“This one is for you, coach!”
The quote above was shouted by a runner as he prepared for a race at a track meet I recently attended. But this wasn’t just any track meet. It was the last home meet for the season at my high school alma mater, and it was the last home meet for the coach as he is retiring after 36 years of service to the East Liverpool City School District.
I’m proud to say that I ran for coach Scott Thornberry during my time in high school; four years of track & field and 3 years of cross-country. I was also a student in his health and physical education classes. At certain times of the year it’s possible that I saw him more than my own parents!
Coach Thornberry (aka T-Berry, Scott or simply coach) and his retirement was featured in the local newspaper (The Review), but I want to tell you about him from my point of view, a point of view that I’m sure is shared with many of the athletes he has coached.
- Coach Thornberry is the sort of person who is always there. I mean physically ALWAYS there. I don’t recall ever having a substitute for his classes. He definitely never missed a practice or meet, and even at the meets it seemed like he was never hard to find. He somehow managed to cover the field events and running events, effortlessly. If you weren’t sure where he was you knew he’d be easy to spot because he would be dressed head to toe in Potter Blue, or if it was raining he would be wearing his yellow rain gear (or banana suit as some of us liked to call it).
- He is the type of coach that made everybody feel that they belonged. It didn’t matter what your skill level was (that’s what practice was for). Every team member had an event to compete in come the day of a meet. I enjoyed the meets that didn’t have restrictions on relay teams. Sometimes we would have three or four teams competing. He always put his athletes first. You could tell that winning wasn’t everything (trust me, we lost our fair share of meets), but he was instead focused on the condition of his team and what was in our best interest. He never made it about himself.
- Coach Thornberry is the type of coach that truly cares about the well-being of his athletes. He would make sure you warmed up and stretched before races. He would continuously ask how you were feeling during cross-country races. When I had severe shin splints he introduced me to bucket of ice. He would grab an athletic training textbook and say, “Here, look at the pictures. I’ll see you in 10 minutes.” I can also remember hearing him yell, “How ya feeling, Jas? Be strong now!” His words of encouragement pulled me through many races.
Attending his very last home meet is a memory I’ll always treasure. Being able to see him lead others the way he once lead me and my teammates was amazing. What bothers me is that I probably didn’t appreciate it as much back then as I do now. There was a moment during the meet while I was talking to his wife, Nanci. She noticed that an athlete and parent from the girls’ team was giving him a gift and thanking him. Nanci said, “that’s very nice, but he didn’t even coach her.” The only explanation I could give was that he had earned respect from everybody, because that’s how great of a leader he is and that’s how great of a coach he is.
Before I left the meet, I gave him a hug and said goodbye. I then looked at a group of runners standing nearby and told them to never forget what he has done each of them. I sure haven’t.
This one is for you, Coach.
*If you were coached or are the parent of an athlete who was coached by Scott Thornberry, I would be happy to hear your favorite story or memory. Please share!