Tribute for lives touched

April 18, 1995|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

Former athletes, whose high school careers collectively spanned four decades, gathered yesterday on the baseball diamond at Northeast High School to pay homage to the man they say most influenced their lives -- Harry J. Lentz Jr.

More than 400 came to mourn Mr. Lentz and to see the field where he coached so many young men renamed in his honor.

"Good teachers encourage you. Great teachers walk the extra mile. Harry Lentz did that for me," said Roy Skiles, who played football at Northeast for Mr. Lentz and returned last year to become principal of his alma mater.

"Coach Lentz talked to me and encouraged me to go to college, but I wasn't so receptive. He walked the extra mile for me," Mr. Skiles told the crowd. "He made the appointment for me at Western Maryland College; he drove me there in his car and guided me into a career I never dreamed was possible. I suspect there are others here who can say the same thing."

For nearly 30 years, Harry Lentz taught social studies at Northeast.

Outside the classroom, he coached football and baseball, but it was the sport of summer -- baseball -- that was first in his heart. In 1991, he coached the Northeast baseball team to the No. 1 spot in the country, and in January he was named to the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

Yesterday, the men who once played football and baseball for Mr. Lentz stood along the first and third base lines. A Marine color guard came to attention at home plate as the "Star Spangled Banner" sounded.

For more than an hour, former players reminisced about the effect Mr. Lentz had on their lives.

Bob Thomas, Northeast class of 1978 and a former shortstop, drove from Augusta, Ga. to Pasadena to honor Mr. Lentz.

"I was a 'misguided youth,' " Mr. Thomas said. "He pointed me in the right direction. I was a rebel, but he never quit on me. There were many times he could have, but he didn't."

It was Mr. Lentz who "taught us how to live our lives, how to make an impact on the world," said Russell Kess, 33. Mr. Lentz encouraged a young Russell to go to college at his alma mater, Kutztown State University in Pennsylvania.

"I had mixed emotions about college. He told me I was going," recalled Mr. Kess. "He took me up there himself. I stayed with his parents. He treated us like sons."

Mr. Lentz, who graduated from Kutztown in 1964, had vowed in February that he would be back coaching his Eagles this spring. He hadn't missed a practice or game since baseball began March 1.

Mr. Lentz died April 2 at age 51 of an inoperable brain tumor, holding the game ball from the last Northeast game he coached two days before his death.

The game was a 14-2 victory over Westlake that left the Eagles 3-1 and his career record at 348-200 (.635). His teams won three state championships, and the 1991 Northeast team was the first in state public school history to go 24-0. It was named a national champion.

"I can see him now, pacing up and down in the third base coaching box," said Don Gilbert, who had taken over most of Mr. Lentz's daily coaching duties.

"There are days in practice you can look up and see him there, turning his hat around and calling out plays. I'll never let that image of Coach in that third base box die. If you want to show people what Coach taught you, go out and help somebody like Coach did."

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