The William Chrisman High School boys and girls track and field teams have enjoyed more success in the past than they did Friday night the 58th annual Bill Summa Invitational, but they have never been involved in a more memorable meet.
Summa, who coached at Chrisman from 1958 to 1988, was on hand Friday night when it was announced that the track at Norman James Field would be named after Summa, who arrived at the field at 8 a.m. Friday.
“He wanted to know if he could help with anything,” said former Chrisman coach Ron Kelley, who served as a starter. “That’s a coach – he loves this school and this team and everyone loves him. This is a great honor for a man who really deserves it.”
More than 100 former Summa athletes were on hand for the celebration, including former Blue Springs High School football coach and activities director Tim Crone and former Major League Baseball player and Chrisman icon, Russ Morman.
“Coach Summa coached in a different era,” chuckled Crone, “he treated everyone the same – like dogs! Now, I say that with a lot of love in my heart. He was special, and you can tell by as any people are here tonight just how special he was to all his athletes and the students in his history classes.”
Crone paused for a moment, and added, “You know, he and his wife Peggy were two of the most generous people I ever knew. When I went to Northwest Missouri State University, they paid my tuition my first year.
“And later in my life, he came to my house dressed as Santa Claus every year. That was great, except my daughters kept asking, ‘Why is Santa cussing?’ That was Coach Summa.”
Summa took it all in, as he was totally caught off guard by the honor.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Summa said. “I don’t know why they did all this, but I’m happy and honored they did. It is so wonderful to see all my former students. This is very special, and I want to thank Coach (Tyler) Rathke and everyone at Chrisman.”
When the track is re-lined later this year, the name Bill Summa will be added, and that brings a smile to the face of Rathke, one of the most respected young coaches in the state.
“Coach Summa is a legend, and this is what you do for a legend,” Rathke said. “There is a lot of history here tonight – all you have to do is look around and see how all of coach’s former athletes are responding to him.”
One of those athletes was Morman, one of the greatest all-around athletes in Chrisman history.
“He told me once that I was the second best track athlete he ever coached,” said Morman, who owns World Series rings from the Florida Marlins as a player and from Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants as a minor league hitting coach and manager. “He never told me who No. 1 was, but it was an honor to be called the second best.
“He was a tough coach, but everyone loved him. You can see how much we all loved him by all the people who are here tonight.”
Another former athlete was David Ross, who was the first junior to ever start at quarterback for the Bears when Summa was the team’s offensive line coach.
“I played for Coach Summa in football and was on the track team,” said Ross, “and I actually replaced him as the track coach – which was tough. How do you replace a legend like Coach Summa?
“He was a special coach and is a special man in the lives of many people.”