Witness Post: Bill Seal, A Coach Remembered
William Arthur Seal III, former McDonogh School dean, faculty member, coach and dorm parent died on March 26, 2012. He was 65.
I met Bill in 1978, when I first came to the McDonogh School campus. He and his wife, Cheryl, lived in South Hall as dorm parents, and both taught in the Lower School. Their son, Jonathan, was a burgeoning student in the Lower School at the time. From my vantage point, Bill was the consummate lower school science teacher: he could do the “book-work” of course but he much preferred going outside and getting his hands dirty. I recall seeing him many mornings and afternoons on walks with his students “on a science trip,” as children with butterfly nets and pond dipping nets and goggles and notebooks and collection boxes would traipse across the grassy fields and into the woods nearby. He was preparing these mudluscious pre-scientists for outside lab work and Mr. Bob Seigman’s Upper School land plot experiments.
Yes, Bill was a good teacher, the other alumni writers will attest to that skill. But Bill was also a calm and steady soccer coach, who had a string of very impressive seasons at the top of the league, even as Mike McMillan’s football and Des Corcoran’s cross-country teams lured away some of the best athletes. During the winter, Bill continued his coaching as the assistant coach of the wrestling team. Bill has the unique distinction of coaching along-side a string of former Ivy League and ACC wrestlers, back to back to back and then some. We all tried to follow in Ray Oliver’s footsteps, but it was Bill’s shoes we could not fill. First came Tom Potts, who was a star at Princeton; then came Dan Blakinger, an All American from Harvard; next I arrived, a wrestler from Yale; and I was followed by Rob Smoot, who was a superb wrestler at Duke; and Pete Welch, a great wrestler from UNC. Bill Seal spent time with all of us. Bill knew the referees, the opposing coaches, the bus drivers, and the directions to all of the wrestling venues. He knew how to tape up an ankle or wrist, how to wipe down a mat, and how to be heard if needed.
Bill Seal, Top Left with his wrestling team
For me, though, Bill Seal was more than a bridge among McDonogh coaches, he was a consistently wonderful influence on the team. As development director, there were days when I knew I would be late to practice: Bill was always there. He showed up at practices on time and took charge. He would get the wrestlers warmed up and practicing drills, which kept the team relatively injury-free during our six years together. He would daily dress in his McDonogh Eagle sweats and roll around “breaking a heavy lather” with the light-weight wrestlers, who tussled with Bill at their own peril; his elbows were as fierce as his comb-over and his wit. During the season, he knew what to say during practice, dual meets and tournaments to keep the team balanced and focused. He pulled aside wrestlers who needed the one-on-one time that only a watchful assistant can give. His guidance helped hone the skills of many of McDonogh’s MSA and National Prep champions. And Bill started bringing Jon into the wrestling room when he was in about the 3rd or 4th grade. Soon Jon started competing head-to-head with boys many years older than he; we knew a new era was dawning. Bill would give me that smile, and say candidly, “The kid could be good.” Again, Bill was right.
Bill also helped tremendously when in the early 1980’s we had the fire in the McDonogh Fieldhouse. Bill helped gather some of the boarding students to pick-up and hoist the “smoke damaged but still somewhat usable wrestling mats” to the basement of the Allen Building, so that we could continue our winter practice routine and not miss a beat. Bill noticed that the buoyancy of the mats was not up to par and after a few practices he said that we could only avoid any serious knee, shoulder or head injuries by finding other mats. I did not know what to do, until Bill suggested that we continue our wrestling practices at other schools, like his alma mater, Franklin High School. Without asking, Bill helped call around and arranged some “away practices” over the Christmas holidays at Franklin, Poly, Southeastern, St. Paul’s, and Mervo, which helped solidify our relationships with the other coaches of those strong programs and helped our team stay in good shape and build camaraderie. The Ray Oliver Wrestling Tournament was held at Gilman School that year, which is also a testament to the relationship that Bill Seal and the Ed Novak/Chip Giardina/Dutch Eyth, Athletic Directors, had forged with Chris Legg (Gilman wrestling coach), Reddy Finney (Gilman Headmaster), and Haswell Franklin (McDonogh AND Gilman parent) over the years.
