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State track meet emotional for Hale with father absent

May. 28, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The gun kept going off, but with each shot it got a bit easier for one assistant coach to accept the fact one particular man who had handled the job of starting races in the West Virginia High School Track Championships for many years was not performing that task on May 17-18 at Laidley Field in Charleston.

Richard "Doc" Hale, a fixture at the state meet as well as cross country events on the Tri-State, state, collegiate and national levels for many, many years, passed away in June 2012 doing what he loved. The Barboursville resident was serving as a starter for an AAU meet in Knoxville, Tenn.

Doc Hale's absence from the state track meet meant it would be a trying two days for his daughter, Jefferson High assistant coach Michele Hale. She served as honorary starter at the GEICO Invitational on Sept. 1 at Cabell Midland.

Michele Hale is a former coach of the Cabell Midland sprinters on the staff of head coach Chris Parsons. Now, she coaches sprinters at Jefferson, which went on to win its fourth straight Class AAA championship.

"The meet was so exciting knowing that our guys were going for four in a row," Michele Hale said. "All season I would start to pick up the phone to call him or start to email him and tell him what we had done in a particular meet. Friday morning of the state meet I cried because I wanted him to see our team and to be as proud of them as I was. By the time I got to the state meet, I was better.

The father introduced his daughter to the state running scene in elementary school. She was in the sixth grade when her dad took her to Laidley Field and turned her into a string holder. "Daddy would always check on me and help me with the string," she said. "He showed me how to tie a knot very quickly so I could do it between heats and sections."

At this year's state track meet starter Joe Heintzman displayed a schedule tag he and the two other starters wore. It had a picture of Doc Hale in the background.

"Joe and Daddy were very close," Michele Hale said. "He was crushed when I called him about Daddy last June. He looked up to Daddy as did many track officials and track coaches. He made the schedule tags this year. Daddy had always made them before. When I got to the state meet he pulled me aside and showed me the schedule tags. Of course I teared up. He gave me his tag after the meet and I have it in my home office next to a track picture of Dad and Joe.

"It was such an honor for Joe to do that for Daddy."

Doc Hale also shared what he learned at meets with his daughter who would then pass that information on to her team.

"I have always felt blessed to have had my dad as my dad," she said. "He was more than a dad to me, he was also a mentor. He would be at a track meet and watch runners in the blocks or passing the baton or doing something else on the track. Dad would ask questions as to why that runner would do something in a certain way. He would have the runner show him how to do whatever the thing was. Dad, in turn, would show me the technique allowing me to use it with my runners.

"I believe that I am a much better coach because I had such a good dad and mentor to guide me."

Michele Hale said her father had a role in getting more notoriety for track and cross country runners.

He respected the athletes and coaches, and they respected him, she said.

"He would not put up with foul language or bad manners and the runners always said 'Yes sir' and 'No sir' to him," she said. "He would shake their hands and was always kind to them. He talked to them and didn't talk down to them.

"Yes, he was the 'official,' but he wasn't a jerk about it. I miss my dad in so many ways, but I really missed sharing track with him this season. I know it will get easier, but I shall always miss him. I wonder what he thinks about our Four-in-a-Row. I know he probably would say something like 'Only four in a row. Are you satisfied with that?' "

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