Team Lentz makes sure coach's legacy will live on

SIDELINES

April 19, 1995|By PAT O'MALLEY

More than 600 people showed up at Northeast High Monday evening to pay homage to Harry Lentz, the late baseball coach, but the greatest tribute of all may have been in the final months before his death on April 2.

Monday's overflow crowd included many former students and athletes whose lives were influenced by Lentz in the classroom and/or in the athletic environment. Team Lentz was strikingly visible.

As Northeast principal and Lentz protege Roy Skiles said in the opening remarks, the turnout was "overwhelming, but not surprising."

They came to be a part of a memorial service that concluded with the Eagles' baseball field officially named Harry J. Lentz Jr. Field.

But maybe even more overwhelming was that Lentz was able to spend his last days at home because so many cared about him.

Diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in October, Lentz was able to return for his 28th season as head baseball coach because of his extraordinary determination coupled with the extraordinary loyalty of those who cared.

"It was remarkable, the number of friends, family, teachers and coaches who took care of him on a daily basis," said retired middle school principal Richard Kubatko, holding up a white T-shirt that Lentz had designed and planned to give out.

On the left front in the Northeast colors of black and gold are the letters PCP defined underneath, "Personal Careperson Staff."

A caricature of the coach in cap and baseball uniform highlighted by bold letters proclaiming Team Lentz is on the back of the T-shirt. A clipboard in the coach's hands has the words, "don't ever give up," scribbled on it.

"Harry never did give up and a lot of the reason was that so many wouldn't let him give up and he was able to die at home instead of in a hospital," said Kubatko, a longtime friend of Lentz and one of those who gave his time on a regular basis to assist the coach.

"He got these T-shirts for everybody who helped him during his ordeal."

Had Lentz gone back into the hospital for daily care, his string of never missing a game in 28 years surely would have ended.

Al Kohlhafer, a 26-year assistant to Lentz, asked Lentz at his induction into the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in January, "Coach, do you realize how many lives you have touched?"

Lentz had a pretty good idea. No Northeast baseball rally could ever match the rally to help him in his time of need.

It had to be the love, admiration, respect and caring from so many that kept the coach going and inspired him to return for his 28th season. He was able to die at home with dignity, knowing that he did make a difference.

Assistant coach Ed Gole, who usually picked Lentz up at his Glen Burnie home and took him to Northeast so he could sit in a pickup truck next to the Eagle dugout for practice and games, took Lentz home early his final game, March 31.

That was a Friday and by Sunday morning Lentz died at age 51, but not before Gole had proudly presented him the game ball from the last game with the score, Northeast 14, Westlake 2 on it.

Lentz died with the ball in his hand and was buried with it and his tattered fungo bat in his hometown of Walnut Port, Pa., on April 6.

John Barbour, who played baseball for Lentz and later became an assistant coach to his mentor, said "I never heard him say he was in pain."

If Lentz was, he wasn't about to let those around him know.

Dave Dolch, who also played for Lentz and went on to become head football coach at Bowie State and Morningside, Iowa, spoke at Monday's memorial service.

Dolch, a former pitcher, walked right past the podium near the middle of the baseball diamond, stood on top of the pitcher's mound and looked upward in a salute to the coach.

"I just wanted to stand on his mound," said Dolch. "He taught us that to reach goals you must be willing to pay the price."

Lentz paid the price in his final months, but he died a happy man thanks to the PCP staff. Lentz died surrounded by love, and Monday night's throng at dusk confirmed a special legacy.

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