Death of coach doesn't quiet echoes of his call

April 26, 2012
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All athletes should have at least one great coach in their careers.

I’ve been fortunate to have one of those in mine.

There’s so much I’d like to tell you about Tom Hathaway.

First, though, I must start with the end. Thomas Jefferson Hathaway died on Sunday. By the time you read this, he’ll likely be laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memory Gardens in Greenwood.

The bells at Rosedale Hills United Methodist Church on Indianapolis’ south side rang out for him at 10:30 this morning—and a lot of old Southport High School Cardinals cried.

He would have been 80 in July, and everyone who knew him would agree he died way too young. He looked forward to running one last 500 Festival Mini-Marathon May 5 and celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary to his wife, Jane, this summer.

But there’s more to tell—and even more that I remember that will be left unsaid.

He’s known simply as “Coach” to tens of thousands of area runners: those he coached at Southport High School, the University of Indianapolis and IUPUI, and those mentored through marathon-training programs. His coaching life spanned more than five decades.

He was a brilliant, innovative coach who won seven state championships and would have won more had they not separated Southport and Perry Meridian high schools in 1973.But he was more than a coach. He was a pioneer and an excellent teacher too.

He took mostly blue-collar kids and regularly whipped schools with more money, better support and finer resources.

Hathaway championed girls’ and women’s athletics long before anyone ever heard of Title IX. He laid the foundation for Indiana High School Athletic Association-sanctioned girls cross-country. His girls teams at Southport went four years during the 1980s without losing a single meet.

He pulled science and biology out of the textbook and plopped it smack into real life in a way that enthralled teenagers for decades.

I’ve never seen someone get so excited by a chicken embryo’s beating heart. His amazement over all things biology was contagious. He inspired my sister to become a nurse.

He was as committed to his wife and five daughters as any man I know. He was a devoted Christian.

There were lots of little things too.

He had a paralyzed vocal cord that made his voice rise and fall several octaves unexpectedly. It seemed to do so especially when he got excited. It made his inspirational speeches and encouraging calls during difficult races unforgettable.

His iconic yelp during races—a kind of “hooouueeet”—still echoes from the Masonic Home to Southeastway Park, where his teams won some of their biggest races.

His multi-octave chastisements also were memorable, as much for how he said them as what he said. But they were most memorable in the long-term for how much you disappointed the man who made so many want to please him more than anything.

He loved airplanes, and had dozens of models in his basement living room at his home along Mann Road. He was an accomplished pilot.

He was a much better orator than he was a pilot. We’d run eight miles from Southport High School to his house just to hear one of his talks. Then we’d run back.

He served us orange sherbet ice cream and butter cookies at his house the night before big meets. He switched to pretzels when he discovered how much fat and sugar were in those cookies, even though he knew it wasn’t about what was in your stomach as much as what was in your heart that made you run fast.

His athletes’ hearts, minds and souls feasted off of his every word.

He gave out marbles for outstanding performances, an aggie if you really hit a high. A meaningless token, really, but not to his runners. Many of them—even professional men and women in his more recent training classes—cling to those marbles even today.

He had a memory as sharp as his wit. He could recount races that happened decades ago with amazing clarity and detail.

He also had a faraway look and a wispy smile that made you wonder where he was sometimes.

If his face turned grave and his voice turned gravely, you knew just where he was and what was coming next. No matter how steely you were, you couldn’t help but cringe.

If you paid attention, he was a great role model for a kid coming up through high school.

He’d put an arm around your shoulder in a time of need.

He’d break a clipboard against a wall if he thought it would help you reach your potential.

If you ran hard for him, he never forgot it.

He taught his students and athletes lessons that they’d carry with them forever.

He never stopped learning either, transforming himself from a coach of high-level high school and college athletes to a mentor and father-figure to the masses through mini-marathon and full marathon training classes.

I’m thankful to local promoter Ken Long for taking Coach Hathaway to an even broader audience through his local running classes. Hathaway’s passion for running and teaching deserved to be seen and felt by multitudes.

Coach helped my wife finish her first marathon when she was anything but certain that she could.

