Six years after he graduated from North Beach High School, Joe Mayes, then a post-military student at Western Washington University, got a call from Mike Duffy.
It was 1980, and for the first time in decades, the North Beach Hyaks were set to play for the B-11 state football championship. The game would be held at the KingDome in Seattle.
While the players looked forward to the glory of the large venue — the expanse of the stadium, on the other hand, posed an acoustical challenge for the small Hyak marching band.
“You aren’t exactly going to fill the KingDome with 15 people,” Mayes said.
Duffy, the North Beach principal at the time, requested musical support from Mayes, who had played saxophone in the marching band during his time at North Beach. Mayes hadn’t touched his saxophone since high school. But he agreed.
Mayes wasn’t the only Hyak alumnus who principal Duffy phoned. He recruited dozens of others to descend on the KingDome for the championship game. Eventually, the band was composed of 30 to 40 members, a fusion of current and former Hyaks filling the KingDome with spirit.
Duffy probably never would have used the term “former Hyak.” His mantra: “Once a Hyak, always a Hyak.”
Over 40 years later, the Hyak community gathered Saturday afternoon at North Beach High School to remember their former principal, friend and mentor, Mike Duffy, who passed away last month at his home in Olympia.
Attendees shared memories of a man whom they say brought infectious energy and positivity to their high school experiences and to many years after.
“He wanted everything to be the best it could be,” Mayes said on Saturday.
His ability to bring people together — not only through marching bands, but elsewhere — is a major reason many generations of Hyaks are connected. He was a main supporter of the triennial “All-Hyak” reunions, which brought together hundreds of North Beach and Moclips high school graduates and raised money for local schools.
Almost 150 people, including Duffy, attended the 2021 reunion at the Ocean Shores Convention Center.
Duffy was principal at North Beach from 1976 to 1987. He arrived from far-away Philadelphia and took over the position at age 33, an age that allowed him to become a favorite among students, Mayes said.
“He would take a pie to the face, he would sit on a dunk tank,” Mayes said. “He was just kind of that fun guy.”
Mike Weidman, former Hyak class president and 1980 graduate, recalled a time when Duffy sacrificed his pride to help the school with a fundraiser. Duffy volunteered to be the target of a barrage of water balloons and eggs from students who could pay 50 cents per throw.
“We had many garbage cans full of water balloons,” Weidman said. “We were supposed to do this during lunch, but by the time lunch was over, it wasn’t even beginning. The fact is, we never went back to school that day. Kids threw water balloons and we auctioned off eggs.”
“When it was all done, we had raised over $2,000 dollars. We went to Mr. Duffy, and we gave him his half. Then he wrote a check to a muscular dystrophy charity for $1,000, put it in an envelope and told me to put it in the mail,” Weidman said.
Even in disciplinary situations, Duffy’s lovability showed through. On Saturday, one former Hyak recalled getting under the skin of a substitute teacher: students continually slammed the classroom door to the point where the teacher complained to Duffy about the unruly students, and then, in a fit of rage, stormed off.
Duffy walked into the classroom, calmly sat down at the teacher’s desk, and said, endearingly, “You little shits.”
Duffy also took the time to build character in his students. Erick Porter, a 1986 graduate, took Duffy’s German class, which Duffy taught in addition to being principal. Porter said Duffy had a unique ability to “really connect with you as a student.”
Porter said Duffy taught him lessons about respect. For example, he emphasized the importance of addressing doctors by their proper prefixes.
“As a high school student, it’s kind of like, ‘okay, whatever,’ but as you get older, you realize how much it matters.”
“The farther I got away from high school, the more respect I had,” Porter said. “We all spent our time (since high school) very differently, but now, here we all are.”
Duffy touched the lives of students long after they left high school, not only through the Hyak reunions, but his work in the community. Tina Larson, who graduated in 1991, wasn’t a student when Duffy was principal. She said she got to know him through her volunteer work. She described Duffy as “generous, loving, and accepting.”
“Every single thing I volunteered for, he’s helped,” Larson said, adding, “He wasn’t just a principal, he was my friend.”
Duffy never had children of his own, but is survived by his wife, Maryann. He also had a deep love for his German Shorthaired Pointers, or GSPs, as he called them.
“The man loved those dogs,” Larson said.
Multiple former Hyaks also said Saturday that he cared for his students like they were his own. Duffy leaves behind multiple generations of Hyaks who, in many ways, resemble one big family.
And even without the lynchpin of the all-Hyak reunions, the event will persist. Mayes said the Hyak family plans to reunite again in 2024 — the centennial anniversary of North Beach High School.