His consistent guidance and sense of humor helped me in many ways. One personal quirk of Bill’s was his relatively high pitched voice; it could get pretty shrill. In coaching situations he had a whistle around his neck, but rarely used it. “I promised myself I would be quiet now that I am off the soccer field,” he would mutter, searching for his inside voice. Instead of disbelief or agitation, for example, Bill would act out his feelings. He would pantomime some exaggerated facial expressions, throw his arms in the air and rock back and forth, which said so much without saying a word. When the team was facing Mt. St. Joe or Gilman, the coaches were as nervous as the wrestlers, and Bill would cut the tension and give the boys and fellow coaches a good laugh in the process. Bill was self-deprecating as he made light of an old story he remembered. Somehow his dry humor would be the perfect antidote at the time. He had a wonderful self-assured confidence that helped steer the wrestling program over many years.
Fellow coaches like John Black, Dennis O’Brien, Doug Cooper, Rob Smoot, Joe Bakewell, and Pete Welch all benefited having Bill in the program. He was thoughtful and cared deeply about the boys. Since soccer, “was his thing,” I felt so fortunate to have Bill by my side in his “off-season.” His steady hand and sarcasm were perfect foils for the “too serious” coaching staff as a whole. He just had such a calming knack with others!
During a retirement tribute to Bill Seal in the spring of 2012, Headmaster Charlie Britton summed up McDonogh’s love for Bill with the following statement.
As a dean, a teacher, a coach, and a dorm parent – as a school person – he has touched the lives of too many to count. We will miss his sense of humor and his laugh, his sweater vests, the occasional bow tie, and even the needlepoint glasses case, but most of all we will miss the school person he has always been.
During the 2007 Spirit Brunch, Robin Coblentz, McDonogh employee from 1962 to 1985, praised Bill for his devotion to McDonogh before presenting him with the DSA. Here are excerpts from her remarks:
Bill was no stranger to McDonogh as he was growing up in Owings Mills and graduating from Franklin High School, where he lettered in three sports, but I doubt that he ever imagined that this school would become as much a part of his life as it has. He was an honors graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he received his BA with a major in history and psychology. He had actually enrolled in law school when he accepted a position as a science and woodshop teacher in McDonogh’s Lower School when Mose MacHamer was its head. He was hired specifically to establish a physical education program in the Lower School. Bill spent 14 years in the Lower School and during this time I got a perfect taste of the great Seal sense of humor.
In 1986 he became Associate Dean of Students where one of his jobs was to oversee the residential program. At this time he and his wife Cheryl became houseparents in South (now Keelty) Hall and nursed the fledgling girls’ boarding program into the success it is today. Here I should say that Cheryl is also heavily invested in the McDonogh family (her father is Dick Working, for many years Middle School math teacher and varsity football coach) she has been the reading specialist in the Lower School for many years.
Bill’s move to the Upper School also included teaching three sections of psychology, which he continued until his retirement. His job as dean moved him in the counseling direction, and after taking courses nights, weekends, and summers, he received his MA in counseling from Loyola in 1992. Until 2011 Bill was the senior class dean. In 2012 he added one class of world history to his busy schedule.
Well, so much for the academic side of Bill’s career. Athletics . . . well, I could just say that in 1999, he was inducted into the McDonogh Athletic Hall of Fame, which says it all but here are a few details. After putting in his time at Lower School athletics, he coached jv soccer, fresh/soph lacrosse, girls’ winter soccer, and varsity wrestling, but it was from 1976 until 1996, twenty years, that the words Seal and soccer were synonymous. During those years he and his varsity teams recorded 210 wins, and became 9th in the state in championships won. Among all this acclaim, however, Bill’s proudest moment, he told me, was when he and his son Jon were inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at the same time eight years ago.
We are all saddened by the news of Bill Seal’s passing and we offer our sincere condolences to Cheryl and Jon and the rest of the McDonogh Family.
Thank you, Bill.
We miss you,
March 30, 2012