Last week my dad, my first mentor in life, came across some old papers while he was cleaning out his attic. He gave me something that I had forgotten about, but I’m sure glad he kept it all these years. He found the letter to the editor submission of mine that ran in the Harrisburg Patriot News in 2004.
I was feeling on top of the world in 2004 – I had been married two years and Melody and I were enjoying life. I had a decent job, not the dream job, but it supported us, plus we were expecting our first child. I know I didn’t get to where I am without the many amazing people in my life that went out of their way to mentor me. I started writing to some of them to show them I was thankful for them and to let them know that I was thinking of them.
Around this time, I heard my high school football coach was retiring from teaching so I penned the OpEd you see below. I am so fortunate to have had this run in the newspaper, as my coach’s wife said he was so thrilled to see this. Plus, after it ran on a trip home to visit my parents, I paid him a visit and got a big bearhug from him and we spent the day just hanging out and talking. I was fortunate because Coach Lichtel would pass from prostate cancer a few years after, but like all the times we spent together while I was in high school, memories of him will live on just like the life lessons I learned from him.
Make sure your mentors know that you appreciate them.
Patriot News Letter to the Editor as it was written in 2004:
Coach Licthel, thanks for being a role model
Recently I watched a sentimental tribute to Pat Tillman, the NFL player turned Army Ranger. After viewing the televised program, I had no trouble seeing why all of America is mourning the loss of this fallen soldier. It was evident to me that Tillman became the person he was because of the cast of role models that he was associated with while he was maturing.
After the ESPN special, I searched within myself to see what role models can claim responsibility for how I evolved from a young kid running the streets of Mechanicsburg to a mature father-to-be, enjoying a successful home and career life in Pittsburgh. I found some answers fairly quickly with mom and dad leading the pack, but one name surfaced that I hadn’t thought of for some time – Rich Lichtel.
I had known of Coach Lichtel while attending another high school in the area, but it wasn’t until I transferred to Mechanicsburg High School during the tail end of my sophomore year that I had truly come to know who he was.
He is a role model; he is a mentor; he is an educator; he is a hero; he is a friend. He was all these things to me when I was with him on a daily basis.
He was a man that took the extra time to make sure students – and not just football players – were doing OK. He cared about his profession and that was reflected in the kids that came in contact with him. He didn’t make school a place to go because you had to – all students of Mechanicsburg, no matter what social groupings they fell in, liked Coach Lichtel. He made the time to help those that needed help, whether it was lending an ear when a student had some troubles or cheering up a student when he or she needed to smile. He simply did whatever it took to reach the young minds in the school district of Mechanicsburg.
And, oh yeah, he was also a football coach. During the 1980s Mechanicsburg high school was renowned in high school football as a quarterback factory. The school churned out some good ones like the Hakels and the Abners. Producing quality quarterbacks is certainly no coincidence, since Lichtel himself was a remarkable quarterback in his younger years.
Prior to transferring to Mechanicsburg, one thing that excited me about the move was that I, a high school quarterback at the time, was going to receive football knowledge from a proven quarterback player and coach. But the first thing he wanted to do was to get to know me. He didn’t concentrate on instructing me on how to properly play the position, when what I really needed at the time was someone to make the extra time to be there for me.
Transferring high schools, especially in a situation similar to mine where negative labels were thrown on me, is difficult for kids and he didn’t assume any rumors to be true; instead he took the time to understand me. He cared more about the students of Mechanicsburg than winning games.
So, sure the name Rich Lichtel is associated with Mechanicsburg Wildcat football and rightly so. He won some games and a few league titles. He did alright on Friday nights, but that is only a part of his legacy.
I’m sure all of his compiled wins over the years have his name appearing on some elite coaching list in the central Pennsylvania area, if not the state or country yet something tells me he’s just as proud, if not prouder, knowing that there is a lot of mature adults around this country that have him to thank for being a positive role model in their life. I know I would like to thank him.
So while Rich Lichtel is retiring from teaching, but remember that his teachings will never retire. I, like the rest of his former students, plan to instill the values that he taught naturally on a daily basis to my future child. Generations will benefit from his position as a role model.
Enjoy your retirement, Coach Lichtel! And thanks for being a role model in the Mechanicsburg area.