He never stopped running, becoming one of only 250 people to run a 26.2-mile marathon in all 50 U.S. states.

Mostly, though, he never stopped being a coach. And he never stopped being my coach. I had the good fortune of staying in touch with him over the years.

People lined up for three hours to pay their respects at the calling Wednesday night.I wasn’t surprised.

He laid in his casket with a big blue aggie in his hand.

Looking at him there, I recalled a man who had the rare combination of an artist’s soul, an athlete’s spirit and a reverend’s heart.

What I’d like to tell you most about Coach Hathaway is this: The biggest gift he gave is that he convinced people they could do the seemingly impossible.

He told everyday people—lawyers and nurses, wrench turners and paper pushers—“you are athletes,” and so they were.

When I ran for him, he asked his teams to run through walls, and so we busted barriers we never thought breakable.

He told us we were great, and so we believed him.

He told us we were champions, and so we were.

  • Thank you...
    Its not very often I read an inspiring story about a person I never met, but today I was blessed by reading the story of Coach Hathaway. I too have been touched by a great coach and could very much relate to this story. He would have been humbiled, I'm sure, by your kind words and grateful you paid attention in class. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am in deed inspired.
  • thank you
    This is a lovely memorial to a man who clearly made a great difference in your life and in the shape of his community. I am always so sad to hear that someone that special has passed on. I think the good news is that he is so venerated for the difference that he made.
  • Thank you for writing
    That is the most beautiful thing I've ever read or heard. Presidents have never had such inspiring things written about them. Please, tell us who wrote this. You also have a great gift!
  • Great article
    Thanks Anthony. A wonderful tribute. Coach was leading my mini-marathon class...and his positive and wise counsel will be missed, but always remembered. Thanks.
  • Beautifully written
    As an avid runner and marathoner myself who was a decent runner/ball player in school, I too have been fortunate enough to know a great coach and mentor. When people ask me why sports are important to me, I always think about that person ultimately, and the life lessons learned thorough that relationship and the competition...your article is a touching eulogy to a man who (obviously) positively affected many lives including your own. Although I did not know Thomas Hathaway, I knew one like him, and I know the feelings you are experiencing today. You can find comfort in the fact that what you learned from him will always be with you, and that you have written an eloquent tribute to someone who obviously was a great coach, teacher, mentor, and father/husband. RIP Mr. Hathaway.
  • Thank you
    Thank you for that wonderful tribute. I was lucky enough to take Coach's marathon training class. My first group run was terrible. I only made it a mile and that was rough. I was ready to quit and Coach gave me a pep talk. Now I've run 9 half marathons with 2 more in the next 3 weeks and am training for my first half IronMan. I cannot imagine my life without running and triathlons. I cannot image that I would have ever made it to the 2nd class without Coach. I'm forever grateful.
  • Inspired
    I'm totally inspired by this. Thanks for sharing. I wish I'd have had a coach like Coach Hathaway. This is what life is about, bottom line.
  • To God Be The Glory!
    What an excellent tribute to a man of pure excellence! Although Mr. Hathaway's family has the treasure of the man in their hearts, this will certainly be one of their most golden memorabilia. This also speaks to my heart and the fact that the daughter I know is such a product of this fine man. Heaven is certainly rejoicing! Thank you, Lord, for gracing the earth with this giant for the time you lent him to us.
  • Thanks!
    Great work Anthony! From a fellow SHS Cardinal runner and Hathaway's Harrier, I just want to thank you for capturing the essence of Coach so well. Now people will know what I'm talking about when I say that I found my marbles in a box in the basement.
  • Heartfelt
    What a heartfelt story! I was compelled to read every single word without a single pause...when I was done, I realized I had tears rolling down my face.
    RIP Coach
  • Wow
  • Wonderful tribute
    What an incredible story. I was one of those waiting in line for three hours Wednesday night to pay my respects, and so many great memories came flooding back. Your story brought even more - thank you.
  • From His Daughter
    Anthony,It has been hard to lose my Father so suddenly, but reading your touching tribute has made the pain a bit more bearable at this time. It makes me happy that he meant so much to so many others. Thank you for taking the time to write this.
  • From His Daughter
