Sports Commentary: We hardly knew ye

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Former SRHS soccer coach remembered

By Mike Forster


I never really got to know Bruce Cassels.  And now, he's gone.

Cassels passed away last week.  I'm told he was felled by a heart attack.  A youngish 63, Cassels could outrun some of the kids he coached:  His physical condition was that good.

Regrettably, he couldn't outrun the silent predator that overcame him with a too-soon death.

For the past two seasons, Cassels had been the coach of the Staunton River varsity boys soccer team.  He relinquished that role last year, not having made as much progress as he'd have liked.

It is my regret that I did not take that opportunity to get to know him better.

Part of the reason for my failure was that Cassels was the fifth Staunton River boys' coach in the seven years I've been covering SRHS sports.

Another reason is that Cassels was reluctant to sing praises for his team unless they were fully merited.  Hence, our interview sessions trended toward brevity.

Nevertheless, there were things I learned about the man which should have pointed toward someone worth getting to know better.

For instance, Cassels was from the greater Philadelphia area.  I've got some family in that area.  My brother lived in the City of Brotherly Love for most of his life.  His adopted hometown is the place where he's buried.

I know Philly people; I like Philly people.  Cassels was a Philly guy.

Another thing about Cassels which I'd heard, but never really probed was his service in Vietnam.

He was a Marine.  By the way, there's no such thing as an ex-Marine.  Once you're a Marine, you carry the tag for the duration.

Not that Cassels ever made a big deal about his service, or of his time in the USMC, as far as I know.  He was soft-spoken and very accommodating.  If you'd have told me he'd spent his early manhood in a library, rather than in a festering jungle of a country, I'd have doubted you not.

I've got a soft spot for Vietnam vets.

I also learned that he loved dogs, as do I.

What was not clear to me, however, was whether Cassels' love of our canine friends came before, or was a result of, his time in Vietnam.

You see, he served as a dog handler during that war.  In fact, Cassels is listed as a member of the Vietnam Dog Handler Association.

As an aside, the soldiers they assign to dog-handling duties are typically calm, cool and quick-thinking hombres.  I think it safe to state that Cassels fit that description.

I spoke with Lewis Miller, who coached with the man at Stewartsville, before Cassels moved on to Staunton River.

"I didn't know him long," recalled Miller.  "But he was one of the most likeable people I've met.  If I could get an extra dad, he'd be that person."

Which is not to say that Cassels was universally loved.  No coach is, if he expects to get the job done.

Like every soccer coach I've known, I suspect he had to deal with parents who had the following concerns: 

-Why didn't my kid make the varsity?

-Why isn't my kid starting?

-Why is my kid playing defense instead of midfield?

-Why doesn't my kid get enough scoring opportunities?

-Why didn't my kid make the All-District team?

Those questions become more pointed when your team plays less-than .500 ball, as did the Eagles during Cassels' tenure.

So, this isn't the story of a highly successful, loved-by-all coach.  Instead, his story (in small part) is of how he moved to this neck of the woods and tried to make a difference in the lives of some young men.

Did he succeed?  Well, it remains to be seen.  That payout usually happens when those youngsters develop into men.

Hopefully, some of those fellows will turn out to be like Coach Cassels.

And, hopefully, those people around them will take the opportunity to know them just a little bit better.