Caring defined life for Lentz

SIDELINES

April 05, 1995|By PAT O'MALLEY

It's been said that the mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains; the superior teacher demonstrates and the great teacher inspires.

Harry Lentz will be remembered as a great teacher.

Lentz, the Northeast baseball coach for 28 years, died of brain cancer at age 51 on Sunday morning and will be laid to rest tomorrow morning in his hometown of Slatington, Pa.

Called simply "Coach" -- not only by his players, but by his family and others close to him -- Lentz always insisted he was a teacher first and coach second.

Lentz lived to coach and inspire young people. He coached in the classroom and taught on the field, which is why he had such a positive influence on so many lives.

"He was very similar as a coach and teacher; wanted to make a difference and was never satisfied with mediocrity," said Bob Grimm, who spent nearly 25 years in the Northeast social studies department with Lentz and served as the school's athletic director.

"The kids never said he was boring and, because of his incredible memory for detail, he could tell story after story."

In the classroom, Lentz taught history and organized the First Americans curriculum, a study of Indian culture. It was dear to his heart.

"Harry claimed to be part-Indian, which he was not, but he was a hunter and woodsman and used to spend weekends and summers at his vacation home in the woods in Pennsylvania," said Grimm.

"He really respected the Native Americans and their culture and the kids at Northeast clamored to take his class."

Coach was the real deal, someone to trust and follow.

Lentz had a career baseball coaching record of 348-200 (.635), including three state championships and a district title in 1973 before the state tournaments began.

The 1991 Northeast team was the first in state public school history to go 24-0 and was named a national champion.

His coaching record speaks volumes about his ability to lead young people, but more importantly, he spent nearly 30 years at Northeast teaching and coaching life, loyalty, dedication, discipline and the importance of commitment.

It was determined in October that Lentz had a brain tumor that only a miracle could cure, and he defied all odds by returning to the baseball field this spring. That return bordered on the miraculous.

Many of those who saw him inducted into the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in January didn't expect him to be around March 1, let alone at baseball practice.

The words of Al Kohlhafer, an assistant to Lentz for 25 years, still ring in my ears from that night.

"Let me make it perfectly clear that Harry Lentz will be back coaching this spring," said Kohlhafer in presenting the man he called his "best friend."

Come March 1 and there he was, and just like the other 27 years in Pasadena, Coach never missed a practice or game this spring, although this season, he usually sat in a pickup truck near the Eagles' dugout. His final game was Friday, a 14-2 romp over Westlake.

Assistant Ed Gole, who picked Lentz up every day for practice and the games, could sense that the end was near when the coach said he wanted to leave Friday's game before it was over.

More than 100 family members and friends stopped by Lentz's Glen Burnie home on Saturday after the coach's wife, Terry, convinced him there would be no practice that morning.

At 6:15 a.m., the day before he died, he was worried, not about himself, but about his players and 9 a.m. practice.

"He definitely cared about the kids," said longtime friend and fellow Canadian Football League scout John Zuger. "The kids loved him because he was strict and open with them. He was always giving good advice."

That advice was not only reserved for the students and coaches on his staff, but for his peers at other schools. Many of them had gathered at the coach's home weeks before he died to reminisce. It was a special day for Lentz.

"The good Lord had better watch out if he has a baseball team up there, because Harry is going to take over," said South River coach Ken Dunn.

Lentz took Friday's game ball with him. He died with it in his hand.

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