You really ought to visit the Staples High School cross country web site. After a link or two you will find this quote, by the Staples coach, in response to an athlete's complaint about a slow recovery from an injury: "Well, you can run a minute in sixty seconds, can't you...OK, good." No wonder Staples Coach Laddie Lawrence gets so many Westport kids to turn out for cross country and track there. Yogi, move over.
Wait a minute. In spite of the first impression here, something very serious is going on there.
Serious? How about 1600 victories?
After 43 years of coaching, Coach Lawrence's passion for his sport and for his athletes remains obvious. Just ask some of the many former athletes who have become coaches, or who have become close friends, or the former athlete who is Godmother to one of his sons. Or the member of his very first team who still serves as an official at Staples home track meets.
Lawrence's won-lost record is one measure of greatness, but his relationship with former athletes, years after they ran their hearts out for him in high school, tells a story just as inspiring. You get the impression they could return to the track at Staples High School tomorrow, form a team, and take on any and all challengers. Of course they would insist on Coach Lawrence's guidance, even now. He likes to quote Emil Zatopek, the great Czech distant runner, who once said, "Great is the victory, but greater still is the friendship."
This friendship played itself out in very vivid ways and on many levels beginning in the early nineteen nineties, when Coach Lawrence's wife Katie became seriously ill, and the entire Westport running community not only stepped up, but literally ran up, to raise money to help defray her medical expenses. Residents at the time and many former athletes organized fund raisers as a way to give back to the coach who had given so much to them. He calls his wife his hero, and in actions and in words, he sets yet another example for the athletes who show up to run for Staples.
Serious? How about a winning streak of 142 meets?
Some of Coach's absolute favorite moments from his career happened as he coached and watch his two sons grow. He and his son John embraced after John's relay team won a state championship. His son Andrew was able, by choice, to transfer to Staples High before his junior year because as he said, he wanted to spend more time with his father. For Coach Lawrence, hearing that decision was unforgettable. Now, Andrew is currently an assistant coach on his dad's XC team. His daughter Katherine became an accomplished ballet dancer. As Coach says, he would like to have coached her; she would have made a great hurdler.
His passion for coaching and dedication to his sport can be seen in the amount and quality of his after-hours work on committees, both in Westport and at the state level. He has served as Coordinator for four different running-related programs in Westport, working with its Parks and Rec. Dept., one of them dating back to 1966. His many roles in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference beg the question whether it could function without him. Consider 25 years as Chairman of the FCIAC Cross Country Committee. Consider 22 years as its Chairman of the Indoor Track Committee. How about 9 years as its Chairman of the Outdoor Track Committee? How about his almost continuous service as either a membership or chairman of these committees at the state level?
Coach Lawrence, himself a 1964 graduate of Staples, has been coaching all three seasons for most of those 43 years, as well as maintaining a full-time teaching schedule there. He must have a bunk there somewhere. As a Physical Education and Health teacher he gets to witness the entire Staples High population's athletic talent pool, and he must be an effective recruiter. From his work with the Parks and Rec. Dept., he already knows about the potential of incoming freshman, and who among them can resist a coach with such a resume?
Serious? How about 28 undefeated seasons?
Clearly, he knows what he's doing. While a junior at Staples he was the 440 yard Champion at three levels: at the FCIAC meet, the CIAC Class meet, and the State Open. As a senior he successfully defended all three of his titles. These performances helped him earn a full scholarship for four years at Southern Arkansas University, and after graduation he stayed on to serve at its Head XC Coach in the fall of 1968. Can you just sense the love of coaching beginning? A seed planted. For life.
During junior high school Coach Lawrence's father died suddenly of a heart attack, and following that tragedy he went through a period of rebellion, which is perfectly understandable. But what separates the good from the great is how people handle serious setbacks like the loss of a father, especially at an impressionable age. With the help of his coaches, Laddie Lawrence not only successfully dealt with that trauma, but understood that his running and ultimately his coaching were healing influences, and they would eventually define his professional life.
The wisdom that comes from more than four decades of working with and caring about adolescents is enhanced through reflection, and in those moments of reflection Coach knows, "I have always viewed coaching as a vehicle for learning and never an end in itself. It is a wonderful venue for learning and practicing those skills which will make us successful in life. Dedication, responsibility, goal setting, achievement, integrity, dependability, positive mental attitude, and character are just a few of the qualities that athletics develop."
And so he has time and concern for every kid who shows up to compete. As Coach Lawrence says, "We have a place for everyone who comes out for the team. As long as they are dedicated to being here and work toward improvement then we will find an event for them to grow and develop in. We try to maintain a very inclusive environment."
And so into the foreseeable future, kids from Westport will show up to run for Staples, and they will benefit from the Experience of Laddie Lawrence, who, one afternoon not too long ago, told a group of impressionable teenagers, "Let's see some noise."
Coach Laddie Lawrence with Staples HS teams at 2011 Haddam Windham XC Invite: