Players still show their respect to 'Father of Hancock football

September 16, 2007|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Paul H. Imphong, who died Sept. 7 at the age of 94. His obituary appeared in the Sept. 9 edition of The Herald-Mail.

HANCOCK - Dottie Imphong was on her porch facing the garage one late summer day in 2006 when she noticed cars parking all along the street - cars filled with 40 Hancock High School football players and their seven coaches.

"I asked them what they were doing," Dottie said. Athletic director Bill Sterner told her the boys wanted to surprise her husband, Paul Imphong, the school's longtime football coach, by coming to his house when they learned he would be unable to come to the field for the season's first scrimmage.


The annual tradition had been unbroken and the team members didn't want that to happen, so Bill and coach John Blake brought the scrimmage to Paul, who then was 93 years old.

"The boys stood in two rows and Paul talked to them," Dottie said. "He told them he expected them to do well."

Dottie said the most amazing part of that story was that those boys weren't even born when Paul retired as coach in 1971.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the place," Bill said.

Known as the father of Hancock High School football, Paul died Sept. 7 at the age of 94.

"Two of the boys on this year's team came to Paul's funeral," Dottie said, wiping away a tear. "It was so sweet."

Born in nearby Buck Valley, Pa., Paul attended McKeesport (Pa.) High School, and later graduated from the University of Maryland.

World War II interrupted Paul's career for a while. When he resumed civilian life, he married Dottie in 1944 and headed back to the classroom.

"Paul was an agriculture teacher in Mount Airy and an industrial arts teacher at Hancock High School," Dottie said.

The old high school building was torn down, but in his early years, Paul coached football behind that building where the park is now.

Bob Forshaw was on Paul's first team in 1957. He later married Dottie's niece, Carol, so they have been close with the Imphongs over the years.

"Paul was a good mentor to me ... to all of us," Bob said.

The team's first win came at the expense of Musselman High School in Berkeley County, W.Va., Bob said.

"We drove through Hancock honking our horns," he said of that game.

Dottie said she went to the games because her husband was coaching. She later went to the games because both of their sons - Thomas and Michael - played football for their father when they were in high school.

"I patched a lot of uniforms," Dottie recalled.

Carol said Dottie also spent a lot of time getting grass stains out of the white jerseys.

"Paul wouldn't let anyone else touch those uniforms but Dottie," Bill said.

Paul's younger son, Michael, said he was proud of his father for his attention to his family and the community.

"He always gave a lot and didn't ask for anything in return," Michael said by telephone.

Even so, things did come, including equipment from the University of Maryland when Paul - a 1936 graduate - was starting the Hancock football program, and money from the Hancock Lions Club for uniforms.

"At least 30 members of the Hancock Lions Club came to dad's viewing," Michael said. Paul was a longtime member of the club.

A good standard

Thomas, the oldest son, agreed that his father left quite a legacy in Hancock.

"He influenced a lot of young men and women, setting a good standard for them," Thomas said by telephone.

He also was proud of his father's World War II exploits, which included a stint with the Free French in North Africa, where he was assigned to familiarize them with American military equipment.

"Dad said he had to learn to speak French for that assignment, but they told him they wanted to speak English instead," Thomas said of the Free French fighters.

Paul's efforts earned him a lot of respect over the years.

A monument was erected to him on the field, which was renamed Paul Imphong Field in 1998. He also was inducted into the Washington County Sports Hall of Fame.

During the football years, Paul still was a teacher, assistant principal and athletic director as well as coach.

An interest in trains

After he retired, Paul kept up with the teams, but began to develop other interests, Bob said.

Model trains and real trains became a passion - one that Bob would try to satisfy.

"I took him on the Cumberland-to-Frostburg train, and he couldn't wait to get on board," Bob said.

On the way back, Paul stood outside all the way from Frostburg back to Cumberland, unaware that this old method of traveling was making its mark on him.

"His face was covered with soot," Bob said. "Paul took off his glasses and there were big white circles there, but he didn't care."

A few weeks before his death, Paul was moved to Reeders Memorial Home in Boonsboro, where he died.

Dottie said she has many memories of her 63 years of marriage to Paul. The walls of their den are covered with plaques, team pictures, trophies and citations, as well as family photos and memorabilia.

"I'm very proud of my husband," Dottie said.

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