10/17-Athletes and coaches share their memories of Larry Simmons

Athletes and coaches share their memories of Penncrest coach Larry Simmons, who died 10/14 following a stroke. If you'd like to share your thoughts, please send an email to PennTrackXC

Pat Hilferty
Penncrest High School - Class of 2003

My name is Patrick Hilferty, and I am a 2003 graduate of Penncrest High School. At Penncrest, there are several physically disabled students. During my freshman year, I, as a student using a power wheelchair, was yelled at by Coach Simians to slow down. This incident led to my physical and occupational therapists, along with my special ed teacher and Coach Simmons to develop a para-track and field team. Being the giving and wonderful man he was, he volunteered to help us as a coach/advisor. He took time away from his beloved girls track and field team to help our team out. He worked hard at providing encouragement, reassurance, advice about discipline, and also taught the value of good sportsmanship. Along with all of this, his positive outlook and his attitude for having fun certainly rubbed off on me. He came to our small team banquet that same year and said the nicest things about all of us. I wanted to tell his family how much he meant to me and the other team members. My thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Simmons' family, friends and any others who were lucky enough to know him. He will be greatly missed by myself and the other disabled and able-bodied students of Penncrest High School.

Nicole "Fiorella" Montgomery
1990 Penncrest graduate
x-country, indoor and outdoor track

A coach, a friend, a father figure. This is what Coach Simmons was to me. Larry became my coach when he first started at Penncrest High School in 1990. When I look back to those days I have many wonderful memories of someone so special to me. I could never express how much Larry meant to me. We kept in touch to this day and I am thankful for having had him in my life. I remember in the beginning we had some rough times to say the least. I was getting to know a new coach who was as tough as they come. He was learning how to coach a bunch of high school girls who did not take easily to his rigorous workouts. We reminisced about those times till this day and had many laughs. It was a big adjustment but one that was worth so much. The lessons learned have shaped me into the person I am today. Hard work, determination, focus, positive attitude and a never quit attitude were all attributes of Coach which he in turn helped to develop in me. I could always count on him to be there even if it was just to listen. He was a unique person with so many great qualities and someone I have always looked up to. There will never be another like him and he will be greatly missed. I hope to instill in my kids the strength he instilled in me. Thank you Larry for all you have done. To his family, my thoughts and prayers are with you. You should feel so proud of the wonderful person he was.

Penncrest Girls Cross Country, Indoor, Outdoor 95-97
Knees up... and BREATHE.

Words which echo through a family of faded memories that seem like a lifetime ago; a reality that has been compartmentalized. As I sit here, I open the box for the first time since that time; I touch oxidized medals, run my fingers across trophies, read yellowed news articles as an outsider. They bear the name of a girl who lives a lifetime away from me. Eight years. Eventhough these items have remained in a box, the lessons I learned from Larry live and breathe with me each day of my life.

Knees up... and BREATHE.

Larry was tough back then; he made you grab the rock inside yourself to chisel away the excess. He would fire your weakest trait in a kiln of potent words; the greater the athlete, the hotter and harder you got it. Many tears were shed during the process, but we were made stronger for it. He gave every girl a chance, but with that chance we had to produce.

He cared enough for us to be hard on us.

Take care Larry, and May god Bless his family during this time

Rebecca Boudwin
Cardinal O'Hara '01
LaSalle University '05

Coach Simmons was one of the most dedicated, caring, and passionate human beings I have encountered. He was of sound mind, body, and soul, and he nurtured the minds, bodies, and souls of all those he came in contact with. I met him early in my athletic career when I was just 11 years old, and he has continued to stay involved and concerned about both my athletic, personal, and academic for the past 10 years.

I first encountered Coach Simmons at the Mighty Burner Speed Camp in New Jersey; he saw me walking towards him with my dad following behind me and carrying my running paraphernalia. He then barked a comment at me that I always look back and fondly laugh about. He said, "Why aren't you carrying your own bags? If you want to be a good athlete you need to take responsibility for yourself, and it starts right now." He then ordered my dad to hand me my luggage, and I now realize that I had just received my first lesson of many from this amazing man. He instilled in me a sense of personal responsibility for my destiny as both an athlete and a person. After my first meeting with Coach Simmons at camp, I admired him so much that I even bought the same running shoes that he wore so that I could be just like him.

