Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Sports column

December 30, 2012

Column: Coach White's life was short, but his legacy will endure

— I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

—2 Timothy 4:7

There will be a 5K run held in May that Randy Wilson hopes can start at one end of Mercer Street in Princeton and finish at the other.

It is a route that Wilson and Sam White III would run upwards to five days a week. It was there, along with the football field, the weight room and their respective homes, that Wilson and White became as close as brothers.

It is there that Wilson would like to continue a legacy of a life short on years, but long on impact.

“It would be a very positive and that is something that his heart is in,” Wilson said. “He loved to run and exercise and it was just one of the things that he loved, along with hunting.”

White, a loving father, husband, son, brother, coach and teacher, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on Nov. 30. He was just 35 years old.

“When it is your time, it is going to be your time,” said Wilson, a teacher at Glenwood School and defensive coordinator for the Princeton Tigers football team. “That was the hardest thing for me to grasp was the fact that he worked out with me every day and didn’t do anything unhealthy.

“It is amazing and hard to grasp.”

The death hit Princeton and the surrounding communities hard.

“He sounded like a really good guy,” Princeton senior basketball player Hunter Walters said. “I hate that for his family and all his friends and coaches, it is just really sad. A lot of people were crying and it was a shock. I didn’t know him, but it still made me sad, it was a hard time for everybody.”

White was an assistant junior varsity football coach under Ernie Gilliard, who is also Princeton’s boys basketball coach.

“Sam was a tremendous friend of mine and a great human being,” Gilliard said. “All of these kids truly miss him, all of these kids respected him, the coaching staff respected him, he was just a great person and an individual who wanted to be a part of something positive.

“We are honored to have had Sam White in our lives. We are honored to have had the opportunity to work with Sam because he was truly a hard worker and we will surely miss him...

“Just a tremendous worker, a great teacher and all he cared about was the kids improving and getting better.”

White, who left behind a wife, Kelli, and two children, Whitney and Easton, was avid about his family, physical fitness, hunting, coaching, but most of all, being there for others.

“I don’t think anybody would say anything negative about Sammy. Sammy was the kind of guy, he would give you the shirt off his back,” Wilson said. “I know a lot of times he would come over and help me with my house. He had stuff going on, but he would make time to make sure that whatever you needed was done for you.

“He did the same thing with his family, his church family and I know he did the same thing with me and a lot of other close friends that he had.”

White was also quick to share his faith in God, something that touched Princeton senior basketball standout Ryan Meadows, who was part of a Bible study that White started for Princeton athletes last summer.

“He was awesome to be around, he was always positive, he was really big on the family perspective,” said Meadows, of White, who was a youth leader at Silver Springs Baptist Church in Princeton. “He got everybody closer...We bonded together and grew spiritually and he wanted everybody to be close in our walk with Christ.

“That is what I remember about him the most, every chance he got he was always spreading the gospel.”

White was a 1995 graduate of Princeton, who earned his education degree at Concord. He later taught at Princeton Primary, Athens School and PikeView Middle School, and had coached baseball and football at PikeView High School before becoming an assistant football coach at Princeton on a volunteer basis.

“He didn’t get a dime for it, that is because he loved it,” Wilson said. “He wanted to be around it and at heart he was always a Tiger. He always wanted to be here at Princeton, he liked the Princeton kids and he devoted his life to it.”

It was Wilson who brought White to then-Princeton football coach Ted Spadaro about a position with the Tigers. Spadaro gave him the opportunity, and recognized a work ethic rare for any coach, much less a volunteer. White worked for one season with Spadaro and last season with new head coach Randy Peek.

“Whatever you wanted Coach White to do, he was always there to do it, no questions asked,” Spadaro said. “After I got to know him I could tell that I wouldn’t have to go back and check his work because I knew he was the type that put his heart into it and would get it done because he cared.

“He wanted to coach that bad or a person wouldn’t volunteer his time and service from the start of August all the way through the following year to August like he did for me.”

Spadaro still remembers being ‘stunned’ by a couple of calls from White telling him he would be a little late to weight-lifting sessions. One involved his daughter who was sick and the other was for the birth of his son. Spadaro told him to take care of his family and return when he could.

“The point I am making, there are a lot of paid coaches that aren’t dedicated to the program and he was a volunteer coach that cared about the program and cared about the kids,” Spadaro said. “Even if he didn’t get paid he still stayed with me and dedicated himself to the winter program and the spring and summer weight programs, he was there every day with us...

“He put his time in, and it wasn’t like 4 to 6 and he was gone. He would be there with us until 7:30 or 8 at night or whatever and he always cared about these kids and that is what my program is about is the kids.”

Spadaro said the kids would often go to White because he related to them so well, with a sense of humor remembered by many.

“He could talk their language, he was in there with them and there was always a feel-free laughter in that atmosphere when he was around those kids when practice was over with or when we would have a break,” Spadaro said. “They all seemed to want to be around him...

“They liked talking to him and communicating with him. He would have little prayer meetings with the ones that wanted to be there and they would have that before or after practice.”

Spadaro was shocked when he got the news of White’s death while traveling to Wheeling for the state football championships.

“He was a specimen, he was in all shape all the time and for 35 years old was in perfect condition,” Spadaro said. “That doesn’t mean nothing would ever happen, but you just never expected that.

“I have never had a volunteer coach be so dedicated as he was.”

Spadaro attended the wake a few days later at spacious Princeton Church of God, and learned through parking lot director David Hercey just how many close friends and family White had.  

“He said their parking lot holds roughly 600 cars and there must have been 550 cars there,” Spadaro said. “The lines were double all the way out the door for 2 1/2 hours that I stood there.”

Even in the worst of times, life must go on. Wilson knows there will be a period of adjustment for White’s family, along with his parents, sister and his many friends to endure.

“I am trying to be there as much as I can for his family because I know if it was a different situation with my family he would be there for my wife at any moment,” White said. “It is definitely a situation where Kelli and the two kids are having to go through, she has a pretty good support group and her faith will keep her strong.”

White won’t be forgotten. In addition to the 5K run that White hopes to start around his birthday of May 10th next year, those devotionals started by White will continue on.

“That is one thing he started this year that he and I had talked about a lot as we ran and we lifted. He felt that we needed to be a stronger Christian influence for our kids and especially our football kids,” Wilson said. “He decided to do a devotional three days a week starting at around 7 o’clock before football practice and he did that three days a week.”

Such a huge loss is never easy to digest, especially at the holidays. Wilson is confident that the close-knit White family will endure through the tough times, much like White, through their faith in God.

“His family are pretty strong Christians and they know he is in a better place,” White said. “His work for God is done now, he has moved on, and it is left to the people that’s here to do what he started, especially with the football devotional and things like that that you know his heart was in.”

As for the children, who must grow up without their father, Spadaro expects they will understand just how special their daddy was.

“My heart goes out to that family because the children will grow up wondering about their father,” Spadaro said. “I am sure Kelli will explain everything to them and they will understand and they will know one day how great their father really was and tried to be.”

*****

Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com.

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