In Memoriam: ‘Coach’ Fred Ahart (1947 -2020)

By TED WADDELL
Posted 8/5/20

ROSCOE, NY — On Thursday, July 30, the diminutive yet close-knit community of Roscoe said goodbye to one of their own in a memorial tribute to Frederick Clark Ahart, beloved coach and athletic …

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In Memoriam: ‘Coach’ Fred Ahart (1947 -2020)

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ROSCOE, NY — On Thursday, July 30, the diminutive yet close-knit community of Roscoe said goodbye to one of their own in a memorial tribute to Frederick Clark Ahart, beloved coach and athletic director at the “Home of the Blue Devils,” who passed from the bonds of this earth just a week before on July 23, 2020.

The memorial service was held on the school’s football field and was attended by approximately 60 family members with another 400-some folks gathered on the freshly mown fields of athletic competition, all masked and socially distanced in groups of 50.

And that’s not a bad turnout in a hamlet that, according to the 2010 census, boasted a population of 541 residents.

Elton Harris, director of the Harris Funeral Home, said an estimated additional 700 people watched a live-streaming broadcast of the event, which can be viewed by dialing into the funeral home’s Facebook site.

Fred Ahart was a stalwart figure in the realm of local high school sports. He and his wife Becky were featured in a “Legends of Section IX” profile, published in the River Reporter on June 28, 2018.

Over his 51 years at the helm of Roscoe’s athletic department, Ahart mentored countless youth as coach of the school’s varsity football and boys’ basketball programs and received numerous awards and accolades for his dedication to the Blue Devils: NYS Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee; two-time Athletic Director of the Year; Golden Apple Recipient; the Billy Moran Award; Glen McGinnis Award; and an Amazing Person Award.

Coach Ahart’s teams were forces to be reckoned with in Section IX as he led the Blue Devils in more than 1,000 boys’ basketball games and almost 350 football contests: back-to-back Section IX Class D football titles (1989-1990), and won his fourth and last Section IX Class D hoops crown last season.

In 2014, Ahart was assured that his name will live on forever, as Roscoe’s gym was named the “Coach Fred Ahart Gymnasium.”

Ahart fought the good fight against the ravages of prostate cancer for years, never missing a game during this time of travail, and was always accompanied by his wife as they traveled together for his cancer treatments in Cooperstown, NY

Before the service commenced, this sports scribbler had the opportunity to chat for a few minutes with a contingent of coaches, past and present, from Sullivan West about fellow coach Fred Ahart.

Ron Bauer: “I always admired him, and the type of kids he had. They always had a great attitude and gave him everything they had. He had some good teams, you knew they were going to be battling right to the end.”

Mike Ellmauer: “Fred was a class guy, he helped me out when I was getting started… he was a good friend.”

Kurt Scheibe: “Just a class act, I remember being in high school when he was coaching… He touched a lot of lives.”

Rick Ellison: “Coach was a great example to all of us, not just student-athletes, but fellow coaches and teachers… just an absolute class act.”

Jerry Davit: “I’ve known Fred for 51 years, and we have been friends ever since… He was always a gentleman and loved the kids. The teams and the kids came first, that’s the way he was his whole life, a tremendous example.”

And from the perspective of a sports photojournalist, in 20-some years, I never heard Coach Ahart utter a negative word about anyone, coaches and or officials, even during those times when the opposition racked up the score or the calls didn’t go his way.

Ahart always was at pains never to single out a single player or ding the other team, despite entreaties to do so, but always, and I mean always, first and foremost praised the play of the opposition and of his players, “It was a team effort.”

And while we’re on the subject of paying special attention to one player over others, Becky Ahart was in the same mold… it was always a team effort, win or lose.

The memorial service pays homage to “Coach” Ahart: the legacy of a legend

The Reverend Phil Jordan, a boyhood friend of Ahart and pastor of the Caroline Center Church of Brooktondale, NY and St. Luke’s Chapel in Van Etten, NY, officiated the celebration of the local coach’s life and legacy.

“I was a life-long friend of Fred’s,” he said, adding that as boys growing up together in Candor, NY, he and Ahart used to tool around town in an old red Ford pickup truck, that the pastor recalls being a ’54.

“He would drive us around ravaging and pillaging the whole town…,“ noting their exploits weren’t harmful to anyone.