During my track and cross country careers at St. Dorothy Elementary School and Cardinal O'Hara High School, Coach Simmons would show up unannounced to cheer me on and show his support. Anytime I toed the line at the start of a race, I never failed to wonder if he was in the crowd watching me. While in grade school I contracted Lyme Disease, which forced me to take some time off from running. As soon as he heard Mr. Simmons showed up at my house with an enormous pile of photocopies of meaningful articles on running and on his beloved Penncrest runners to lift my spirits. This act of kindness and thoughtfulness along with the beautiful and inspirational letters he wrote me are memories that I will always cherish.

I am currently a senior member of LaSalle University's Division I Women's Lacrosse Team and a candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship. Without the drive for success and appreciation for hard work that Coach Simmons instilled in me, I would never be the athlete or student that I am today. The last time I saw him, he congratulated me on my successes and reminisced about how much I have grown up from when he first met me. Although I have grown up, I still maintain the same admiration and respect for him that I did when I was just a little girl who wanted nothing more than to have the same shoes that he wore.

Thank you, Coach Simmons, for all the support, love, and passion for athleticism that you have given me and countless others. I know that when we meet again in heaven you will be there wearing your red, yellow, and black Nike Airs, and until then I will always continue to carry my own bags and encourage others to do the same.

Megan Dwyer
Haverford High Runner 1995-1999
Lower Merion Coach 2003-present

There seems to be some unavoidable sign that I should write this story. The reason I say this is because my most memorable story of Coach Simmons is connected to the very runner who JUST recently posted her own memories on Penn Track, Chrissy Boyd. Chrissy will probably not remember me, but I ran for Haverford High from 1995-99. I chased her with everything I had during the open mile at a particular dual meet in 1998. It was just her and I on the track. I got a PR at the time, 5:20, because I gave it everything. Of course, she did beat me, but I will never forget that HER coach, Coach Simmons, found me in the infield to shake MY hand and congratulate me on a great race. I carried that handshake with me throughout high school, remembering that warm, welcoming, and nonjudgemental smile. He truly cared for his athletes and that day he shared some of that with me. He had this presence about him that is unexplainable.

This past year I was privileged to coach in the same league as Coach Simmons and he always knew how to cut the tension rising between other coaches! Ha and you guys know who you are!!

I believe he has become a part of my life for a distinct reason, to teach me more about the beauty of the sport and the coach/athlete relationship. His teams performed excellently year after year because he truly cared for them as entire individuals, both on the track and off the track. All of us have a lot to learn from Coach Simmons.

Chrissy Boyd
Runner at Penncrest 96-99

I would not be where I am today had it not been for Coach Simmons. He saw my talent as a freshman and took me under his arms and he molded me into a competitive distance runner. I would not have excelled in running and in school without his help. He helped get me into college and coached me on the side during college. He was like no other coach I have every had.

He knew his runners and knew every little detail about us. He would not let any other distractions like boys come into our running life. Our practice time was focused with running and only running. This made our team that much better because we were able to focus when it was time to. I remember when we were at Penn Relays, some guys came to talk to us and he quickly put his arms around us and gave the guys a look and they never came back. There are so many stories that I remember with Mr. Simmons. It brings tears to my eyes to remember them. From the time we won PIAA District cross country title and I saw a smile so wide across his face, he was filled with pride, to the time when he came to my last cross country meet in college and cheered me on and told me how proud he was of me even though I didn't run how I wanted to.

Penncrest Track was a family and Mr. Simmons made sure it was that way. I remember when I was afraid to be on the 4x4 team, coach game up to me and said he did not care how I ran and they were just glad I was on the relay. Coach did not care about individuals. He cared about his team. I am still close with the girls on my team and I thank coach for those friendships and memories I have had with those girls.

Mr. Simmons was dedicated to his sport and to his runners. There is not a coach out there that could ever replace him. He has taught me so many things I cannot even list them. Mr. Simmons is a great man and he will surely be missed. I still have all the pictures, emails and letters to remember him by and I am glad I have those. Words can't really express what Mr. Simmions has done for me and what he to means to me.

