Staples High School veteran boys cross country coach Laddie Lawrence will once again be doing the same thing he’s always done for the better part of the last five decades when the 2015 FCIAC Cross Country Championships take place Wednesday at New Canaan’s Waveny Park.
Lawrence will impart his wisdom and strategies to his runners before the race, he’ll cheer them on during the race, and then he’ll support and congratulate them after it.
But the one thing new and different about this year is that Lawrence will be doing that as a National Hall of Fame inductee.
Sure enough, Lawrence was accorded the highest honor a high school coach can get when he and 29 other coaches from all over the United States were inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in late June in Rochester, Minn.
“It was great,” Lawrence said. “When John Fontana called me and told me, I was kind of teary-eyed. It was quite overwhelming. A lot of people in there from Connecticut are my heroes, guys like Lindy Remigino and Irv Black and a few others. Emotionally it’s a pretty powerful thing.”
It is just the latest and most prestigious of all of the many honors Lawrence has garnered while guiding thousands of runners and having his cross country and track and field teams win so many championships through 48 years of coaching.
“This is also a great tribute to Staples High School, the administration, the parents and kids, and my assistant coaches, this is all due to their great efforts,” Lawrence said. “And, as you know, you have to have athletes and we’ve been very fortunate to have had some great athletes here.”
Before he became a great coach Lawrence was a great athlete himself. He won the 440-yard run as a junior at the 1963 FCIAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships and defended his title the following year.
Also when he was a senior in 1964, Lawrence won 600 indoor state championship with a time of 1:16 and in the spring he won 440 state championship with with an excellent time of 49.3 that will still place runners very high in the current state championship meets.
He began his Staples athletic career as a football player and then excelled in track and field. Cross country was just getting started in the FCIAC. Staples did not have a program so Lawrence and a couple teammates had the gumption to initiate the start of the Staples cross country program while they were still young students.
“Creigh Kelley and I and Jay Eason had all played football, indoor and outdoor track when we started at Staples,” Lawrence recalled. “The (FCIAC) was in its second year and the sport (of cross country) was beginning to get going. We went to Frank Dornfeld, the athletic director, and asked if we could start a cross country team. He said OK if we could find a coach. So we went to Beck Brown, a teacher who had run at Columbia, and asked him if he would be our coach. He said he didn’t know anything about coaching but he would do it. And he was pretty good for someone who didn’t know anything about coaching.”
After a strong career as a student-athlete at Southern Arkansas University, Lawrence would return to his high school as a teacher and coach.
As head coach of the cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field teams, Lawrence’s Wreckers have racked up a combined 31 FCIAC team championships, 36 state class or State Open championships, one New England championship, 30 undefeated seasons and his teams had a combined 1,762-389-2 record (a winning percentage of .814) coming into this cross country season.
As for his athletes, Lawrence has had 324 FCIAC champions, 339 state class or State Open champions, 39 New England champions, eight national champions, 1,026 All-FCIAC athletes, 480 all-state athletes, 162 All-New England athletes and 27 All-Americans.
Lawrence did not set out to accumulate such gaudy numbers when he began coaching. He simply had a a basic philosophy.
“One of the things I always tell the parents and kids in our program: We want you to have a great learning experience. We want you to learn lessons through athletics you can use later in life, things like perseverance, diligence and working hard. At same time we’re going to have fun with it.”
Lawrence retired as a teacher a few years ago but he still gets a charge out of coaching.
“It’s my life’s work,” Lawrence explained. “It’s easier to do now since I’m not teaching. I have more energy at end of the day. I still enjoy seeing kids who come into program as freshmen grow not only athletically but personally and socially as well.”
Another thing Lawrence is still not done with is collecting wins and championships.
He added his 31st unbeaten season after his Wreckers went 13-0 in dual meets this cross country season. Staples is the state’s top-ranked team and certainly a strong contender for the team title in Wednesday’s conference championship meet.
“There are several days where on any given day whoever has a good day, that’s who’s going to win,” Lawrence said. “There is going to be some great competition at the county and state championship meets.”