"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 1/26/13

*For years, yours truly had the immense privilege of coaching baseball and basketball at the middle school level with a gentleman by the name of Roy Lawrence. He was a former captain of the UCONN football team back in the late 60's; he was later named to the school's 100th anniversary team as a lineman in 1998. He was (and remains) a man filled with discipline--a former "military brat" who was flat-out born to teach/coach. Quite frankly, I've respected few people in my life more than Mr. Lawrence--who was a mentor to me; if you coached/worked with him, you'd probably understand a bit better. Recently, I asked him to send along some random thoughts of our fond days spent coaching together--memories that I can simply reflect back on from time to time when I feel the need to smile. Well, I got MORE. He was BEYOND gracious when he sent the following words that overwhelmed me--but speak to the essence of a very special man:

Anecdotes/memories from one "old jock" to another.....

Dear Bob:

I'll never forget the respect that you demonstrated toward me and our sports programs in general; we developed the type of coaching relationship that when the boys heard YOU speaking, it was just like ME speaking. That was my goal after I realized your expertise and love for the sports of basketball and baseball. As far as basketball was concerned, I remember putting you in charge of both the 3-pt. and foul shooting after I saw you sink 5-6 in a row at practice; you had watched me teach it and then you did the same--imitating my form exactly. You then got me to watch certain boys and would tell me if they were actually doing it correctly or if their bodies just made them look funny. Yeah, that happened in baseball, too, when we taught the correct form of hitting.

I remember the season we went undefeated in basketball and had some big kids/good athletes. You and I had some pretty good schemes that we utilized: a double high post, a pick-and-roll across the baseline under the basket, and a great press-breaker. And I remember the "class" you showed when David Kohn (a parent of a player) wanted to help coach. You helped me get through that season just by listening a lot--and that helped our boys so much. Yeah, I'll never forget the first year you started coaching with me. The boys in the hallway would say "Hi" to you and talk very little. They respected you and just knew your coaching was helping--and that we had a trust relationship between us.

The years coaching baseball? I remember asking you to teach the slap tag with the first basemen--along with bunting. Only a few weeks later, we beat RHAM with a slap tag at first by Joey Dumochel and a squeeze bunt by Kyle Penny. And we did that in the last inning! Together, we also worked out the "bunt to third" play by using a stop watch. It started with a "bunt and run" and the runner was on his way to third. The bunt had to be down the third base line and the runner had to be fast. He also had to look and listen to me coaching third base. You were coaching first base and made sure the runner saw the sign. Yes, we burned a few teams with that one.

I also recall you alerting our first basemen to come off the bag after an out and look toward second for a runner who might be rounding the base too much; we were only successful a few times, but it would demoralize the other team's base-runners when it happened. We just had so much fun teaching the finer points of baseball defense. In early training--as soon as we could get outdoors--you were always able to "tweek" a drill to help each boy understand it and succeed. I remember telling my wife that it was like having a clone of me coaching the finer points. I never changed anything you taught; you had my complete trust--and the boys picked up on that. Oh, by the way, I remember my wife asking, "Roy is it good to have the two of you coaching together?" I just laughed. I also remember the terrific parent volunteers who were of great help to us: Frank Murphy, Scott Lewis, and sometimes Bill McConaughy. Tom Giard (a fellow teacher) was also a great help at times and truly knew his baseball. Finally, I remember a few of the boys--like BC, Braun, and Craig--always stopping near my room in order to read your weekly column. I would print it out in the classroom and post it on my door.

I cannot thank God enough for the years that you and I spent coaching together; it was truly a highlight of my 38 years of coaching--from college football at UCONN, to Farm League/Little League/Pony League/Colt League baseball, middle school basketball/baseball/soccer/track, coaching my grandson in premier soccer, and running my own soccer camp for ten years. Bob, again, you were a great part of some of my finest years and greatest memories. Your quiet demeanor and loyalty were traits God gave you to help both myself and the many young men we coached; those kids truly learned the games of baseball and basketball. I am sure you can remember some other stories, but the ones I recall the most are those that influenced me greatly due to your character, integrity, and sense of humor. From the hallway drills of basketball and baseball to the workdays (yes, with shovels!) on the fields, I always knew I could count on you being there for me.

I remember Andy Baylock (former UCONN coach) asking me at a recent alumni football gathering, "Roy, why don't you get to more games?" I simply said, "Andy, I now coach on Saturdays--and that's what God has me doing. And I will keep doing it as long as He allows."

Bob, I send you this with the utmost respect and a warm heart; to the best assistant coach I ever had, and the best sports writer I ever read. God bless, Roy W. Lawrence

*Well, Mr. Lawrence, the feeling is mutual; I'm a better man/person for having worked with you--and I'm smiling now. There's something to be said for the specialness/bond between coaching brethren--the sole reason why I've published your kind words/response in the first place. Yeah, I was the lucky one. Thank YOU, sir; those were special days that will never be forgotten.