Frank Nesko
Penncrest High School

Larry Simmons was, and still is, one of the most important people in my life. I had the chance to run for Larry at Penncrest High School for two years. He made me a better runner, but more importantly, he made me a better person. I believe that I was blessed to know him. I never realized how much of an impact a coach has on his athletes until I received the email about Larry passing. Now I know. I can add this lesson to the list of many lessons he has taught me.

I will cherish all of the memories I have of Larry. I only wish I could run one more repeat 400 workout with him today. I can still hear him say, "Lift the knees, pull the arms and breathe".

Larry, I will miss you and love you very dearly. Thank you for all of the moments you have given to me in my life.

Nicole Rayer
Runner at Penncrest '93-'96

I was a sophomore transfer from Cardinal O'Hara. I'll never forget the first time I met Coach. It was one of my final meets at O'Hara, and some man was there screaming at the top of his lungs for me to breathe and push harder and lift the knees, pump the arms. I was afraid, and I laugh as I type that, but I was intimidated by his intensity because it was something I wasn't used to. Well, I got used to his intensity and even saw the soft side of Coach once I settled in at Penncrest. We had a great team every year that I was there, pasta parties, sleepovers, banquets. I have so many plaques, pictures, letters, poems, booklets saved from our seasons there. There are so many memories that came pouring out of me when I heard the news.

Running fence workouts and having him yell "breathe, louder, louder". So, we would all purposely start breathing, so that we were practically yelling just to be obnoxious, and then he would yell "yes, yes, that's what I'm talking about." It was amusing and frustrating all-in-one, and I think most of us did breathe pretty loud during our races. One of our first meets, one of my former teammates from O'Hara asked me if I was OK. She thought I was hyperventilating. ..just another way to fool them.

One time we thought we were very clever as we went out on a run at Ridley Creek and decided to cut it short by taking the trail and cutting across the park. We got lost and turned around after about 15 minutes and came back down the hill. As we were coming down, Coach spots us and starts yelling, "What the heck are you doing, stop messing around, and get down here?" He turns and walks back to the end of the trail, out of sight. Well, we assumed he knew what we did, so we take off, re-start the loop and run the entire thing in record time. When we get back, he asked us what took us so long to walk back. That's when we fessed up to what we were doing. Here, he had thought, we ran the loop, and were just climbing the trials wasting time. He loved that he accidentally caught us, and we ended up having to run the entire thing afterall.

Beyond his great coaching of form and breathing, Coach also trained us mentally. He taped us running to analyze our form; he gave talks and handouts of being prepared mentally, how to challenge yourself and work through the pain. I could go on and on, but the most important thing I wanted to share are two letters of the many he wrote to me and all of my teammates before and/or on race day. They highlight what coach was best at, making you believe in yourself and showing you he believed. He always had a plan for every person on the team.

I think we reached our first goal so far. The hard part comes now. I must make you stronger and faster over the next month. I can do it. Our goal at Rosetree is low 19. O'Hara is and can be very good so it's going to take a complete team effort. You must stay with Jen and the other girls in practice trying to out run them when the time calls for it. Don't ever think you can't stay with anyone on our team or any other team. You are the most important person on this team and we can't win without you. Everyone must think that way and everyone must understand that type of thinking. I want you to help Bethann and push her to run with you as often as possible in hard workouts. Talk to Laura and push her also. These two girls are the future. The more these girls learn this year, the better our chances are to go to States to win in 1994.

(over) On the back of the letter, reads a quote from Douglas Richards, "The opportunity to grow and achieve our dreams is always there. The possibilities to be happier, wiser, wealthier, healthier, more involved, more alive, more confident, more responsive, more of the person you want to be are possibilities that are around each bend in the road. It's up to us to begin the journey. That's the hard part."

The second letter comes later in my high school career, when our younger girls were incredible, other schools were bringing fierce competition to the table, and I was concerned about making All-Delco.

