While it’s true that the family stands at the core of every success story, in order to truly make a mark, you need someone outside your circle of life to believe in you.
Maybe it’s a neighbor. Perhaps it’s a member of your church or synagogue. Quite often, though, it’s a teacher or a coach, an adult instructor who perhaps sees more in you than you see in yourself.
For two generations of Baltimoreans, that special teacher and coach was Walter Cole, who helped shape and mold the lives of thousands of kids in the classroom and on the track and the playing field.
Mr. Cole, who died last month a few weeks short of his 82nd birthday, was a driving force in the careers of such notable Baltimore athletes as Bernard Williams, who won an Olympic gold medal in 2000 as a member of the U.S. men’s 4 by 100-meter relay team and a silver medal in the 200-meter dash four years later.
He also coached three men who won Super Bowl championships, the most recognizable of which is Raymond Chester, who ran track at Douglass as well playing football.
During a more than 40-year career at Douglass, Northern and Carver Vo-Tech, Walter Cole prodded hundreds and probably thousands of young men to keep running and to never look back.
That made sense, given that he himself was a member of championship cross country teams at Morgan State, where he was selected to the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1987.
But Walter Cole, who was the Baltimore area track coach of the year in 1996, carried that same athletic philosophy into the classroom. There, he nudged and prodded his students – the overwhelming majority of whom were African-American -- to maximize their potential.
He taught physics and biology at his schools and was the science department chair at Carver. From that perch, Walter Cole told his kids to dream big and to chase those dreams,
One of his former students told the Morgan State student newspaper about how Walter Cole encouraged her to apply for a competitive engineering program at Johns Hopkins and delighted with her when she was accepted.
Said the student simply, "he was the best."
Walter Cole was also devoted to his family, his community and his faith. I know these things because he was a member of my church.
Long before I learned of his athletic prowess, which continued into his 60s and 70s, I knew of his commitment to the things that mattered.
Often you would see his pickup truck at the church, performing maintenance and repairs, building necessary structures and fixtures and doing the little and big things that had to be done.
Lest you think of him as all business, all the time, Walter Cole was a raconteur, a storyteller who knew how to spin a yarn that left you smiling and made you feel better.
Good teachers and great mentors are, in the end, visionaries, as they see brighter futures for you than you can imagine. Walter Cole was just such a visionary, blazing a bright future for so many. While his absence will be felt for a long time, his legacy will live forever.
And that’s how I see it for this week. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.