Even a pandemic couldn’t stop former student-athletes and tri-town-area residents from paying their respects to Glenn Gardner, who passed away on May 30 at age 64 after a courageous battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
As those close to Gardner and his family entered St. Mary’s Parish in Fairhaven for his June 6 funeral Mass, they were met by members of the 2019-20 Old Rochester girls varsity basketball team, along with some former teammates who had previously graduated. Each of the players honored the nine-year Bulldogs junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach by wearing their black uniforms with black joggers.
“It almost like was an honor guide,” former Old Rochester girls varsity coach Bob Hohne said. “I know it brought me to tears, and to Paula Gardner (Glenn’s wife).”
The former Hastings Middle School teacher also impacted his hometown Fairhaven community, working as a longtime varsity coach in softball, field hockey, and basketball. No matter where he went and who he worked with, Gardiner always did everything he could for student-athletes.
“I think he had a great rapport with the kids,” Old Rochester athletic director Bill Tilden said. “We don’t have a freshman program, it’s a JV program. But a lot of those kids, it was their first time playing basketball and they’re mixed in with kids that are battling for a varsity spot. He found a way to break down all the drills so all the kids understood it. Sometimes it’s easy to talk over kids’ heads when you’re trying to explain certain defenses or what you’re working on. But he found a way to really reach all those kids.
“One of the best parts is they never were worried about — if they didn’t understand, they were willing to go to him with questions and they weren’t too nervous because they should have got it already because the other kids are already doing it right. He was so approachable to all the kids, whether they were varsity or JV.”
Hohne saw the same thing in Gardner.
“In terms of teaching the game, he was very, very sound fundamentally,” Hohne said. “And he was an ideal match for our young JV players because he was patient with them. But also, he was demanding with them. He expected a level of performance for them that increased during the course of the season.”
Gardner’s efforts did not end with student-athletes. He gave everything he could for everyone, all the time.
“It didn’t matter if you were a student or a colleague or somebody he might have just met off the street, he would give you the shirt off his back,” Tilden said. ”He would be the guy that would pull over to help you change a tire on your car, even if he didn’t know who you were. He was just one of those people – no matter what – if you saw somebody in need, he was there for them.”
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint one moment that encapsulates Gardner, Hohne looks at the entire 2019-20 basketball season as a season-long illustration of the person and coach.
“I think what defined him as a coach,” said Hohne, “was the idea that his health was failing even in December when the season started, and during the course of the season you could see him declining, his health declining. I said, ‘Glenn, I’ll come down and help you with the JV practice if you want.’ And he said, ‘No, my job is the JV practice. I plan, I conduct it.’ And Russ Bailey was my freshman coach — although, we haven’t had a freshmen team — (Bailey) would sometimes go down and help. But (Gardner) said, ‘You stay at the high school and you make sure we’ve got the plans down on what we’re going to do on what drills. Then, he’d come up to the varsity practice.
“(Gardner) was part of all the drills, but when we broke down into big men and little men, he always went down with the big men. I said, ‘You know, I can stand at midcourt and do both. Take a rest.’ He says, ‘No. I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do as your first assistant.’ So, as a JV coach, he never missed the practice. As a first assistant varsity coach, he never missed a practice. He felt he was obligated to do both.”
A scholarship will bear Gardner’s name, and a memorial celebration of his life is scheduled for September 13 at Century House in Acushnet.