Laramore was much more than just a great coach

An appreciation

January 10, 1999|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Ten years ago to this very day, Al Laramore died at age 53, but his legacy lives on.

"Big Al," as he was affectionately known, was more than a coach at Annapolis High School. With a unique style, he was a motivator and leader of young men.

"We miss him terribly and often think of him, or something comes up that brings Big Al to mind," said Fred Stauffer, who succeeded Laramore as athletic director in 1971. "Even the newer kids have heard about him and know who he was. He's a legend."

Laramore's exterior was gruff and rather intimidating, but inside, he was caring. His players loved him and his intensity -- and he loved them.

"The kids lost a hell of a friend today," said Severna Park coach Andy Borland when he learned of his close friend's death that Tuesday in 1989.

Laramore suffered a massive heart attack while carrying wood with his son Dave at their Annapolis home at about 3: 15 p.m. and was pronounced dead a little over an hour later at Anne Arundel General Hospital.

The news shocked the county.

His wife of 25 years, Dorothy, and twin sons, Dave and Dan, wrote of him in the pamphlet given at the church service: "Al was a complex man who believed very simply in his God, his family and home, and his work. These were the things most dear to him."

Laramore was the only coach to win state titles in three sports -- basketball (1974), football (1978) and boys lacrosse (1984, 1985 and 1987).

Football was his passion. "Hit or be hit" was his philosophy.

His 1978 state football championship team went 12-0, the best record in Anne Arundel County history. That squad was one of 11 county teams that have gone undefeated in the regular season (10-0), a feat Laramore's teams accomplished three times.

Laramore is still Anne Arundel County's all-time winningest football coach at 156-68-2 (.695) in 23 seasons. South River's Joe Papetti, one of six coaches who served as pallbearers at Laramore's funeral, ranks second at 154-81-3 (.653) in 24 seasons.

Papetti, who started coaching at Glen Burnie before moving in 1977 to South River, decided to retire soon after Laramore's funeral. Annapolis and South River were to play for the first time in the fall of 1989, but Papetti chose not to do it without his friend, or to surpass him in wins.

"Coaching against him made you a better coach," said Papetti, who now resides in Florida.

And playing for him made men out of boys.

New York Jets defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, the former Cleveland Browns head coach, is a Laramore protege. He wrote a letter to be read at the 1991 dedication and naming of the football field at Annapolis after Laramore.

"There have been but a select few individuals in my lifetime who have gone out of their way to generously provide the counsel and support which proved beneficial in guiding and shaping my career," wrote Belichick, who played offensive guard for Laramore at Annapolis.

"Al Laramore is one of those choice few. I owe him a great deal."

Realizing that he was not going to be a great player, Belichick said, Laramore "recommended that I learn everything I could about the intricacies of the game and approach it from yet another angle. It was a tremendous learning experience at a very delicate age."

Laramore reveled in catch phrases and rhymes intended to rev up his players. It was Laramore who nicknamed the football team the Fighting Panthers, the basketball team the Running Panthers, and his lacrosse team the Whammin' Panthers. Those names have been carried on.

One of his favorite phrases was, "If you hear any noise, it's just Big Al and the boys."

And noise he often made during the school's morning announcements on game days, when he got on the public-address system and conducted one-man pep rallies.

To the school's delight, he would blurt out rhymes such as "We're coming out of the gate, don't be late. Rinky dinky do, I'm watching you. Chesapeake [High] had a rooster who sat up on a fence and didn't have any sense."

Said Panthers basketball coach John Brady, "I've only seen classes become totally silent during morning announcements when Big Al came on."

Laramore's emphasis on teaching kids to respect authority was never more evident than during the racial turbulence in 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

A band of teen-agers rampaging through the school trashing everything in sight got to the gym doors, where Laramore stood with a baseball bat.

The story goes, Laramore told them: "You're not coming into my gym until you get past me."

They retreated.

Yes, if you hear any noise at Annapolis, it's just Big Al and the boys.

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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