‘A good basketball coach and a great person’: Bear River High School varsity basketball coach Ralph Lewis dies
A message sent Sunday afternoon by Bear River High School Principal Chris Roberts to the school community stated that the school’s basketball coach, Ralph Lewis, had died.
Lewis, 52, who had coached at Bear River for over six years, died in his sleep Saturday night, according to Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden.
“Ralph has been a member of the Bear River family as a campus supervisor for three years, and longer as a coach and mentor for our students,” Roberts said in the Sunday email. “He was a valued member of the Bear River staff, as well as our community, and built strong relationships with students and staff alike. He will be dearly missed.”
Lewis wrote a message Saturday on his Ralph Lewis Basketball Academy Facebook page, providing an update of his health. While he said he had tested positive for COVID-19 less than a month ago, he also said he tested negative for the virus more recently.
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“Easter weekend I began feeling symptoms, which turned into a battle that had my family worried more than I’d like to explain,” he wrote. “High fever and shallow breathing sent me to the hospital where I was tested. A few days later it was confirmed. Fast-forward to today, I am a few days past receiving a negative test. I am feeling much better and I’m about 50%.”
Bradley Smith, Bear River senior and varsity basketball player, reported first hearing of Lewis’ death at 12:30 p.m. Sunday from friends who received notification from the junior varsity basketball coach.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” said Smith, noting that he spoke with Lewis recently, and that his basketball coach didn’t appear to have any health problems. “Same old Ralph,” he recalled.
Smith said he first started working with Lewis at the end of his sophomore year. Lewis enjoyed analyzing film with the team, showcasing his passion for basketball and for coaching, said Smith.
“He’d push us in a good way,” he said. “You always had something to learn from him. The best two years of basketball, my entire life, were under him.”
Nevada Union High School varsity women’s basketball coach and Bear River teacher Jenn Krill said she was very close to Lewis and was drawn to his vivacious, friendly energy. Lewis came to train Krill’s daughter in basketball, as he had with students from Granite Bay, Placer and Nevada counties.
“He just kind of became my homie,” said Krill. “We literally talked basketball every single solitary day.”
Krill, who said Lewis’ death was “definitely unexpected,” also noted that her friend and colleague had one of the most outsized impacts on basketball in Nevada County and the northern region.
“He knew every kid on that Bear River campus by name, probably first and last,” she said. “His impact to the basketball community is honestly unprecedented.”
Jeff Bickmore, who co-led Bear River’s men’s varsity basketball team with Lewis before leading the women’s team this year, said he was shocked to hear of Lewis’ death. The basketball coach invested tons of time into analyzing competition, watching video and preparing his athletes, said Bickmore.
“He’s a really good basketball coach and a great person,” he said. “He always had a great answer and really got me thinking. He made me a much better coach.”
Bickmore said Lewis was a well-rounded individual, dedicating himself to acting and boxing in addition to basketball.
“It was inspiring being around a guy like that,” he said. “His biggest value was that he really, really loved and cared about kids.”
While no memorial date has been set according to administrators and school staff, a virtual celebration of life service is being planned for the near future, according to Brett McFadden.
Bradley Smith said he and his teammates are writing notes and letters to Lewis’ family to honor their coach and pay their respects.
To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4219.
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