Edward L. Athey

The Washington College athlete went on to become a coach and athletic director for nearly 40 years

March 05, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Edward L. Athey, a longtime coach and athletic director whose career at Washington College spanned nearly four decades, died Sunday of cancer at his Chestertown home. He was 88.

Mr. Athey, the son of a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad police officer and a homemaker, was born and raised in Moundsville, W.Va.

He was a 1939 graduate of Allegany High School in Cumberland, where he had been an outstanding soccer, baseball and basketball player.

Mr. Athey began his college studies in 1942 at what is now Frostburg State University and then transferred to Washington College in Chestertown.

At Washington College during 1942-1943, he was varsity fottball quarterback, a member of the championship basketball team and an outfielder on the baseball team.

He interrupted his college studies and enlisted during World War II in the Army Air Forces, serving as a flight instructor and later as a pilot in China, Burma and India, flying C-47s on treacherous flights over the Himalayas to supply forces in China.

Discharged with the rank of captain at war's end, he returned to Chestertown, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1947.

After earning a master's degree from Columbia University in 1948, he was hired that fall to coach the Washington College basketball team.

Mr. Athey, who also taught physical education, was head coach in baseball, cross country, soccer, tennis and track, as well as junior varsity lacrosse.

He was Washington College's athletic director for 38 years, retiring in 1987.

"Ed Athey found a home at Washington College and in Chestertown, and never left. His life revolved around the college, and he kept going to games even though he had retired some time ago," said Bill Tanton, retired Evening Sun sports editor. "He was one of those guys who was so genuine and dependable. He was a champion in every way."

Bryan L. Matthews, who was an outstanding lacrosse goalie during his undergraduate years, graduated from Washington College in 1975 and is a member of the college's Hall of Fame.

"Ed was AD when I was an undergraduate and was still coaching soccer and baseball. He later became my first boss," said Mr. Matthews, who returned to the college in 1977 as a member of the admissions staff and assistant lacrosse coach; since 1994, he has served as athletic director.

"Even though he had retired, he continued coaching baseball until 1997, which meant he had coached the sport there for 49 years. He continued to stay included," Mr. Matthews said.

"Coach had a special way of looking at life. He always had a smile on his face. He was positive and upbeat. And you learned that games were meant to be fun, but that doesn't mean that he wasn't athletically competitive," he said. "He was very grounded, and win or lose, he had a way of bringing us back to earth."

Bob Scott, the former lacrosse coach and athletic director at the Johns Hopkins University, is an old friend.

"We go way back to 1954, when I started at Hopkins as a coach, which means our friendship goes back nearly 60 years," Mr. Scott said.

"He's one of the finest men I've ever come across," he said. "Not only was he a highly competent coach, he was a gentleman. He was a man of many outstanding qualities."

Mr. Athey had served as president of the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association and had been president of the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame.

"He was a great leader. No one will ever say anything unkind about Ed," Mr. Scott said.

George L. Buckless, a Lutherville financial planner, played soccer and baseball for Mr. Athey in the late 1960s.

"He was the consummate gentleman and the closest thing to a John Wooden [the noted UCLA men's basketball coach]. He had that type of personality," said Mr. Buckless.

"He commanded respect from the kids but not in a ranting and raving way like some coaches and in all the years I played for him, I never once heard him curse," he said.

At a farewell dinner after Mr. Athey retired, he told the assembled guests, "I owe more to Washington College than Washington College owes me. I should be thanking you people for letting me come into your lives," The Evening Sun reported at the time.

He had been a member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, American Baseball Coaches Association, the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches and the Old Timers Soccer Association of Maryland.

In addition to having been inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at Washington College, Mr. Athey was a member of athletic halls of fame at Frostburg State University and Allegany High School, as well as the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame and the Eastern Shore Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame.

Mr. Athey remained in Chestertown after retiring and continued to be a beloved figure in the community.

He was active with the Lions Club and served as a member of the administrative board of Christ United Methodist Church, where he had been a member for 60 years. He was also a member of the Chester Masonic Lodge No. 115 and the Frank M. Jarmon American Legion Post.

Mr. Athey was a member of the Chester River Yacht and Country Club, where he enjoyed golfing, and the Maryland Interclub Seniors Golf Association.

Mr. Athey's wife of 48 years, the former Rachell Lovell, died in 1991.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at his church, 401 High St., Chestertown.

Surviving are his wife of 16 years, the former Marge McCorkel; a son, Ronald Athey of Chestertown; a daughter, Patty Grieb of Chestertown; a stepson, Don McCorkel of Tucson, Ariz.; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Another son, Edward M. Athey, died in 2004.

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