When new Bald Eagle Area football coach Ron Hoover heard Lester Horton was not coaching this fall, he immediately placed a call to the longtime former Philipsburg-Osceola assistant.
Horton, a former standout athlete at BEA, accepted Hoover’s job offer on the spot.
“He lived in Snow Shoe and grew up in Port Matilda,” said Hoover. “He was like living the dream is what he told me.”
That’s one of many things that make Horton’s sudden passing Tuesday so hard to fathom. At just age 50, Horton died within hours after BEA concluded practice.
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“It was like 6:20 and the coaches were there and the kids were gone and I said, ‘Hey, guys listen it’s time to go home,’” Hoover said. “We were all talking and we have a good time together. I said, ‘Go home, eat supper and spend some time with your family.’ Then like an hour or 1 1/2 hours later, wham, I get a call. … It puts you like in shock.”
Horton’s loss will be felt throughout the school districts in Centre County. He also coached a dozen years with former P-O and current Bellefonte wrestling coach Mike Maney.
“From a personal standpoint I’ve coached with him for about 12 years, but I’ve known him a lot longer,” Maney said. “I remember when I was a little kid he would come to our house at Christmas.
“He’s one of the most honest, loyal friends you could ask for. From a coaching standpoint, he’s helped me a lot more than he will ever know. With the stresses of the job and the difficulties that come with it, he always found a way to put things in perspective and lighten up the mood a little bit. He would make me laugh at times I needed it.”
Horton was an outstanding football player and wrestler at BEA and received the Outstanding Wrestler Award when he captured the District 6 crown in 1982.
He never lost his love for those sports and became a treasured assistant coach.
He was part of Jeff Vroman’s football staff for many seasons at P-O. He joined Maney’s wrestling staff there and followed him over to Bellefonte. After Vroman resigned after last football season, Horton, whose wife Marcia works at BEA, came back to coach in Wingate.
“She said he had such a passion for coaching Bald Eagle Area football,” Hoover said Marcia told him last evening. “He had coached all of those years, but she said it was something special for him. That’s all he talked about at home was the kids and how much he loved the kids.”
Wherever he went, Horton had a special relationship with anyone he touched, but especially with the kids.
“His biggest asset was that all of the kids liked him,” Maney said. “From a wrestling standpoint, there’s certainly a grind during the season. … Places where the stress was higher, he found a way to bring a smile to kids’ faces and joke around with the kids.”
From serving as the main target in a game of dodgeball to running many miles, Horton made an impact that was more than just Xs and Os.
“He served as motivation for the kids,” Maney said. “He’d go out and run long distances and the kids could look at that and say, ‘Alright if this guy can do it, there’s no excuses why we can’t do these things.’
“He was certainly there for the kids as a priority and certainly he put the kids first above anyone else.”
“He’d work them hard and then he would spend some time talking and having fun with them,” Hoover said. “He was able to blend that, ‘Let’s get the work done, then take a break and get to know each other.’ He just absorbed them.”
Horton and his wife did not have children, but those close to him say he loved his nieces and nephews. He thought nothing of driving 26 hours to Fargo, N.D., to watch nephew Mike Horton wrestle in a tournament.
And there were his many other children
“He looked at all of the kids as his,” Maney said. “They were all his sons and daughters. … Even though he didn’t have his own kids, he treated everyone as part of his family.”
And he loved doing the job.
“He had 10 pages of notes at our Sunday meeting,” Hoover said. “I said, ‘Les, we only have 2 1/2 hours of practice Monday morning, I don’t think we are going to be able to cover 10 pages of notes.’ But that’s how he was. He talked to every kid and let them know how they were doing and what needed to be work on. Wow, there was just a passion.”
That passion also transferred to running and triathlons. Horton, who had retired within the last year as a captain at State Correctional Institution at Rockview, had dropped quite a bit of weight.
Last Saturday, he completed an 11-mile training run in preparation for running a half marathon this Saturday.
That’s what made his sudden passing so difficult.
And a strange twist, Bald Eagle Area plays at Philipsburg-Osceola on Friday.
Those two schools and many others will miss Horton.
“He was certainly one of a kind,” Maney said. “He was hard not to like. He had that personality about him, that aura. He had great people skills and he was able to talk and interact with anyone. He’s irreplaceable.”
Funeral services are at 11 a.m. Saturday at Snow Shoe United Methodist Church.