You asked me how many people will make All-Delco. I pray to God you can make it. Your last race was a very good one. You need to come by the 1 mile mark about 6:10 then say to yourself, now let's go to work. At that point I will tell you what place you are in. At that point run and try to get into the 12th position. Never stop running until you cross the finish line. Don't forget after the race starts to keep taking a deep breath, and breathe deeply a lot before you hit the bottom of the hill. Going up the hill breathe deep and loud. If you do, you won't be so out of breath over the top of the hill. After you reach the top of the hill really get into breathing deep because it's at this point that the body needs a lot more oxygen. Try this out on Tuesday, sorry I mean Wednesday. Our mind is where the race starts and the finish line is where it ends. (Simmons, Sept. 30, 1994). If we want to be great, we must first see it in our mind's eyes. Our mind has many eyes that see in different directions. Our heart is the center of our success. Our heart is strong enough to carry two people. Our weakness is in our brain which is also where the fear starts.
(Simmons, Sept. 30, 1994)
We don't need a lot of talent to be a great runner, what we need is desire which starts from deep down.
Coach Simmons

No words can really do justice to explain all that encompasses Coach Simmons, but for me, his spirit will remain with me, on my long runs, where I don't feel like running anymore, and yet, I still have that voice inside my head telling me to push myself harder, move the arms, lift the legs, take a deep breath, as if he were still there coaching me. Thank you, Coach, for giving us great memories, inspiration and coaching. I'll miss you.

Coach John McShay
Cardinal O' Hara HS

No one man had such an impact on me in just one year of him being my coach compared to the other 10 years of numerous coaches. Larry certainly brought out the best in his athletes as he did in me. It was the year 1979 when I first met Larry who coached my college team that year. He was the one who brought out the best I had by coaching me to obtain personal PRs. Larry would not take "no or I can't do it or finish it" as an answer. I remember doing a 10x400 workout in 60 seconds each. By the 8th one I remember looking up with the sky spinning and felt like I was spent. Somehow with Larry's magical appeal he kept us focused & we completed the workout. That's what made him so special.

As fate would have it I didn't see Larry again until the 1990s at Rose Tree when he was coaching Penncrest & I started coaching youth programs. In a XC race one of his runners was crawling to the finish line but lo and behold she finished the race. I had to believe she finished that race on pure desire that she learned from Larry. He instilled in you that you always finish what you started. I remember introducing the kids to him telling them he was my college coach. Right away his coaching instinct kicked in with his advice to do the distance runs with a purpose with runs at a 6:30-7 minute mile pace. That was Larry's truest asset - he coached everybody not just his own kids. He was truly in it for the love of the sport. A remarkable person who will be legendary to our sport.

Godspeed ahead Larry!

Barbara Gelrod
Norristown Area High School

I was shocked to hear of Larry's death. He was always as solid as they come. I knew Larry as a Special Education teacher, but I also knew of his love for track. He was a great fan of all high school athletics. My own son was fortunate to win the Boys State Doubles Tennis title. The day after the tournament, Larry presented me with a framed copy of the article from the newspaper. He truly cared about others. He will be missed.

Bill Wadsworth
Norristown Area High School

I worked with larry for 3-4 years as a teacher in special education. He was a dedicated teacher as well as track coach. He handled the students the same way he handled his track team, with love and understanding. I remember him writing little notes to each of his runners before a meet. He would speak directly to their strenghts. We enjoyed our fellowship. Both of us being "Old School" we enjoyed talking "trash". He was a friend indeed. Larry will be missed.

Jennifer Rafferty
Athlete for 14 years.

I am still in shock. He was supposed to come to my high school Hall of Fame Banquet. I had this great speech telling him how much his support meant to me. I met him 14 years ago at the Mighty Burner Speed Camp. He said that I would never make it as a distance runner. I asked him if he could help, and he did. He would help anyone especially when it came to running. He was a brilliant man especially about running. I cannot believe how much I improved as a runner and as a person because of him. I am going to miss our talks, our workouts together, and our dinners at Denny's. He was more then a coach to me, he was my father. I love you Coach and I am going to miss you so, so much. It won't be the same running without hearing your voice.

Philip Passen
Central HS- class of 1988

Coach Simmons gave me a gift that has lasted for the 20 years I knew him. Simply put, he gave me the will and desire to run and to this day, some 15+ years after graduating from Central HS in 1988, I can still hear his Booming Voice urging me on to run faster.

