He was well-known for his handshake lessons.
At the start of most Oak Grove football seasons for the last four-plus decades, assistant coach George Pirch would line up the players and teach them the value of a good handshake.
Firm grip. Eye contact. All that kind of stuff.
“Like you mean it,” he would say during the demonstration.
It was a staple with the football team, a staple within the school and even a staple within the Oak Grove community of 7,795 people east of Kansas City.
The community lost that pillar Saturday, when Pirch died after a long battle with kidney cancer.
“He fought the good fight and he finished the race,” his wife, Ruth, wrote in announcing the news on Facebook.
Ruth posted inside a Facebook group titled, “Coach Pirch’s Wall of Fame,” started in 2014 when Pirch was initially diagnosed with cancer. It has 3,500 members.
They flooded the message board with memories of Pirch over the last two days.
“I will always remember Coach for his stern expectations, his memory, the handshake lesson, his lightning quickness and most of all the love his family and others have shown him during the last few years,” James Anderson wrote. “If I get a tenth of the love during my aging, I will be so very blessed.”
Pirch, who played football at Missouri during 1951-53, began coaching at Oak Grove in 1974.
After he retired from full-time teaching at Oak Grove in 1996, Pirch stayed on the football coaching staff as a volunteer assistant. In his later years, he used a scooter or cane to help him roam the sideline.
On Fridays during the football season, he would rally the student body with an appearance in the cafeteria, leading a chant of “Orange Power.”
“He was kind of the heartbeat of this team and this town,” Oak Grove head football coach Pat Richard said. “He was much more than a football coach. He was into the band, the choir, the basketball team, the wrestling team — any chance where he could watch kids be successful, he loved.”
Some of the community businesses and shops displayed orange ribbons in honor of Pirch. Others added messages to their welcoming signs.
“You can see the impact he had on this community just by the reaction,” Oak Grove basketball coach Ty Hames said. “There’s not a kid who has gone through the Oak Grove school system in the last 40 years who doesn’t know who he is. He had the ability to light up a room.”