Oh, but the chance for one more “Last Lap.”
Every Thursday night before the final football game of the season, head coach Paul Dean “Oakie” Waddell took his Wilmington High School senior football players on one “Last Lap.”
“I always did it when I was a (head) coach,” said Mike Wallace, who played for Waddell at WHS and coached many years at the Div. I, II and III college levels. “It was emotional.”
Most players would give anything to have that opportunity for one more “Last Lap” with their coach.
Waddell passed away Feb. 22 at his home in Wilmington. He was 93.
Visitation for Waddell will be 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the First Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ), 120 Columbus St., Wilmington. The funeral service will be 10 a.m. Wednesday at the church.
Waddell coached varsity football at Wilmington from 1961 to 1965. The Hurricane finished 44-14-2 during Waddell’s tenure.
“I’ve seen coaches who got on players but he (Waddell) knew how to bring you back up,” said John Patton, who played three seasons under Waddell. “He’d get on you but it was all constructive. He knew how to get to us. We just loved that man.”
There have been and will again be those who coach longer at WHS than Oakie.
There have been and will again be those coaches who win more games than Waddell at WHS.
But there will never — a word many times overused but in this case it is not — be a coach who has a greater impact on WHS, the Wilmington community and his athletes than Oakie Waddell.
“He was a caring guy but a demanding guy,” Wallace said. “He got our attention. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to emulate Oakie Waddell when I was coaching.”
The “Last Lap” was one of those. Wallace and Patton graduated in 1964. Mike Wilson graduated in 1965. All became emotional when talking about the “Last Lap.”
“The team created a tunnel on one end of the football field,” Wallace said. “He (Waddell) took all the seniors to the other goalpost. He pulled each guy out individually and talked with him about what he (the player) meant to him (Waddell) and what they meant to the team. It was just you and him.”
The senior then walked or jogged the length of the field, through the human tunnel as the players cheered and celebrated the senior’s “Last Lap.”
“It was a point to look forward to when you got to be a senior,” Wilson said. “The last time you’d be together with that particular team. It was a time when everybody appreciated everybody. That meant something to us. It was something you’d carry with you the rest of your life. Senior night was quiet and serious; somewhat tearful. For some it was the last time they’d play football. We appreciated the night.”
While Waddell’s immediate impact on each and every one of his players was measured on the football field, the greater, more meaningful way to quantify Waddell’s influence on his players was their success later in life. Patton has spent his life selling cars and was the best he could be thanks to Waddell.
“He meant a lot to me,” said Patton, who visited his coach many times in recent months as his health was failing. “He inspired me to be more successful in my life’s work. He made me a better competitor. Why I sold more cars than just about anybody around goes right back to him.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email [email protected] or on Twitter @wnjsports