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Old Fri Feb 11, 2005, 11:01am
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Any of you Wisconsin guys know of a Coach who recently passed away. Coached through out the state and his most recent job was at OshKosh West. Real nice story In the Chicago Tribune.
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Old Fri Feb 11, 2005, 11:28am
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Lightbulb Here is the story.


His soul survives in team, family
Steve Randall was simple man who made a big impact, changing the lives of all who knew him
By Melissa Isaacson
Tribune staff reporter

February 11, 2005

OSHKOSH, Wis. -- It turns out you can measure another man's life.

You can measure it by the length of the line at his wake (3 1/2 blocks) and by how long the wake lasted (6 1/2 hours).

You can measure it by the number of testimonials that have flooded the local newspaper's Web site (hundreds) and by the teenage boys and grown men who broke down and wept at his funeral (too many to count).

You can measure it in years, in this case undeniably too few (53), and by the twinkle in his eye that just wouldn't quit.

And you can measure it by the heavy hearts but unflagging resolve of one town, one team and one family in northeastern Wisconsin determined that his legacy will endure.

Four months after Steve Randall's death Oct. 7, the pain is still fresh, the void still tangible even to a visitor who never had met him and never passed through the halls of Oshkosh West High School. There, for 15 years, Randall had been the boys varsity basketball coach, a physical education instructor and the very soul of those left to make sense of it all.

On the surface, this is a story of sacrifice, of Lance Randall's selfless decision to remove himself temporarily from the Division I coaching track, where he was a promising assistant at St. Louis University, and return to Oshkosh with his wife and baby daughter to take over his father's team. That Oshkosh West is 16-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state in Wisconsin's largest high school division only reinforces the made-for-TV story line of a team trying to win one for its fallen coach and a son trying to carry on for his dad.

But that would be missing the point. For this is not as much about Lance or his team as it is about a spirit so strong when it was taken on an otherwise ordinary night last autumn that it is almost as if he never left at all.

It is a story about a teacher who can teach us all. It's about Steve Randall.

The `Little General'

His presence was huge, they say, for a man so small. Despite his fervent wishes, Steve Randall grew to only 5 feet 6 inches, but that didn't stop him from starring on his Boscobel (Wis.) High School baseball, basketball and football teams, his leadership abilities so noteworthy as a pitcher, quarterback and point guard that he was dubbed "Little General."

In his senior year, Steve and his buddies made the youthful mistake of canoeing on the eve of a big baseball tournament. His arm was so strained he couldn't pitch effectively, and the team lost.

"He seriously lost it every time he told that story," said Cindy Randall, who fell madly in love when she met her future husband at age 10. "People maybe didn't get that, that it was just as fresh to him as yesterday because he felt he let his team down."

Of course, it didn't take much for Steve to lose it. It became a running joke that a stiff wind could make him cry. Every year at his team's basketball banquet, the tough little coach would gamely hold it together as he described each player until he got to the last man on the bench, and then the dam would break.

"His little chin would quiver," his daughter Erin recalls, "and that would be it."

He cried over his frequent e-mails to his children, in motivational talks with his team, while reading the poems he would pass on to his players, watching a movie, holding a grandchild.

"I never thought boys shouldn't cry," Lance said, "because here's the greatest man I ever knew and he's crying."

Steve and Cindy were young parents, married at 19, parents of two by the time Steve was a senior at Wisconsin, where he played baseball. He earned his master's in counseling at Wisconsin-Platteville and the family that soon grew to four children set off on a course that crisscrossed the state from Prairie du Chien to Turtle Lake to Montfort, Steve rescuing sagging programs as he went.

Cindy is an elementary school teacher, but she didn't work when the kids were young, and on one teacher's salary, their entertainment options were limited.

"We'd go to Pizza Hut and get a pitcher of water with our pizza, and Dad would say, `Use your imagination and pretend it's 7-Up,'" said Lance, 33, as sisters Erin, 27, and Maggie, 23, crack up. "He'd shake it up so there'd be little bubbles."

