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OUR VIEW: Coach Campana's enduring legacy

Life lessons of Roosevelt legend fostered character

Published: March 19, 2017 4:00 AM
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Coach Tom Campana's influence extended far beyond the gridiron.

The lessons he shared as coach of the Theodore Roosevelt High School Rough Riders applied not only to football but to life in general: Do your best. Play fair. Learn from your mistakes. Remember the team. Respect yourself.

The players he coached for more than a decade included some of the most outstanding athletes ever to play for Roosevelt, including the 1966 and 1967 teams, which were arguably the best in the history of the school. He coached eight players who went on to play professional football, including his son and namesake, Tom Campana Jr.

But Coach Campana would have been the first to remind his athletes that their achievements in football weren't nearly as important as how they lived their lives. In his playbook, character counted more than all of the touchdowns they could imagine. And he did his best to see that the young men he coached realized that they were role models, on and off the playing field -- and in their lives after Roosevelt, too.

He did that by being a role model himself, conducting his life with decency and humility. He set high standards for himself, not only as a coach and educator but as a husband and father. He had five children, but was blessed with enough love, patience and understanding to serve as a father figure for scores of others. He was an enduring presence in the lives of many of his athletes decades after their days on the playing field.

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As Coach John Nemec, one of his worthy successors, remarked, he was a man who "was determined to get the best out of kids." And he did his best to see the best in the young men who played football for him, realizing that sometimes he might have been the only one focusing on that. He made a difference, but did so quietly, realizing that he was in the spotlight but never seeking it. And, when he accepted the accolades he deserved, he always shared the credit with others.

Coach Campana -- or "Mr. Campana," as he was known to many of his athletes and students years after they had left Roosevelt -- loved Kent. He was proud of his years at Roosevelt and maintained an abiding interest in the Kent City Schools long after he retired. As a member of the Kent City Schools Hall of Fame Committee, he and another nonagenarian -- Superintendent Robert W. Stanton, who hired him to coach the Rough Riders in 1959 -- shared institutional memories that were invaluable. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Roosevelt athletics. Both were worthy inductees of the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Campana, who died recently at age 93, was blessed with a long life that enabled him to realize he was loved and appreciated by those who had come contact with him, even if only briefly as a student or player. He was grateful for that.

Henry Adams once observed, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Tom Campana affected generations of Roosevelt students. The life lessons he shared are his greatest legacy.


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