the moment.
While Garner has touched many lives as a coach, he is also a teacher at Bonners Ferry High School, the Dean of Students, and the Athletic Director. He will retire in July of this year — and he will be missed.
Assistant wrestling coach Kevin Campbell has worked with Garner for three years, and said that Garner was a huge influence on him.
“Even before I worked with Conrad, I had tremendous respect for him,” said Campbell. “As a wrestler in high school, you knew his wrestlers were always going to be well-coached and give you a fight.”
Campbell said it was the same story when he started coaching.
“I would also watch how he interacted with his wrestlers, and how he coached them,” Campbell said. “When he began talking to me about moving up here, I was flattered. I knew this was a man I could learn a lot from and improve myself as a coach. I had no idea I would learn so much more.”
Campbell, also a science teacher like Garner, called Garner a mentor — on the mat, in the classroom, and in life.
“I have been able to learn a tremendous amount, and not just about wrestling,” said Campbell. “I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him for the last three years.”
One of the parents who came out to honor Garner was Greg See. His son was coached by Garner for two years, through tough battles that the wrestler was dealing with, both on and off the mat.
“Conrad helped him accomplish what felt like David versus Goliath type of victories on the mat,” said See. “But more importantly, Conrad helped him off the mat, with encouraging words, being supportive and understanding of some real life struggles. Conrad helped set the bar, in life, and influenced my son in the right directions.
“Conrad is the rare individual that coaches with his heart and soul,” he continued. “And it is contagious to the athletes that he coaches.”
See said that his son’s story, and experience, is literally one of hundreds.
“That gym was full of past and present wrestling athletes that will miss Conrad,” said See. “But there are loads more, of parents, that will miss him just as much ... if not more.”
When July comes, Garner looks forward to spending more time with family and friends, but it does not mean that won’t miss the life he has been leading.
“I will miss the interaction with the students at all levels,” said Garner.
After receiving items, including a large memory book, Garner was mobbed by people — all waiting to give the man that influenced their lives a hug and a few words of how much he will be missed.