Laddie Lawrence celebrates 50 years coaching at Staples HS
WESTPORT — For the man who has done thousands of victory laps in his coaching career, this was the ultimate loop.
With an event that was two years in the planning, Staples High School held a surprise celebration Saturday for cross country/indoor-outdoor track coach Laddie Lawrence.
Hundreds of former Wreckers, former assistant coaches, former high school rivals and friends from Westport gathered in the Staples cafeteria to pay tribute to the remarkable career of a Hall of Fame coach.
“When I walked into this cafeteria I was overwhelmed,” Lawrence said. “This reinforces to me that the most important thing in coaching are the relationships you forge. That’s the most important part.”
A committee of eight (Anne Parise, Dave Parise, Nancy Kondub-Harris, Alice Addicks, Steve Landowne, Jim Gerweck, Ray Prescott and Laddie’s wife of 43 years, Katie Lawrence) made this event a reality. And kept a fairly tight veil of silence on it in this digital age.
“Trying to keep it secret from Laddie was a feat. I do admit he had inadvertent hints about it in the final 48 hours,” Katie Lawrence said. “We used the excuse that a pole vaulter needed to get into the indoor track field house as a ruse to get Laddie here. But then he saw the incredible number of cars parked.”
Lawrence, a Westport native who was a member of the Staples’ track team under equally legendary coach Paul Lane, began his Staples coaching career in 1968 after returning from Southern Arkansas University, which he attended on a track scholarship.
Lawrence has been inducted into the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame (in 2015), the FCIAC Hall of Fame, the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame and the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
He will be inducted into the Southern Arkansas University Sports Hall of Fame in October.
On Saturday, Lawrence received a proclamation from Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe as well as a copy of a letter acknowledging his 50 years of coaching that was read into the congressional record.
There was a slide-show tribute starting with his track days at Staples to the present day that featured all his changing hairstyles along the way.
One of the cakes had the sentiment “A man for all seasons.” That was because Lawrence is one of the rare 50-year high school coaches who coach in all three seasons (fall, winter, spring) of the high school sports campaign.
Another gift was etched with Lawrence’s immortal battle cry to athletes: “Be like a farmer, be outstanding in your field.”
But the biggest sentiment was the stories about the lives that Lawrence has touched over five decades.
The Laddie Lawrence Scholarship Fund — established in 2011 with the help of Jeff Palmer and the Pequot Runners Club — has handed $184,000 in college scholarships to needy and worthy recipients during its existence.
And to this day, Lawrence has a no-cut policy on his rosters. If you come try out and want to stay on the team, you do. For the entire season.
“Laddie made every Staples team into a family. And for me, it was the family I never had,” said former Staples standout Brice Westring. “The true measure of Laddie’s influence is looking at where all the Staples students went and accomplished in their lives. Not what they did running cross country or on the track.”
Lawrence’s old office — he’s moving to a new venue in the school — was a museum of memorabilia spanning the last five decades of Staples cross country and track and field. The school’s 30-foot long trophy case only holds a percentage of the honors the Wreckers have collected.
Among those in attendance Saturday included FCIAC Commissioner Dave Schulz, current New Canaan HS athletic director Jay Egan (a teammate of Lawrence’s at Staples), retired Xavier High cross country and track coach Rob Michalski (whose teams battled Staples for numerous state titles) and fellow 50-year coach Staples High boys lacrosse coach Paul McNulty, who recently retired.
Lawrence, whom people joked may coach another 50 years, seemed happiest that Lane was on hand Saturday.
“When I was age 8, my dad died. I could have gone in a very wrong direction. Ed Hall got me interested in track. Paul Lane helped me turn track into a passion that got me to college on a scholarship,” Lawrence said. “I thought I wanted to be an architect because my dad was a builder. That path didn’t pan out. Coaching was a natural thing that happened for me. I see Paul Lane today and I thank him from the bottom of my heart for all that has occurred the past 50 years.”