A Day for the History Books
In 2014 I lost someone very special to me but through his presence watching over me I have gained even more. Even though he wasn’t physically present when I turned my running career around, his influence and life showed me what it means to do what you love and pursue it with every ounce of your being. He coached because he loved it. He helped his players because it meant something to him. He didn’t do it for the fame or fortune but because it was his gift to the world and his passion. I like to think that everyone has a special purpose in life and the goal is to find that purpose and live it out. My grandfather did that. And while he was a humble man, he would have loved to be present on this day. A day that will forever be a special day for my family.
Today, September 2, 2016 the very first football game at Delaware Hayes High School will be played on Cornell Stadium in honor of my grandfather. Shortly before my grandfather’s passing he was honored by the Hayes wrestling team on Alumni Night where he sat matside with other former Delaware Hayes wrestling coaches and watched what was then Hayes’ winningest team ever. My grandfather, as known as “Coach” in Delaware, OH, was the founder of the Delaware Hayes wrestling team which he started in 1964. He started the wrestling program because he knew it would help his football players win in the fall. Coaching came naturally to him so it didn’t matter what it was he would find a way to win. He worked hard and he expected that much of the athletes he coached.
The fact of the matter is that while he excelled as a wrestling coach, football was his true love. From stories I’ve heard from my mom, he lived and breathed football. She would sit on his lap as he reviewed film at night. Every Friday night he would meet up with another coach to get film for the upcoming game. In the summers he would manage the pool as income while making sure to stop by the field to move the sprinklers so the field would stay green. When it came to his players he gave and commanded respect. He believed in hard work and wanted his players to give their full potential. Coming from a poor family in a depressed area of West Virginia, hard work was ingrained him. His athletes learned more than just how to compete and win, they learned how to never give up.
When he passed he passed on Superbowl Sunday. I firmly believe that was no accident. He had fulfilled his mission here in life and god took him on the day of biggest football game of the year.
To me his story is inspirational. As a kid I can remember getting down on the floor to do push-ups with him. I can remember watching him in his late 70’s doing hand stand push-ups and thinking, I am going to do that one day (still can’t). When I made the basketball team in middle school my short self hardly played a minute but when it came to our winter break workouts and drills I wasn’t going to skip a thing and he wouldn’t let me. For the entirety of my Christmas Vacation he took me to the school gym and we wouldn’t leave until I had finished every item on that list. When I started running track, he would take me to the local track and watch me as he took my splits. As he got older he would still head out to the track with me. He would attempt to call out my splits but I was never sure where he got them from. I would nod and carry on knowing that it didn’t matter because whether or not he had the splits right, I knew how happy it made him to coach me.
He made such an impression on me and I know he did the same for others. Everywhere we went people knew him. As a kid I thought he was famous and at his funeral that theory was confirmed. The number of lives he impacted and all of the stories we heard made me realize that I needed to find my place in life. I needed to discern that one thing that would give me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. He changed my mindset. He helped me realize why I love running. He changed my motivation for doing it and through that he changed me for the better. I run for him, I run because of him, and I run to live the life he lived.
I wish I could be there in Cornell Stadium as they honor his legacy but I wish more than anything that he could have been there for this moment. Seeing the field that he carefully cured each day for the sport he spilled his heart into, would have filled him with such joy. Either way, as each and every player steps on to that field I hope that they will feel his presence and be better for it.