In 1985- I was a Sophomore at Central with no experience at all with running or anything involving organized sports. In fact, I was probably the worst runner on the team. However, that small fact didn't matter to Larry and listening to him talk, I willed myself to become a better runner. That Summer, I met him and the Central Varsity X-Country team every morning and ran 10 miles with them. After all that work, I actually made Varsity at Central and as a direct result, my self-esteem changed and it carried over to all areas of my life. To this day, I still compete at Track and X-C in NYC and had wanted to tell Coach Simmons I had run 4:55 for the Mile last Year. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to give him the news.

Coach Simmons prepared me for life. Even at 34 years old, when I face the challanges of the "real world", I think back to those days Coach made us run Intervals at Belmont Plateau or the 25 sets of 400's with 60 seconds rest and I trully know nothing I face now could be possibly as tough as that.

God Bless you Coach, I am sure there are multitudes of other Runners out there that are also silently thanking you for helping them become something special in Life.

Diane McManus
Runner and track fan

He was a great competitor, masters' runner, and coach.

He gave so much to the sport and to the kids he coached that he deserves mention here. I knew him through the masters' meets, and really valued his advice, his wit, his competitiveness and accomplishments as a runner, and his care for the people around him. He could joke and laugh, but his serious side showed in the time and support he gave to those who came in contact with him.

I met Larry through my participation in Philly Masters' meets and have very much enjoyed not only his energy and knowledge of track/running, but his wit as well. Most important, I remember that he willingly helped and gave advice to this aspiring runner. Once, when my coach was not able to attend a meet, Larry was there and coached me through a mile event. He enjoyed those meets, as I remember, enjoyed the camaraderie and competition. When he started racewalking, he again became a real competitor and I admired his versatility. He could do so well in so many events!

He died on Thursday. My marathon coach said he'd seen him very recently at a racewalking workout. As my mom might have said (her words when a man in her retirement community died suddenly), he "died with his boots on."

Paul J. Sanborn
Head Coach
Cross Country
Indoor Track
Outdoor Track
Devon Prep School
Devon PA 19333

Larry and I go back forty-one years. We met in the Penn AC Handicap Five Mile Race along the East River Drive in Fairmount Park in 1963 and competed against each other viciously and relentlessly for the next two decades or more. Larry was always the good-natured one and was a true friend to me in all the years since. My assistant coach, Dr.John Joe, and I just saw Larry at the first Southern Chester County dual meet held this season when we ran against Great Valley and Delco Christian at Rose Tree Park.

That was the last time either of us spoke to him. In a way it was a final farewell.

Back in 1965, I hosted a summer run in Upper Darby. It was a two loop seven mile course that started and finished at the high school on Lansdowne Ave. It circled down around the old White Tower restaurant in 69th. street and out West Chester Pike and State Road back to the finish. Larry came as a favor to me and because he wanted to beat me in the race, especially one I had organized on my own turf, as it were. Larry and I ran head to head for the whole distance. We puffed and pulled, surged and struggled as we ran mile after mile. Finally, on that last hill going up Lansdowne Ave. to the finish line, Larry looked at me through sweat and pain and I looked at him. Those who have run against me know at one time I had a kick at the end of a race. So I said to him, this is it and went into high gear, leaving Larry behind seeing my behind after six plus miles of fighting each other off. He thought it was really in poor taste for me to have defeated him in such a venomous manner especially since he was the guest. We never let each other forget that one race and the memory punctuated our conversation each time we met. Even three weeks ago at Rose Tree Park.

Larry was a geat man. He was intelligent. He could communicate with people at all levels and from all backgrounds. He and I were both Cheyney University grads. We both followed the same philosophy in coaching our runners, which was to do what was best for the runner and not live our competitive lives through our athletes. He was a gentleman in the true sense of the word. He attended my wedding, with his family, and spread a great deal of cheer, which was his style, around the reception hall. Members of my family, many refugees from Puritan New Hampshire, do not encourage levity and frivolity at any time. He was pure fresh air.

I salute Larry Simmons, his work with athletes and his friendship. I will miss him greatly.

He has answered his gun lap. The sport of running was the better for having Larry Simmons involved.

