This summer marks the end of an era at Servite High School. Though in the case of beloved teacher, coach and mentor Larry Toner, it feels more like the end of an eon.
Last week, after the final bell on the last day of classes, the man who represents the heart and soul of the Catholic school for generations of Friars walked off campus for the last time as a member of the faculty. After 42 years at Servite, Toner quietly retired at age 76. He was never the kind of person to ask for a big send off, or a whole bunch of fanfare. In fact he probably hates that I’m writing this article giving his exit any extra attention whatsoever. But if there’s anyone who deserves a salute on his way out, it’s Coach.
I attended Servite from 2000-2004, wrote for the school newspaper, and played football all four years as an offensive and defensive lineman. As the varsity head coach and my sophomore Spanish teacher, his wisdom came with a lot of life lessons, dry insults and plenty of push-ups when I forgot my assignments in class or on the field. But as those who attended Servite or had anything to do with the school can attest, it was always about more than just the push-ups, or the yelling, or his infamous index finger chest poke that bruised many a smartass' sternum. In all of his roles throughout his years at Servite, Toner’s teachings focused around brotherhood, discipline and doing the tough thing at the time you wanted to do it the least.
Before I stepped on campus for freshman orientation, I’d already heard about the man who—at about 5-foot-5—commanded the respect of giant teenage athletes (including a few future pros like my classmate, Carolina Panthers All-Pro center Ryan Kalil), honors students and choir kids alike. He taught French, Spanish and Latin on top whatever other languages he speaks just as fluently. Within about 10 seconds of conversation, he seemed to know everything about any student who crossed his path.
To a terrified incoming Freshmen, there was no one more intimidating. As an outgoing senior, there’s no one who I respected more. And a big part was that gravelly, thundering voice, which you can here in this video that he narrated:
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The year after I graduated, he became the head of the Freshman Formation program for incoming students. Aside from a chance to wake up and head to school at the crack of dawn like so many of the school’s athletes, this chance to get a real piece of Servite culture and team building exercises was probably the first real dose of a Catholic education for many young men, and it was Toner's task to form this next generation into the Servite way.
Though he’ll probably always be around campus in some fashion, it’s sad that future students won’t get to learn from him. On the other hand, few faculty members have put in so much time at one school that their spirit seems to be ingrained in the bricks of the buildings. That’s most definitely true when it comes to Coach’s impact on the students.
There’s a lot of alumni out there who credit Toner for making them the men they are today. It’s true for myself, as well. Even as a young kid who had no idea what the hell I wanted to be when I grew up, there was no question that I benefitted from learning how to be a man first in the company of classmates and teammates. We listened to his classroom rants and locker room speeches about honor and duty and faith and walked away better people, even if we don’t recognize it all the time. There was something about learning how to be men in a group of guys who were all just trying to figure it out that made it stick. And for that, Coach, I think I can speak for the entire Servite community when I say, "Credo."
Thank you for everything you gave us. Now, go out and enjoy your retirement and get some sun: you’re pasty as hell!