While fine cuisine may have been lacking, some things they would not sacrifice. At the funeral, Lance thanked his father for "teaching us that a family vacation to Florida in the back of a station wagon is more important than new furniture."

With Steve at the helm, there were no bad-weather forecasts, no below-par motels, no boredom.

"As adults, we all still really wanted to travel with our parents because it was just so much fun," said eldest daughter Chelssee, 30.

"If you were hauling wood or shoveling manure," Lance said, "it was the best time you could ever have shoveling manure because of Dad."

Walking in father's shoes

It wasn't that Steve was a buddy to his players or a clown with his friends or the good cop with his children. He removed players from his team from time to time, got in their faces when they messed up, told the disappointed parent what he didn't want to hear. He held to a strict code of conduct with his kids, once suspending his son for missing curfew at Iowa-Grant High School in Livingston, Wis.

But rather than resent him for it, they wanted nothing more than not to let him down again. It was the same for his star player as it was for the last man on his bench or the kid in his gym class.

"There was a simple beauty to my father's conviction, compassion and subsequent action," Lance said. "He always did the right thing. He did it with great exuberance and a soft heart. What separated him from others is not that he knew more or cared more but rather that he wasn't afraid to let everyone know what he knew or that he cared. He was truly a man of the right action."

At the funeral, it struck Lance. And there was not a moment's doubt as to what he would do. He went for a walk with his wife, Pamela, and before he got the words out of his mouth, she interrupted him.

"After Steve died, I knew it was in his heart to take that team," Pamela said. "I knew as hard a time as Lance was having with his dad's death that the team was, too, and I knew he not only wanted to be there for them in a basketball aspect but to help them through a tough time as well. I told him of course we would come back."

In St. Louis, Lance was working on his master's and recently had been promoted to director of basketball operations. It would restrict some of his hands-on coaching, but it meant a substantial raise to $58,000.

At Oshkosh West, he signed a one-year contract for $4,000. To supplement their income, he has begun a fundraising job and Pamela works as a site manager for a YMCA Saturday basketball league.

"I thought I always knew," said Pamela, "but since I've been with Lance it is even more real to me that no matter how bad things get, there are more important things in life than money. That's temporary. The rest of it is long term. I guess that's a little bit of Steve in me."

Brad Soderberg, head coach at St. Louis, was not surprised when Lance came to him.

"Conventional wisdom would probably say that this is not a great career move, but what this says about Lance's willingness to do this may improve his chances in college coaching," Soderberg said. "What he's doing for his dad, his mother and the school speaks volumes about his character."

Cindy and various family friends wanted to make sure Lance wasn't making a rash decision before he accepted the job, but he insists he does not consider it a sacrifice.

"Under the most horrific of circumstances, it's the greatest thing I've ever been a part of," he said. "I'm the lucky one who gets to walk in Dad's shoes."

Though Lance did not attend Oshkosh West or live in Oshkosh except for college breaks, he has visited enough and had enough conversations with his dad that he knew the team as well as anyone.

"I don't think we could ask for anything better," said Andy Polka, West's 6-6 center. "It's a lot easier than having someone we're unfamiliar with. And we can relate better to Lance. Knowing he's doing fine and he's getting through it really helps us."

The team's rallying cry this season is Steve's motto--"Believe"--which the players shout as they break each huddle.

"The common talk around the state has been that you don't want to run into this Oshkosh West team," said Milwaukee Rufus King coach Jim Gosz, who wore Oshkosh West colors along with the opposing Milwaukee South coach in one game to honor Steve. "You know you're going against a team on a mission. But the whole state is pulling for them. Steve Randall didn't have a single enemy."

Lance and Pamela say they're not sure what they will do after the season. Family, friends, parents and fans say they will understand if he moves on. Lance and Pamela say they're hoping the decision will just come to them.