Kelsey Bierling
Former Head Coach, Upper Darby
Former Assistant Coach, Penncrest

Larry Simmons will always be remembered as a special person in the world of track and field. He was always there for his athletes, and fellow coaches, on and off of the track. He took a chance in the Spring of '92, allowing me to "student coach" at Penncrest. He took the time to explain his philosophy of coaching, and the reasons behind all of the workouts that the girls did. The success that I later had as a coach can be directly attributed to the time he took with me that year, and later when I had the pleasure of coming back and working with him as an assistant in the later '90's. I would have happily volunteered just to be around him and "his" girls- those years of Jodi Read and Tarasha Franklin. He was both coach and father figure to them. He expected the best out of them- on the track, in the field, in school, and as community members. He comforted many through their tears of frustration and celebrated their many accomplishments. What fun we had - any practice would entail laughter, sweat, and friendship. It was clear to everyone that he cared for these athletes, not just for their athletic ability, but as young people. You could find him at any meet, just by listening for his tell-tale yell- "Breathe!". When I took over at Upper Darby in '98, he always was there whenever I needed advice; even after I left coaching, he stayed in touch, genuinely interested in my life and my own "little runners." I know I say for many that Larry will be sorely missed as a coach, but even more as a genuinely caring individual and true friend.

Bill Coren
Head Coach
Strath Haven

Larry Simmons was a dear friend of mine. I knew something was wrong when he didn't call or email me about how Strath Haven did at DELCOS. Larry CARED about other teams, other athletes, and other coaches. I got to see Larry on Monday night at Lankenau Hospital. They told me he was out of it, but I could stay with him if I wanted. As usual I talked and Larry politely listened. When I started talking track, Larry opened his eyes and non-verbally seemed to say--"Hang in there coach---I hear you--I'll be looking out for you--You know what to do--You deserve it!!!" Larry Simmons didn't give up without a fight!! Larry Simmons gave it his all as a coach!! Larry---We'll miss you at Centrals, Delcos, the Lion, the Freshman meet, Districts and States and at all of our "controversial' DELCO MEETINGS. But more importantly we'll miss your SPIRIT!! Larry was always there for me and I will always RESPECT and REMEMBER HIM!!!

Larry Wilson
Head Coach
Gwynedd-Mercy Academy
Ambler Olympic Club

As a Coach of track and field and cross country, Larry Simmons dedicated his entire life to thousands of boys and girls throughout the Delaware Valley. Larry's ultimate dream was not only to enhance his athletes skills, but to teach them the values of sportsmanship and leadership.

My association with Larry has been one of sincere friendship. Larry, for several years volunteered his coaching expertise to the young athletes of the Ambler Olympic Club.

I will always remmenber Larry's famous instruction's that he shouted out to his runners while they where competing: "BREATH IN BREATH OUT".

Farewell my friend and may God Bless You. Rest in Peace Larry.

Dave Johnson
The Penn Relays Carnival
Dave remembers Larry Simmons as a major player in the creation of the Philadelphia Masters Track Club. But he also remembers the competitive nature. Simmons had a years-long friendly but serious rivalry with Joe Stefanowicz. They raced each other on the roads in the 60's, and eventually turned to, and became hooked on racewalking in the early 70's. But Dave will always remembers that Larry would be there on Thanksgiving morning at Belmont Plateau for the St. Joseph's Prep XC race.

Curtis Cockenberg
Head Coach
St. Joseph's Prep
He was my HS coach and one of the reasons that I started coaching to try to emulate him. I remember Larry helping so many people and coaching. I strive to be as good a coach as he is/was. You understand how he could impact so many. An institution. That smile, everyone knew him as Larry. He may be known for the end at Penncrest, but he impacted St. Joseph's Prep for four years, great runners at Franklin, and other schools. Shane Pratt, Janae Strader, others the number of people he coached unofficially. The ones that I knew about and the ones that I didn't know about. His house was a home for many athletes. He touched so many people that impacted so many others. Even as I found out former Prep athletes called and related a Larry story that impacted their life. One accomplishment I vividly remember is that he had a DMR in 1973/74 run 10:36 at Widener University in flats before they resurfaced the track.