    Anthony,It has been hard to lose my Father so suddenly, but reading your touching tribute has made the pain a bit more bearable at this time. It makes me happy that he meant so much to so many others. Thank you for taking the time to write this.
  • Wonderful Tribute !
    Anthony, You have written a wonderful tribute to the finest man I ever knew. As hundreds, perhaps thousands of others can say, his impact upon me was immeasurable and lasting. I was never a great runner or athlete but his inspiration and support allowed me to work my way onto a very good cross country team and it changed my life forever. His inspiration in the classroom led to a degree in biology at Franklin College and later a teaching position at SHS. The other night as I waited with my old teammates at the end of a very long line to pay our respects, I understood that he still inspires us all to be the very best that we can be. In the mornings before school we used to run laps around the field next to the high school. It was always dark and foggy but we could always hear Coach's clapping and yelling of encouragement coming to us through the dark. Those who ran those same laps know what I am talking about. If you listen carefully, even today, you can still hear that voice of his, leading us to be better, to try harder. I hope I will always hear that voice. Thank you Anthony.
  • Thanks Anthony! Thanks Coach!
    Anthony, Beautifully written article about a wonderful guy. For those of us who were lucky enough to know him from our teenage years, he set us on a positive path that many of our friends did have the benefit of. More than anything else we always wanted to make coach proud. For those who were lucky enough to meet him in the training classes, he helped us realize that with preparation you could do things that you never would have dreamed. The world is a much better place for having known Coach!
  • Thanks Anthony! Well Said
    you have captured the feeling and spirit of all of us who ran for Coach and what he passed on to us even though we did not see it at that time. Mark Ellis
  • Fitting tribute
    What a great tribute to a wonderful man. You have expressed what many of us our feeling right now. Tom coached both my husband and I through many years of the Bricks to BricksHis training program. His advice helped me walk my first marathon and then encouraged me when I switched from race walking to running and completed 6 more marathons. His encouragement helped me return to running after 2 stress fractures and keeps me running at 57. Our hearts also go out to the woman behind the man Jane Hathaway. Many of us will go to the starting line of 500 Mini marathon this year with heavy hearts and tears. But, we'll dig down deep and run our race on that day because that is what Coach would want us to do. I'm sure he'll be smiling down from heaven at us.
  • Thank you
    Dear Anthony, Thank you for such a well written and touching tribute to my father. We will always have the memories of our dad, and please know that kind words that have been written here and on other blogs and articles are helping to ease the pain we are feeling. It is humbling to know how he has touched the lives of so many. Thank you.
  • Coach 's Legend Lives
    I met "Coach" one time (Disney World Half Marathon) and knew that I was in the presence of a living legend. He was someone people enjoyed to be around and belived in. Although I did not spend much time with Coach Hathaway I have one of his disciples as my coach who has motivated me to achieve goals I never thought were possible. One day I will pass these teachings on to someone else and so on...The Coach's Legend will live on.
    I had Mr. Hathaway as a Biology teacher forty years ago at Southport. He was an inspirational teacher. I remember I took a summer course with him on Earth Sciences just because he told us we would go caving. He loaded us up in the back of his ole Jimmy and headed to Bedford, Indiana with about eight of us kids. I learned more about patience and observation from that man than anyone else. Everything he looked at was if as he looked at it the first time with you. I never became a science guy ...just a business man who keeps his powers of observation toned because of Mr. Hathaway...bless you...

    Randall Rexroat...
  • His Memory Will Live on Forever
    Tom "Coach" Hathaway was by far one of the greatest men I have ever known. He wasn't monetarily rich nor recognized as a great statemen, but he was rich with friends and when he spoke everyone listened. He was the type of person that everyone wanted to be near, to hear his message, to see his smile and to just enjoy his company. We will all miss him but his memory will live on forever in our hearts.
  • A granddaughter's thanks
    There have been so many wonderful things written about my grandfather in the past week, but your article has such a thoughtful, personal touch in recounting all the things that made him a true legend. Thank you for sharing your memories of Coach with us.

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