Runk amasses numbers, but even more respect, as Towson's ultimate teacher

John Steadman

January 22, 1993|By John Steadman

Forget the record, the imposing bottom-line list of wins and losses. And even minimize the longevity that qualifies Carl Runk with having the longest continual coaching tenure at any level of college lacrosse.

Impressive credentials, most assuredly, but they become almost frivolous in measuring Runk the man. He epitomizes what the call to the coaching/teaching profession is supposed to represent.

Players, past and present, faculty associates, rivals from opposite sidelines and friends and neighbors gather tomorrow night in tribute at the Timonium Holiday Inn to express their respect, admiration and affection for this extraordinary individual.

There's no pretense or affectation. He's Carl Runk, who lifted Towson State University to its highest level of success in any sport during its 88 years of athletic history.

Maybe the most significant of compliments comes from Robert Blatchley, whose son, John, distinguished himself in a glittering four-year lacrosse career.

"Let it be said," insisted Blatchley, "that no father could have a son play for a more trustworthy and magnificent person. His personal decency sets him apart. He represents all the good things in the brotherhood of man."

Runk is unselfish -- totally -- and willing to help those in human need. At Towson State, he takes, for the most part, players without extensive lacrosse backgrounds and through conditioning, repetitive drills and enormous motivation, extracts the maximum.

His 223 victories, 128 defeats in 25 years is second only to Richie Moran of Cornell among active coaches and ahead of Roy Simmons of Syracuse and Jack Emmer of Army. That's attention-getting in itself.

Of course there's much more to Runk than what the scoreboard tells. He's strong enough to move a building, robust in appearance and endowed with a profound interest in those he meets along life's highway.

As a public speaker, he's among the most eloquent and entertaining in all of Maryland. He went from Patterson High School to the University of Maryland but transferred to the University of Arizona, where he played tackle on the football team.

He's immensely proud of his Polish heritage and remembers, when as a youngster, spending school vacations working in a Hickory canning factory in Harford County. There's no pretense or puffery to Runk.

Peter Schlehr, the sports information director, prefers to refer to him as a "blue-collar man in a blue-blood sport." It's a colorful description but, again, there's much more to assess in what he brings with him as an inspirational leader and citizen.

One of his three sons, Curt, suffered from spinal meningitis, resulting in a hearing impairment. Runk wanted so much to help not only Curt, but other children with similar difficulties.

Now, when he's not coaching or teaching physical education at Towson, he works in the school's speech pathology department. Yes, he's a different kind of a coach who drives to win but keeps the game in proper perspective.

As for his philosophy, it's concise and not over-theorized: "On the field and in the classroom, I stress technique and discipline. When you place the student in a creative environment, learning comes easy."

That's what Runk does with his lacrosse teams. Yet he can vent emotion, like when he was so displeased with Towson's play against UMBC two years ago that he turned a heavy training table upside-down. The players got the point, responding with a second-half win.

Runk is vocal on the coaching lines but doesn't browbeat an athlete or blame any single failure for a loss. That's known as being a leader, fair and just.

He doesn't brag on himself or enunciate how far Towson State has come in 25 years of his coaching. Without bringing attention to himself, he's also a volunteer blood platelet donor at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Yes, he gives his blood so others may know the joys of life.

Carl Runk -- coach, husband, father, citizen. There stands a man of exemplary characteristics.

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