I was asked to give a Eulogy of one of the Greatest Westminster Athletes, Coaches, and, most importantly, Person ever. I just wanted to add that when I was a senior in college, I did my Senior Thesis on the Journey of the Hero in Literature and Film. In his famous book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell details the stages of the Heroes Life. Well in My Story I am, of course, the hero…selfish of me I know…but it is MY STORY…right?! But one of the stages of the Hero’s Life. He meets a Helper. Obi Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker, Iron Man to Spider Man, or Gandolf to Frodo. In my story, I met Paul Sanders. He was my guide, mentor, and role model.
Here was my Eulogy.
BE LIKE PAUL
In 1992 Gatorade came up with an Ad campaign featuring Michael Jordan. It was called BE LIKE MIKE. I was 18 years old and I like most athletes of the day wanted to be just like Mike.
As I GREW UP, and came to work at Westminster College in my early 30s (newly married and kid less) and then over a 16-year stretch had kid after kid after kid. After I watched this Lovable MAN Paul Sanders, navigate the world he lived in and looked in the mirror at mine, I knew that I wanted to BE LIKE PAUL.
Like Michael Jordan, there was GREATNESS in Paul. In 1956 Paul won the State XC championship. In College he had MULTIPLE TOP 10 finishes in the Nation. As a High School coach he was super successful and was recently inducted into the Mercer County Hall of Fame for his Coaching Career. He was also an amazing contributor to the success we’ve had at Westminster College.
But perhaps unlike Michael Jordan and basketball, in Long Distance running you can have talent, but it means absolutely NOTHING if you don’t put the time in. Paul and I spent a lot of time together on buses and vans. I loved hearing his training stories. And I will be honest, I am not sure I would have much of a team left if we implemented his own college training plan. I also want to note that while Paul LOVED his coaches at Westminster, a lot of this plan was of his own design.
Each Day during the Fall Semester and first part of the Spring Semester, Paul would wake early and go run. Then he would work his Work Study Job in the cafeteria for breakfast. He was also on the Swim team so would go Swim Practice in Early afternoon and then get his 2nd run (AND THIRD WORKOUT) in after that. THEY BROKE THAT MOLD YEARS AGO.
Later as a young coach, Coach Sanders would be out running with his guys. A story I heard from one of his guys reminded me of how a coach Evolves over time. Paul told a young new runner Len Krichko that he wouldn’t be able to finish a run the more experienced guys and Coach Sanders were going on. Well that guy took the CHALLEGE that coach Sanders provided and finished that run and that day started his own legendary High School and College Career. That runner credits HIS COACH Sanders for jumpstarting his running career.
I contrast those stories with the Grandfatherly figure that would drive the streets and farm roads of New Wilmington with water and even sometimes a ride for the Westminster CROSS COUNTRY RUNNERS.
BE LIKE PAUL.
As I hear the Transitions from athlete to tough coach to Probably VERY SMART Coach if you looked at his coaching resume as I was able to do just last week as he was inducted into the Mercer Country Hall of Fame for his Coaching and I was fortunate enough to attend. I saw people that were my contemporys who wondered why I was at that event. I told them I was there for Paul and they laughed and told me he was their Junior High Basketball coach or that they coached against him and that they LOVED HIM. On the first week of our new Athletic Director’s tenure Paul was wandering the Athletic Office and finds out the new AD was one of Paul’s Junior High Basketball Players from the 80s. In my first meeting with AD Lener, we talked Paul Sanders stories!
BE LIKE PAUL
So as I transition into Middle Age and Jeez even an elder statesman among coaches in our own conference, I think back to the BE LIKE MIKE commercials. And I know now that being like Mike is not important and probably NEVER WAS. But being like PAUL is practical, IMPORTANT, and you know what FUN.
Paul used to go to Panera Bread in Hermitage just about every morning since he retired. And when I think about BEING LIKE PAUL, here is where it is also practical. FOR GOOD OR BAD, I am not here to discuss this, but we are living in a politically charged world. A big group of old timers sit at the first table when you walk into the Hermitage Panera. Well, I imagine they lean a bit further to the Right and Paul did not. But they sat there every day and talked and ribbed each other and enjoyed each other’s company. BE LIKE PAUL and be someone who Unites and does not divide.
