Drake stands up, walks away, leaves his mark
For 13 years, Ron Drake made time for his second job. The pay was low, sure, and the hours longer than he desired sometimes. But as Drake explained, “You always make time for your first love, and (for me) that’s football and kids.”It came as a surprise to many, then, that Drake decided not to return for another fall on the sidelines this season, which will be the first since 1992 without him at the helm of the Summit Middle School football team.It pained the 35-year Summit resident to walk away from that all-American first love. It still does. But he felt like he had to.The middle school’s athletic director, Travis Avery, decided after last season not to bring back defensive coordinator Jim Neville – one of Drake’s guys, and the head coach’s top assistant. In doing so Avery knew he would be pushing away Drake, as well, but he did it anyway.
Drake first defended Neville with his decision not to return, then with his words on Thursday.”I had my guys and they’d been as much a part of the program as I have been,” said Drake, who took over as head coach midway through the Tigers’ inaugural season and had held the position ever since. “The priority was the kids, and that’s always been (Neville’s) case, my case and the case of anyone I’ve ever had under me.”It just made sense to step away and wish them the best,” he said.The costly adherance to his beliefs means Drake now must adjust to life without coaching, no easy task for a man who has done his best work on the field.Before kicking off his career at SMS, Drake, a Colorado native who grew up in Jefferson County and played wide receiver at Fort Lewis College in Durango in the 1960s, coached youth soccer and baseball in Summit. He estimates he has coached more than 1,800 kids in his 35 years here, during which time he has always instilled in his players the same old-fashioned, lead-by-example virtues he follows himself.
To wit: Drake is more than three decades older than I am (he turns 60 later this month), but it doesn’t stop him from answering my questions with a firm, respectful “Yes, sir.”The approach to life hit home – literally – with the kids he coached. Ryan Worrell, 29, who worked under Drake as an assistant for five years before being promoted to head coach this year, said he saw plenty of disappointment from the kids returning to play for SMS when they learned Drake would not be coaching them. But it wasn’t just the kids.Upon hearing Drake was no longer the Tigers’ coach, the mother of one SMS eighth-grader was not going to let her child go out for the team this fall. That is, until she found out one of Drake’s holdovers, Worrell, would still be there.Like most good youth coaches, Drake measured his success not by wins and losses, but by the way he helped the kids grow and mature during their time as Tigers.
“Watching the athlete that was probably the least expected to excel, and then they did something small like catching a pass or making a tackle. That’s what made it all worthwhile,” Drake said.He’ll miss the practices, the games, the pep talks. But his favorite part of those 13 years lives on.”When I see a player I coached all grown up walking down Main Street,” Drake said, “and when they say, ‘Hi coach,’ and give you a hug, that’s the greatest thing. Runs chills up and down my spine to know that these kids still recognize me and still respect me, I guess.”Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 231, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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