I was saddened a few weeks ago, upon learning that Hershey High School football coach Bob "Gump" May had left the program.
The sorrow was not so much over the fact that he left; he's still coaching - in fact, among his charges now is Lewistown's Chris Tressler, who, like Gump, is answering to Danny Hale at Bloomsburg University. Instead, the unhappiness is because of the things that were said about him in his wake.
Gump - a hockey nickname from his youth, appropriate since that's where I see him - spent 33 years with Hershey. Few coaches make it that long anymore (although Gump is a piker compared to one of his colleagues up this way, Juniata's Gary Klingensmith).
When we're at Bears games together, I hear now and then about Gump's daughter - small world: I covered her as a Division I college basketball player - but most often he asks me about Gary, and we used to talk about some of the other grandfathers of football we both have known (former Indian Valley coach Gawen Stoker among them).
When Selinsgrove coach Bill Scott was asked to step aside, a move apparently made necessary by health issues that affected Scott worse than he wanted to admit, Gump looked to his wife and said he's never have that problem - he knew there was someone to tell him when it was time to go.
"I'm not telling you anything," she cracked, and I'm sure she meant it. He made the decision to hand in his resignation with less influence from Mrs. May than from the so-called fans who are celebrating his departure.
If you stay too long in the same place, you're sure to pick up a few enemies, and high school football coaches are in a harsh spotlight as far as that's concerned. If you impose discipline, you'll be accused of mistreating the kids. If you demand excellence on and off the field, you have unrealistic expectations. And if you reward superior performance, you're showing favorites.
Gump, Scott, Klingensmith and others in their generation represent a time when the coach was the boss, the athletes the workers and the parents audience members who allowed the other two to do their job free of interference. Yes, I've seen coaches who got too big for their britches and did more to harm the team than help it, regardless of the score on Friday night. And I've seen coaches lose control of teams to the point the inmates were running the asylum.
But the trend now seems to be that parents, school board members and even everyday fans think they should have as much say as the football coach.
Despite being in education, there's too often a lack of learning from experience. A story from the 1980s comes to mind, when once-mighty Shikellamy went from feast to famine because a few directors decided they should have a bigger role each Monday in what the team would do five days later. The coach walked, and the Braves are finally having a good year this fall - for the first time since, well, the 1980s.
My hometown Seals have continued to excel without Scott, which is more a testament to the program he created than the fact that his departure was less than a fairy tale. Hershey is doing well again this year without Gump - not because he's gone, but because of what he left behind.
I'm saddened when parents try to change that because their support for their own children extends to an unrealistic level - as was the case both for Gump and Shikellamy's Dick Purnell, among others. I'm glad when Gump, Stoker and other good coaches get to leave on their own terms.
But it seems, without producing a 10-0 team every year, few coaches will be given the chance to do that any longer.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.