`Worst moment of my life'

One of the many cruel ironies is that Steve Randall was in great shape. He ran, he swam, he biked. He had a running wager that any kid who could beat him at badminton would get an automatic A in his gym class. No one ever did.

He never spent a night in the hospital until Sept. 30, when a routine angioplasty went bad. Steve told Cindy he heard the doctor say, "We've got a calamity here." They were later told the doctor had nicked an artery.

After the procedure, the man who rarely complained of pain and described his discomfort right after the procedure as a "2 or 3" on a 1-to-10 scale was in such agony that he could barely speak--an "8 or 9," he said.

When he was released on a Saturday, two days later, Steve asked his personal physician if he should get a second opinion, if he should travel to St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee. He was told it was unnecessary.

On his own, Steve tried to make an appointment at St. Luke's that Wednesday, but he couldn't schedule one until the next week. He died Thursday.

Lance got the call from Pamela while he was playing cards.

"[It was] the worst moment of my life," he said, choking back tears. "The irony is that the one thing I have gotten from my father is that I always believe anything is possible, I always think I can get anything done. And now, for the first time in my life, I felt a finality in something I can't change, I can't work around.

"It's my father, the one person who taught me I can do anything, and there wasn't anything I could do for him."

An inspiration to all

Periodically, Steve would read or hear about coaches or teachers who were considering leaving the profession or perhaps being forced out, the pressures of impatient school boards and demanding parents making them wonder if it was worth it anymore.

And each time, Steve would make a phone call or dash off a note or e-mail urging them to reconsider, to hang in there, reminding them that what they were doing, influencing young people's lives, was the most important, rewarding job there was.

Some of them he knew. Some he didn't. It didn't matter.

There were people at the wake whom Cindy didn't know, people she may have thought had wandered into the wrong funeral parlor except that they all said the same thing, that her husband had so touched their lives or altogether changed them that they had to come. Some brought the notes he had written them.

There were many--more than Cindy or Steve ever would have imagined--who said they had gone into teaching or coaching because of him. And there were students who never even had had him as a teacher who said Steve had helped them through a crisis or talked to them about a problem. Some simply said he was the only person who had listened.

"Sometimes we think we're not capable of changing other people's lives," Cindy said. "I'm a teacher, and I forget. But if one simple little man can do what he did, it sometimes takes my breath away.

"Now it's like he's saying to me, `Cindy, it's your turn.' "

To that end, the Randalls have started the Steven L. Randall Foundation, through which they will run free clinics and workshops for coaches, teachers, parents and kids. The foundation can be contacted at [email protected]

"The vision is to take the philosophies he had that everybody counts, everybody is important, that you can make a difference in people's lives, and to take it through the venues he used," said Chelssee, who like her three siblings all went into teaching. "While on one hand he lived that philosophy, he constantly reminded himself of who he wanted to be."

He succeeded.

"Personally," said West senior Mike Johnson, who delivered one of Steve's eulogies, "I'm not a star and I'm not a starter, and going into last year it wasn't even a sure thing I would make the team. If I hadn't made it, I wouldn't have blamed him for cutting me.

"But he believed in me and he gave me more confidence than I had in myself. You never felt just because you didn't play that you weren't important."

The funeral both saddened and inspired.

"Steve changed our kids' lives, and I'm making it change ours," said Julie Seckar-Anderson, whose son Dane played for Steve. "I truly want to be a better person because of him."

At Oshkosh West, with an enrollment of 1,900, Steve was friends with the aides and secretaries, attended school plays and, said Principal Tom Parker, broke down the traditional barriers separating coaches and physical education instructors from the rest of the faculty.

"In many ways," Parker said, "he was the glue of this place."

The year before girls basketball coach Teri Schumacher came to the school 13 years ago, the team went 4-20. Steve insisted they merge the programs and form the Oshkosh Basketball Club, which served kids from 3rd grade up. When the girls won the state title the last two years, the latter coming the night after the boys had lost in the sectional finals, no one, said those who witnessed the celebration, was happier than Steve Randall.