BE LIKE PAUL- because Kindness Matters.
On those bus rides to and from meets we’d have our little coaches’ chats about the type of runner we need. “Man, we need some killers, runners that just want to bury you”, I’d say. Then we would look at each other and say “we have really nice kids” and laugh. And we did and we do! But do you know why? They had a nice coach. Coach Sanders was kind, he was patient, and he was an educator. We joked to each other about how nice a “killer” would be but that was certainly not who we were…not who he was. I bet it was a part of Westminster’s way of teaching educators in the 1960s as it was in the 1990s and how I hope it continues today and tomorrow. We were teachers who coach and coaching is teaching in different type of classroom. And Paul and I were together from the get go on this philosophy.
Now before I get too long winded in gushing of praise for this man, I have to point out a few Faults. Oh, the man ate terribly. Once when rifling through the boxes of food that I bring to the meets to feed and sustain the team he accused me of only bringing TWIGS AND BERRIES. And the few times I would take the team to Heathy Choice Restaurants that served Lots of unique Vegetables, clean proteins, and Whole Grains, Paul would sneak over to the Sub joint next door and get his own meal there. I once caught him whispering to one of the kids that if the kid wanted, Paul would buy him a burger next store. TWIGS AND BERRIES.
Oh, and he was TERRIBLE on his cell phone. I have a lot of bus stories but this is one I will never forget. Once, when traveling to Eastern PA on Rt. 80 for an NCAA Regional Meet, our Van broke down. We were able to get to an exit where we stopped at a restaurant and the rental company was bringing us a new van. It was going to be about 2 hours. We fed the team and we just kind of wasted time. Finally, the new van arrived. WE loaded up. But then NO PAUL. I sent a kid back to the restaurant and he wasn’t there. We called his cell, straight to voicemail. I didn’t know what to do. I even called his wife back home. SIDE NOTE: We’ve lost Paul so many times on trips/meets that I was going to have fun training shirts made that said “WHERE’S SANDERS?!?”. ANYWAY… About 30 min later he comes wondering back. “Paul, where were you?!?!” He went for a walk.
“Why didn’t you call my cell phone”, he said (like he was so proud he finally had a cell). I did I said. He then pulls the phone out of his pocket. “OH”, he says, “ it probably helps if you turn it on.” YIKES…life with Paul Sanders.
Besides his running, his patience, his teaching ability he had another super power that he doesn’t get enough credit for. THAT MAN COULD NAP!!!! We set off early mornings for meets, have a bit of small talk and then SSSSSSSNNNNNNOOOOOOORRRRRREEEEE. We leave a meet, and 30 mins in he is out again. Dr. Gary Lily was the Head XC coach before I took over gave me a piece of advice when I took over that I didn’t listen to at first. He told me when you travel with Paul, get separate ROOMs. There was an NCAA REGIONAL MEET that I didn’t listen and I didn’t get a WINK of Sleep. After that…separate rooms.
BE LIKE PAUL
I have been a Stealer (and I mean in the way of a thief…not the black and gold I’m from OHIO) a stealer a Thief of ideas and especially educational ideas since I began my educational career. I am blessed to have been a part of Westminster College just as legendary Coach Harold Bury died. I am blessed to have been coached by men who coached with Coach Burry and who were coached by Coach Burry. When we talk Titan Educators, I will Always make sure that we add the name Paul Sanders (who was also Coached by Burry) But from Paul Sanders I will take with me, Toughness, kindness, patience, and most importantly HAPPINESS.
I am blessed that I got to learn from Paul Sanders and watch first-hand how you Navigate the last stages of life with poise, patience, and persistence. I know that I am not at the last stages of Coachhood yet, but I know what I want it to look like when I do get there.
A self help tip- from this Coach— BE LIKE PAUL.