High-school cross country: DeSales runners pay tribute to late coach

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High-school cross country: DeSales runners pay tribute to late coach

Written by Michael Arace The Columbus Dispatch on 17 December 2013.

A scholarship has been establish in Bob’s name, contributions may be sent to St. Francis DeSales High School, c/o Bob Lennon Scholarship, 4212 Karl Rd, Columbus, Ohio  43224

Woman charged in hit-skip crash that killed DeSales teacher


Woman pleads guilty to hit-skip wreck that killed DeSales teacher




Bob Lennon (Photo: Bob Lennon, Bob Schul, Matt McGowan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tim Pancher) lived 64 years. On Sunday, during one of his long bicycle rides, he pulled over to the side of the road, ripped the wrapper off a protein bar and was hit by a car. The driver took off and left Lennon in a ditch in a rural corner of Delaware County.

This morning, Lennon’s funeral will take place at DeSales High School, where he taught freshman science and coached for 40 years. This is going to be a big funeral.

Lennon’s last cross country team, and the first to run without him since 1973, paid tribute to him at Whetstone Park yesterday afternoon. Their coach had been killed and he was not yet buried, but they had a meet to run, the Arrowhead Invitational. They ran it.

“We came together as a team, and we thought we had to do this, to run, because that’s the way he would have wanted it,” senior Kristin Faulkner said.

Many of Faulkner’s teammates got the news of the tragedy via Twitter, but Faulkner did not find out until a friend came over and asked if she were OK.

“What do you mean?” Faulkner said.

She cried for three days, until there were no more tears.

“He was like a father figure to me,” she said. “I was around him every day in school, with cross country and with track — and he believed in me probably more than I believed in myself. I’m so used to seeing him on the sideline when I run. … This was a very hard day.”

Bexley coach Eric Acton had known Lennon since their days as basketball assistants in the late 1980s. Yesterday, Acton’s captains passed around condolence cards to 80 Bexley runners, and the captains presented the cards to the DeSales coaches before the meet.

“That man was kind, warm, friendly and helpful,” Acton said. “This is devastating.”

Matt McGowan is the coach at Watterson — DeSales’ archrival, and Lennon’s alma mater. McGowan and Lennon were close friends for more than 25 years — beers every Sunday, until the last. Yesterday, Watterson’s athletes had purple DeSales ribbons tied to their jerseys.

“He took to the bicycle because he had neck problems and couldn’t run anymore,” McGowan said. “ He rode to Granville probably once or twice a week, 50 miles back and forth. It’s such a tragedy — not knowing how it happened — especially for the kids.”

That is the thing. Somebody in an automobile — the State Highway Patrol think it was a charcoal-gray automobile, with front-end damage and a broken windshield — ran down Lennon and drove away. Somebody left him in a ditch alongside Miller Paul Road, near Robins Road, on a quiet, sunny afternoon.

Assuming it was an accident, who would compound such a mistake with such cowardice?

Tommy Hampton was 15 years old when he met Lennon in 1986. Hampton ran for Lennon, won a state championship in the 300-meter hurdles. Hampton stayed close to his old coach, assisted with the track team, volunteered with cross country.

Yesterday, Hampton tried to focus on the young runners, get them through their routines, make sure they were all right. The kids wore black armbands with “Run for BOB” and they pinned his photo on their jersey backs. Putting one foot in front of the other took conscious effort.

“It’s just the way it happened, you know? The way it happened,” Hampton said. “There is someone out there — they don’t know how many lives they affected.”

DeSales coaches Katie Shelton, seven years Lennon’s assistant, and Emily Rizek, who ran for Lennon — and later biked with him, often, all the way to Granville — were wrestling with the same thought.

“He was my mentor,” Shelton said.

“He was everybody’s mentor,” Rizek said. “He had this amazing ability with people.”

Someone in the background did the calculation. Leave aside, for a second, the runners and coaching brethren Lennon touched during his working lifetime. He taught five or six science classes per day, around 150 students per year, times 40 years.

Start with 6,000 who will fondly recall Lennon, and keep going.

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