ASHLAND — Ashland High School assistant football coach and Bellview Elementary fifth-grade teacher David Kitchell passed away early Sunday morning after losing a long battle with cancer.

ASHLAND — Ashland High School assistant football coach and Bellview Elementary fifth-grade teacher David Kitchell passed away early Sunday morning after losing a long battle with cancer.

Kitchell was long regarded as one of the elementary school's most popular teachers. Students of all ages often looked forward to his overnight field trips. But he was also a cornerstone of the Ashland football team since the 1980s.

Kitchell was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002, but he didn't let that keep him off the football field or out of the classroom, scheduling his surgeries and chemotherapy sessions around the games. He coached for more than 20 years, a run that included three state championships.

"Dave was an inspiration to people of all ages in this community," said Ashland Athletic Director Karl Kemper. "He always put other people's needs before his own, he never felt sorry for himself. He demonstrated how to live life and improved every life that he touched."

After a period of remission, a tumor appeared this summer on his adrenal gland, Kitchell's brother-in-law, Dan Jackson, said.

"He coached the (whole) time," Jackson said. "He worked that surgery in between the game they had with the Japanese players. He kind of scheduled his surgeries around football."

Kitchell coached in the Pacific Rim Bowl against the visiting Japanese team in August, and stayed on the field for most of this season, until the Oct. 26 game at Eagle Point. In the week leading up to that game, doctors discovered a tumor in his liver, but Kitchell worked out a deal with his doctors to coach one more game before he entered the hospital.

Once there, doctors found the cancer had spread, and although he never got back to the field, he continued to coach through conference calls, and he watched a live broadcast of last Friday's playoff victory over Corvallis, Jackson said.

"He did an inspiring talk before this last game that they had," Jackson said. "It meant a lot to him because one of his last wishes was hoping he could coach these last games that the team had."

Grief counselors were at Bellview Elementary Monday morning to help students and staff deal with the loss, said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro. The school district also notified Kitchell's students before they arrived at school.

No special memorial service will be held at Bellview at this time, but there will be opportunities for the students to honor the memory of a beloved teacher and coach, she said.

"He's a very special man," Di Chiro said. "Teaching and coaching was his calling and his passion in life, and it meant everything to him. He took very little time off through all of this.

"He always forged a very special relationship with his students, and that was also true of his coaching. He really believed in building that strong relationship. He knew he was developing athletes, but also young people. We want to have positive role models for our young people, and that was David."

A memorial service will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Ashland High School football field, and a funeral mass is scheduled at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church Monday at noon. All plans are tentative.

Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Julie French can be reached at 482-3456, ext. 227, or jfrench@dailytiding.com