You Can Call Me Al

Heps has had some real characters among its coaches, but no one reaches the level of 82-year-old Al Cantello. I dare any of the Heps’ coaches — past or current — to disagree. (ed. note: The story says he is 82, Wikipedia has him at 79.)

Cantello, a U.S. Olympian in the javelin throw back in the 1950s, has now been coaching for 50 years at the Naval Academy. Bill Wagner of the Capital Gazette profiled him today.

It’s definitely worth a read.

When Navy was shown the door from Heps early in my tenure at the Ivy League office, it was sad on a few fronts, including the reality that Coach Cantello wouldn’t be at Heps to tell me an off-color joke while passing on the infield and such.

I hadn’t talked to Coach in several years when I decided to call him for a story on the 1971 Outdoor Heps Championships, which came the same week as the shootings at Kent State. Ultimately, Army and Navy left the event just before it began.

I wish I could write all the stuff I learned from Coach in that 2010 conversation. He had a great memory of it all. We talked for 20 to 30 minutes and he had me howling with laughter because he has never been one to mince words.

After taking notes, he ended the conversation by adding, “You can’t print any of this.” The Academy is, as you’d expect, kinda serious about talking about internal affairs.

Anyway, this man is a legend. His runners love him. He takes average runners and gets everything out of them. He’s figured out how to do that for 50 years — from guys who are now 18 to others who are now in their 70s.

Amazing.

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