Given no chance to fight

On the night Steve Randall died, he settled in with his wife to watch the National League playoffs. Cindy started baking cookies. He left a message for Maggie asking how her volleyball game had come out. Chelssee called from California.

"I was being the worried daughter, telling him maybe he needed to go to another doctor," she recalled. "He was feeling a little funny and warm but figured it was from the medicine. He wasn't resigned to dying, it wasn't that, but he told me: `Don't worry, honey. If something happens, I've had a great life.'"

Twenty minutes later, Steve Randall turned to the love of his life and told her he didn't feel good. And then he was gone.

"I couldn't save him," said Cindy, who administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation and begged her husband of 34 years not to leave her. As the emergency medi
cal technicians worked on him, she sat by his feet.

"And I know it sounds crazy, but I felt him above me watching," she said. "It went through my whole body. And I begged his angels up there to send him back, but somehow I knew it was too late."

The autopsy showed that Steve had a 60 percent blockage rather than the 80 percent the family had been told--which means he never needed the angioplasty.

At Oshkosh West, the football team finished the season with wristbands bearing the initial "R." The girls basketball players have stickers on their shoes with Steve's initials, and the boys teams have the stickers plus patches on their jerseys, just above the heart.

But perhaps one of the more poignant gestures was a simple one, when, the day after Steve's death, a student quietly tucked a bouquet of flowers under the nameplate on his office door. The boy was not a basketball player or an athlete or a kid any of the coaches even recognized.

"He was just another student Steve touched," said Oshkosh PE teacher and longtime family friend Gillian Pakula.

Little 17-month-old Jada Clark, daughter of Erin and husband Brad, has taken to sudden giggling fits as if she were being tickled. She will smile and babble and become nearly hysterical as she spins in the middle of the room. And then she will point and say one of the few words she has mastered: Papa.

Two more grandchildren soon will join Jada and Lance and Pamela's 22-month-old Evelyn, and Cindy tries to focus on happy thoughts. But most days, she admits, her grief remains so immense, so raw that she says it feels as if she has fallen to her knees.

"Sometimes I wish I didn't like him so much," she said, managing a weak laugh.

The fact is, rarely did you see one without the other. When she wasn't watching his games, they were scouting one or snuggling on the couch. On his last weekend, she recalled, she climbed into his hospital bed with him and they lay giggling as they repeatedly set off the call button.

"But I've never been angry at him, never," she said of the emotion that often afflicts those who lose loved ones suddenly, "because he never got a window to fight, and he would have done anything to stay alive."

For Lance, it's the little things that get to him, like holding his father's keys, turning on the lights in the gym and taking the baskets down "because it reminds me of when I would follow him around the gym as a kid and he would tell me what we were going to do. But right before the game starts is when I feel it the strongest. The players leave the huddle to go out to midcourt, it's 30 to 40 seconds before tip-off, and I'm standing there alone.

"That's when I feel closest to him. So many times I've watched him, I can picture it. It's a moment of clarity. It's his team and his school, but he's not there.

"It's the time when I feel him the most. It's also the time when I miss him the most."

Copyright © 2005, The Chicago Tribune
Let us get into "Good Trouble."
Charles Michael “Mick” Chambers (1947-2010)
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Old Fri Feb 11, 2005, 11:30am
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Thanks for letting us Wisconsin folks know about the Chicago Tribune feature story on Coach Steve Randall. He certainly was one of the "good guys" for Wisconsin high school basketball.

News of his passing at the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association's "Hall of Fame" banquet October 9 stunned the crowd! His contributions to HS basketball and academics throughout the state will be missed!


[Edited by imaref on Feb 11th, 2005 at 11:33 AM]
"All our calls are good calls...."
"...Some of them are better than others!"
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Old Fri Feb 11, 2005, 12:29pm
mj mj is offline
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Great article...RIP Steve.
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