“As kids growing up, the church needed to form a baseball team,” recalled Rev. Jordan, explaining that when they came up short in the numbers required to field a team, he was ‘volunteered” by Ahart, and the games took place of what was known next door as Ahart Stadium.

“I’m sure that was Fred’s idea,” he said of being coaxed into joining the team.

Rev Jordan continued with this tale by expounding, “I don’t have an athletic bone in my body,” something that might have been a factor in usually being chosen last when it came time to play ball.

“I was always the last to be picked…but then Fred once chose me second as a wonderful Christian act.”

His sermon, which included many references to growing up with Ahart, also dealt with religious matters of the heart and the soul everlasting.

“Fred has touched everyone’s life here in a special way,” he said, adding of the marriage to his high school sweetheart Becky on August 16, 1969, the year the newlyweds moved to Roscoe, “The love Fred and Becky had for each other, in sickness and health, and their love of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren…they held each other up and made a life together and coached each other…”

Rev. Jordan spoke briefly from John 11:25 in Jesus’s words, “I am the resurrection”, and later in his sermon, recited the 23rd Psalm, “I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters…I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

“Blessings on his final journey to eternal life,” added Rev. Jordan.

The memorial service featured a trio of speakers, who spoke movingly to the assemblage of hundreds about the life and times of Coach Ahart, both at the service on the grass gridiron and the live-streaming broadcast.

Fred Ahart’s nephew Nick Fersch said he was inspired by his uncle’s firm belief in the tenants of athletic competition set down by UCLA’s famed men’s basketball coach John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA championships from 1964-1975, in his groundbreaking Pyramid of Success.

Fersch focused on Ahart’s dedication to the principals of loyalty, integrity, hard work, empathy and having a big heart.

“He never missed a game in 51 years, never wanted the spotlight on himself and credited others, he truly loved and cared for everyone…Fred mastered each of these skills, and became a true icon,” he said.

On the subject of Ahart’s “big heart”, Fersch continued, “He gave and gave, and never asked for anything in return. He truly cared about all of those around him.”

Fred’s nephew spoke about the meaning of his uncle’s legacy as a family man.

“…he was so proud of his children and loved watching them grow up and raise their own families”, and addressing Becky from the lectern said, “Behind every great man there is a great woman. We all know that you two formed a great team, and brought out the best in one another, and loved and supported each other for 55 years.”

“Fred, you leave us not just as a champion on the basketball court or the fields we are gathered at, but more importantly you leave us as a champion in life.”

Bill Hendrickson, another life-long friend of the departed coach, said he had a million stories to tell, but only related a couple of them, noting that he coached alongside Ahart for “many, many years on this field.”

Hendrickson told the assemble of the time Ahart jumped into the nearby creek, wearing a baseball uniform, to cool off one blisteringly hot day, and of the times he picked up the tab out of his own pocket at fast food joints after away games “for kids who didn’t have the money.”

“Fred represented all of us in Roscoe, he was Mr. Roscoe…we lost a great friend and mentor to our kids…he was a total gentleman (who believed) in mental toughness…he was an inspirational coach, the kids always came first, the game second.”

“We can always be in peace knowing that Coach is no longer in pain,” he said, adding. “We know he’s up there watching over us.”

Fred and Becky’s daughter Katie Ahart spoke of how her father was “loved and respected”, noting that the family called him by several names: the man, coach, dad and grandpa.

“Together with my mom, they taught us how to love and be respectful, the love for Roscoe Central School, our friends and family,” she said.

“Life wasn’t easy, but he made it look like it was…live one day at a time, and the next game is the most important one.”

In conclusion, Rev. Jordan said that while Ahart was attending high school and college, and then moving to the Home of the Blue Devils, the school’s colors were always blue and white, and as a symbolic gesture of the past linked to the present, members of the immediate family released blue and white balloons into the overcast afternoon skies over the football field.

At the end of the service young members of the family clan carried Coach Ahart’s coffin to the waiting hearse, closing one chapter, yet opening another in the history of Roscoe, NY

“Fred will always be remembered for touching so many lives,” said Becky Ahart the day before the memorial to her husband’s memory.

Donations can be made in Fred’s name to The Coach Fred Ahart Foundation and may be mailed to Harris Funeral Home, P.O. Box 8, Roscoe, NY 12776, and to plant memorial trees, visit the funeral home’s Sympathy Store at www.Harris-FH.com, or call 607-498-4929 or 845-439-5200.

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