Clarence "Flash" Olson

Clarence "Flash" Olson

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article appeared in the July 29, 1998 edition of The Post-Journal. Written by sportswriter Terry Heslink, the article memorialized Clarence "Flash" Olson, the legendary former Southwestern Central School teacher and coach, two days after his passing.

By Terry Heslink

If ever one person could lay claim to the title "Mr. Southwestern," it might be Clarence "Flash" Olson.

Olson, who died Monday after a long illness, coached just about every sport at Southwestern right after Lakewood and Celoron merged and, without a doubt, touched countless lives.

A memorial service in his honor will be held at 1 p.m., Friday in the school auditorium.

"It is the appropriate thing to have a memorial service for him at the school," said Southwestern wrestling coach Walt Thurnau, who replaced Olson in 1976. "There aren't enough good adjectives to describe Flash Olson, but I guess the most important thing I will remember is his integrity. I don't think there was a more honest person in the world.

"He was more like a father than a coach, and he has touched over 1,000 kids' lives. Southwestern was like his second home."

A physical education teacher in the district from 1954-89, Olson compiled a 181-70-4 record as a wrestling coach, during which he led the program to six league championships, including a 41-dual match winning streak from 1967-70. One of the founders and a former president of the Southern Tier Wrestling League, Olson was inducted into the Western New York Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Flash Olson

"Flash" Olson

"I was wet behind the ears when I came to Southwestern, and he took me under his wing and taught me everything I know about coaching and wrestling," Thurnau said.

In seven years as the school's football coach, Olson guided the Trojans to a 29-22-3 record.

Former varsity football coach Ron Littlejohn, who started coaching with Olson in 1966, called Olson a "very special man."

"When I first came to Southwestern, I worked under him and he treated me like family," Littlejohn said. "I was always impressed by the way the kids would return to see him after they had graduated. He helped me pattern my career of having to talk to the kids when I became a head coach in later years.

"We had so many good times and he always wanted us six football coaches to stay together when we went out on a scouting trip. No one ever complained about going on a trip with him. He dedicated his life to Southwestern."

Fran Sirianni, who coached football at Southwestern in the mid-70s through the early 1980s, called Olson the "greatest gentleman and was a great example to follow as a coach." Sirianni said that when he and his wife Amy moved to the area, "Flash and his wife Nancy welcomed us like family."

Tom Priester, another teacher/coach at Southwestern, worked with Olson for 25 years.

Flash Olson CSHoF nomination video.

"He was the greatest person I have ever known and he gave his life to the kids at Southwestern," Priester said. "He wanted to come back and teach after he retired in 1989, but a heart attack and the stress of his job being in physical education wouldn't allow him to come back."

Priester noted that Olson "was always thinking of someone else."

"I remember the time when our daughter had parents' weekend (at college) and he took over the cross-country team, so we could go," Priester said.

Olson would also pay an annual visit to the Priesters on Christmas Eve, dressed up as Santa Claus "to make the kids really feel part of Christmas," Priester added.

"Life wasn't fair to him at the end, but he fought it all the way with his natural instincts. He was a friend to so many people at Southwestern."

Clarence "Flash" Olson died in 1998. He was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.


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