Memories flood Bill Degnan 5K’s silver anniversary

July 19, 2022

Silver back  - “New friends are silver and old friends are gold.” Sunday was the 25th running of the Bill Degnan Faith in Human Spirit 5K. Bill became my friend when I took over Cape track in spring 1976 and he was the head coach at Woodbridge. We enjoyed parallel successes; we were friends along the fences at track meets. Bill was fastidiously fit, bordering on hyper-vigilant about his health. Back in January 1996, a dormant virus activated and attacked the lining of his heart. Myocarditis was the diagnosis. He was airlifted out of Lewes to University of Pennsylvania hospital and put on a transplant list. Friends went to see him. I was granted a minute. Looking too strong to be knocked down, he firmly shook my hand and said, “Nice virus, hey boy?” Days later, it was snowing in Lewes. I was out front playing with Barkley dog. Susan came out to the front deck and said, “Bill Degnan died this morning.” I dropped to my knees. Barkley started to lick my head. A good guy – a teacher and coach and great friend to everyone – gone at 43. There was no place for the sudden sadness. A silver anniversary 5K, and old friends were back with memories of Bill. Jamie Hill, the first Faith in Human Spirit Scholarship winner, walked the course with coach George Pepper, who dressed like Randy Travis (for sun protection) and can sing like him, too. I’ve heard George sing “Forever and Ever, Amen.” I was thinking of the song, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.” Tia Jarvis and Ja’on Harris were the 2022 Bill Degnan Faith in Human Spirit Scholarship winners. The award goes to track kids selected by a committee that includes coaching friends of Degnan – George Pepper, Rob Perciful, Tim Bamfortth and Dave Frederick. The criteria are simple: “Are they a Bill Degnan-type of athlete and person?” We all must answer, “Bill Degnan would have loved those kids.” The spinoff is Bill loved all kids. If you knew him, you know that’s true, and that he loved you too.

Fat guys in horn helmets - The Tour de France is mesmerizing and beyond comprehension. Those professional riders are the pedaling peak level of fitness. Imagine climbing 12 miles up a mountain road that narrows as a drinking crowd collapses around you like a broken kaleidoscope from a dollar store. Shirtless fat guys wearing horned helmets sometimes run alongside riders. It is just insane. The commentary is concise and erudite, and I never have any idea what they are talking about.  

Chasing the ball - All former Cape students and athletes on my sports beat know that as a storyteller, I’m pretty darn close to being interesting. Sunday I was talking to Chris and Stephanie Moody and Sherry Daisey prior to their running the Bill Degnan 5K. I learned that Emily Moody was at Virginia Wesleyan, so I started with my VWU stories connecting the Lingos and lacrosse when suddenly Tim Bamforth popped my balloon, asking, “Anyone want  to cut up three big watermelons?” Stephanie and Sherry, with Chris close behind, were gone. My story was in the wind. Stephanie said she would come back, but the Fredman mantra, “I can tell it but I can’t sell it,” was in play. After the race, the esteemed lawyer and runner Peter Tracey, who was a sculler at Yale, asked me, “So how was Vegas?” I said, “You’re just waiting for your award and a slice of watermelon; you don’t really want to hear about my Vegas trip, do you?” “Not really,” Peter said, laughing.

Snippets - Austen Daminger is one of those sports-beat toddlers who wants to be in the game. It's not the terrible twos, it's the Turbo Twos, as those free spirits want to disrupt and be chased. Axel Croll is another escapee from the jogging stroller who prefers to sprint across the pads at the finish line. Toddlers and topplers, the youngest to oldest runners, each have short strides with too much forward lean; they can go faceplant-eggplant quicker than a skipped heartbeat. I’m thinking of renting an e-bike with a diesel horn, then riding the trails for a little jump street entertainment. Go on now, git! 


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