Tributes to a popular local rugby coach and teacher

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TRIBUTES have been paid to a popular Leigh teacher and rugby player.

Ian Howarth, 64, above, who was a stalwart rugby league coach in Leigh, has died after a short battle with cancer.

Avid Wigan rugby league supporter Ian was also heavily involved with running the Leigh town team and while teaching PE at three secondary schools coached many people who would go on to careers in professional football and rugby league.

Former pupils and colleagues left tributes to Ian on social media sites, describing his popularity with pupils and his dedication.

Bedford High School head of PE Mick Thompson, who worked with Ian between 1988 and 2007, said: “He was just the ultimate professional. He was strong on discipline and even the toughest rugby league lads were afraid of him, and respected him for that.

“He also put in hours and hours of work running extra-curricular activities, after school and at the weekends. He was an all-round sportsman and a Wiganer through and through. There was always a lot of banter about that between him and pupils who supported Leigh or St Helens, but he loved it.

“He stayed active right up until the end of his life. For his retirement present the staff bought him a mountain bike, and he used to ride for miles and miles on it.

“We had a get-together for a few rugby ex-pupils at a pub in Wigan a few weeks ago, and he seemed in really good spirits, laughing and joking and swapping stories about school days and rugby.

“It’s just a shock because he has been such a big part of so many people’s lives.”

Ian was born in 1948 and brought up in Orrell. He became a rugby league fan at a young age, going to Central Park to watch Wigan with his dad, but started playing rugby union at Upholland Grammar School and was successful enough to claim a place in Orrell’s first team.

He went to Chester PE College to train as a teacher, before spending his whole teaching career in Leigh, working at Westleigh High School, Leigh CE High School and Bedford High School.

Throughout his career he worked with a host of future sports stars, including rugby league players Micky Higham and Neil Turley, Blackburn Rovers player Jason Lowe and Michael Tonge, formerly of Sheffield United.

He was also a very keen skier, organising many school holidays, and an accomplished triple jumper and badminton player.

In addition to playing and coaching, he was also a junior rugby league referee, his greatest achievement being picked to officiate at the Challenge Cup final junior curtain-raiser at Wembley Stadium.

Bedford High School acting head teacher Jim Killeen said: “Ian was a much-loved and respected member of staff, and he will be sadly missed by both colleagues and pupils past and present.

“He ran holidays from the school, and he was a very vibrant and popular member of the school community here.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this sad time.”

Ian is survived by his wife Jacqueline, daughters Nicola and Zoe and three grandchildren.

n Go online to leave a tribute www.leighreporter.co.uk