Stringer was best known as the leader of the Panthers football squad, which he led to four Class 3A state titles (including three in a row from 2011-13) since taking over the program in 2003. But he was much more than a football coach.
The tall, burly, bearded man was loved by the Powell community for his open, outgoing manner and friendly nature. Students appreciated the personal attention he’d give and players respected how he pushed them to be better.
Stringer was respected, and will be missed, by all, people said over the weekend. Fellow coaches, former and current players, and even those who wanted nothing more than to beat the Stringer-led Panthers contributed to the outpouring of support for the Powell community and, most of all, Stringer’s family.
The news traveled fast, and the reaction was always the same.
“I was shocked,” said former player Cory Heny. “I really didn’t believe it.”
“It was pretty shocking,” said Voice of the Panthers Scott Mangold. “I guess it’s really never fair but this really doesn’t seem fair at all.”
“Shock,” said assistant football coach Chase Kistler. “That’s about all I can really say. It’s a huge loss in our community.”
Kistler worked under Stringer for four seasons and, like many PHS students in Stringer’s classroom, his time with Stringer was spent learning.
“I learned so much about how to hold yourself as a coach from him — more than from any other person,” Kistler said.
Kistler, PHS’s strength and conditioning coach, said he last spoke with Stringer when he went to post workout schedules Wednesday morning.
“I talked to him for a brief period,” Kistler said. “I mean, it was really short. I had no idea it was going to be the last (time).”
The sudden nature of Stringer’s untimely passing adds to the tragedy.
“First your heart just goes out to the family,” said chairman of the Powell school board Rob McCray. “They’re such a close-knit family and always supported each other.”
Coach Stringer returned July 14 from San Mateo, Calif., where he and his son Riley, an incoming senior at PHS, were at the West Super Combine in an ongoing effort to improve Riley’s skills and to increase his recruiting prospects.
“The two of them have been working really hard on Riley’s future,” McCray said.
Stringer’s twin daughters, Kodi and Kooper, will be freshmen at PHS this fall and are accomplished athletes as well, with both excelling during their time on the Powell Middle School track and field team.
While Stringer’s legacy among the Powell community will center around what he did on the sidelines, he was respected as a well-rounded man who made time for people both in and out of the sport he loved.
“His loss will have a huge impact on Powell High School, the district and the community,” said Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell. “He was a wonderful friend, teacher and coach, and more importantly, husband and father.”
McCray said his daughters were both students in Stringer’s biology class.
“He made it a point to make personal contact with my girls, who always enjoyed being in his class, ” he said. “They both called me as soon as they heard.”
The loss of the Powell hero and local celebrity resonated throughout Wyoming as news of his death traveled quickly across the Internet.
It started in Powell, as his son Riley wrote on Twitter: “No matter what happens you will always be my hero <3.”
Soon social media was abound with well-wishes, condolences, disbelief and photos, all dedicated to Stringer.
“My condolences to [Riley Stringer], his family and the Powell community. Coach Stringer was a fierce competitor and a class act. RIP,” wrote Star Valley football and track star Sam Gertsch on his Twitter account.
Douglas Bearcat Logan Barker reached out on Twitter as well.
“My deepest condolences for the Stringer family and the Powell community,” Barker wrote.
Barker played against the Panthers in Stringer’s final game as head coach.
The Panthers defeated Douglas 19-13 in overtime on Nov. 19 to capture their third straight 3A state title.
Stringer was later named the Wyoming Coaches Association 3A Football Coach of the Year. He also claimed the award in 2011.
Stringer earned his own hardware, but was quick to pass the credit to his players.
‘He really didn’t accept the accolades,” Mangold said. “It was the kids.”
Conversely, Stringer shouldered Powell’s losses.
“I always request coaches come up and talk to me after every game and a lot of football coaches in the past ... would only come up after they won,” Mangold said. “But (Stringer) would come after the most horrific loss. He almost always seemed to take the blame for any problems.
“He’s going to be remembered for being one of the most successful if not the most successful football coaches in Powell history.”
Former Tribune Sports Editor Steve Moseley was another media member who remembered Stringer fondly.
“One of my favorite coaches in 20-plus years covering high school sports ... and also a dear friend,” Moseley wrote on his Facebook page. “He will be deeply missed by past players and students, but the greater loss accrues to all the future Powell kids who will never benefit from knowing Jim the way so many of us did.”
Questions regarding the future of PHS football and its coaching staff will have to be answered, but for now, all focus is on the grieving necessary by a family and town.
“It’ll have to be done in time but we won’t make any big jumps right now,” McCray said.
Heny, who graduated in May, said the 2014 Panthers will play for their former coach — the only football coach most of them have ever known.
“I think it’s going to push the team this year to want to win even worse than they already do,” Heny said. “I think it’s going to push them even more to win it for him.”
A 2010 letter Stringer wrote to the Powell Tribune offered a glimpse of some of his views on life:
“As I learned the value of honest hard work living on my grandparent’s farm during the summer months of my elementary years, Grandpa also taught me important lessons in respect, appropriate social behavior and interpersonal communications. Many of the lessons continue to transcend time as sage clichés recognized and understood by most, such as: ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you.’
“Or ... ‘Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.’
“And one of my personal favorites ... ‘It is better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.’
“Now, my grandfather knew that the latter was not always possible, so he would sometimes follow it up with the age-old classic, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’”
A lot of people said nice things about Jim Stringer during his life, and they are echoing those thoughts now.
A memorial service for coach Stringer will be held at Panther Stadium 10 a.m. Thursday.
— Tribune Managing Editor Tom Lawrence contributed to this report.