Photo by Katrina Sigurdson
Over a hundred, possibly two hundred people were in attendance for a candlelight remembrance in honor of John Nygaard, a history teacher and former coach at Ballard High School who passed away Friday, Nov. 29.

Beloved history teacher, basketball coach passes away

John Nygaard, 43, a much loved World History teacher and former basketball coach at Ballard High School, passed away Thursday morning, Nov. 29, in his home.

Nygaard had been out sick with pneumonia this week, but nobody suspected that they would be greeted Thursday with the news of his death. Students had just seen Nygaard Wednesday morning, before he had to leave because of his sickness. The official cause of death is unknown at the moment.

"He was just the most beloved person in the building," BHS Principal Keven Wynkoop said. "He had a really powerful connection to boys, everyone always wanted to hang out with him. He was a great male role model."

Nygaard, who was a 1987 Ballard grad, got his Bachelor's degree at Western University and coached and taught for eight years at Ballard High School. He also taught special education, maritime history, and ran the Scandinavian Club, often encouraging students to participate in the annual Norwegian parade with him.

According to students and colleagues, three things defined Nygaard's life: his passion for basketball, his Nordic heritage and, most of all, his love for Ballard students and watching them succeed.

"John really advocated for the kids. I think that's why he was well liked, because (students) felt like he was in their corner," Head Basketball Coach Billy Rodgers said.

Rodgers added that Nygaard always wore red and black and always went to all the sports events. Nygaard took a great sense of pride seeings kids from Ballard succeed, Rodgers said.

Senior Seth Berger, who had Nygaard as a teacher last year and who plays on the basketball team, agreed.

"You felt like he always had your back," Berger said. "Talking to him, especially these past few weeks -- I'll cherish that for a while, because that was time I got with just me and him."

Junior Nick Brown, who had Nygaard's class this year and who also played for Nygaard's basketball team in the past, recalled Nygaard's personality.

"He was pretty laidback (as a coach), he wouldn't get too mad," Brown said. "He was just too friendly, you couldn't take him seriously," he joked.

Brown also recalled Nygaard's sense of humor.

"I remember he always told me I shot like a girl and he always asked every day if I changed my jump shot," Brown said, laughing. Rodgers said that Brown was in fact one of the team's best scorers.

Wynkoop and Rodgers spoke of Nygaard's involvement and influence in the community, both as a Ballardite and as a committed Norwegian.

"He is one of the last of the old Ballard guys," Wynkoop said. "He's not the Ballard Ave guy; he's the Hattie's Hat guy."

At the candelight rememberance in Nygaard's honor last night, over 100, possibly 200 people were in attendance, sources said, even though news of Nygaard's death was discovered just a few hours before. People of varying backgrounds were there, including old classmates from his graduating class and current students. It didn't matter what age, race or clique people were, Rodgers said, Nygaard had reached out to them all.

"There was definitely lots of love, stories, and tears shared tonight," Katrina Sigurdson wrote in an email after the event. "Many kids got up to speak about what an amazing man, mentor, teacher, father figure and friend he was. Many said he was more than just a teacher and that he really cared about them as people."

Nygaard is the third person who worked at Ballard High School to die in the past nine months. Gary Smith, a security specialist and an assistant coach with Nygaard died in May, and Maritime Science teacher Megan Vogel died in August.

For the basketball team, the passing of Smith and now Nygaard has been especially difficult, Wynkoop said.

"They're combined influence and now they're combined loss has just been real hard for the guys," Wynkoop said.

A moment of silence will be held before the basketball game tonight, at 8 p.m. at Ballard High School. It will be Ballard's first home game.

"You know, we're definitely dedicating this season to him without a doubt," Rodgers said.

Nygaard is survived by a wife, Michelle, and a two-year-old son, Jakob.

Friends of the family have set up a Bank of America Account for a memorial fund which will benefit Nygaard's family. In lieu of flowers, you may donate money to the account number 138101517759. All money will go toward helping the family.

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