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Prep Coach Picks Up Where Father Left Off

From Associated Press

To take over his father’s job as a high school basketball coach meant a lot of sacrifices for Lance Randall.

A cut in pay from his job as a promising assistant at Saint Louis University. A move back into his mother’s house. A search for a second job.

But for Randall, who made the decision at his father’s funeral five months ago, it was an easy choice.

“This has been the toughest year of my life, but also a true blessing. Not many people get to live their father’s life by following in his footsteps,” said Randall, whose Oshkosh West team is ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin’s largest high school division entering the state playoffs.

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Randall’s pay went from more than $50,000 to a $4,000 stipend. He moved his wife and baby daughter into his mother’s house and found a second job as a fund-raiser for the Experimental Aircraft Association, all while trying to serve as guardian to his father’s program, players and family.

Every day he is reminded of the tragedy of his father’s death and the beauty of his life -- and how both deeply touched so many people.

“It’s unbelievable but it shouldn’t be because Dad was such a generous man and such a wise man,” Randall said. “Even in death he’s still teaching us so much about life.”

Randall is never far away from the memories that jolt him. Every day strangers tell him what his father meant to them, how he helped them, inspired them, taught them.

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Randall has the same locker as his father, the one with the “Coach Randall” nameplate already in place, and his dad’s set of keys.

“It seems like a silly thing but that’s the biggest reminder of him and of me growing up as a kid was being a gym rat and chasing my dad around and he’d give me the keys to get the balls out,” Randall said. “When he’d pull the keys out on a Saturday morning, I knew I was going to be going to the gym. And what 10-year-old boy doesn’t like to spend time in the gym with a ball and his dad?”

Steve Randall was 53 and the picture of health -- he was a biker, a swimmer, a healthy eater and a health instructor -- when he died Oct. 7, a week after a surgeon accidentally cut an artery during an angioplasty the family now believes was unnecessary.

He was only 5 foot 6, but stood as a giant of a man in the eyes of his family and the community.

Steve Randall starred in baseball, basketball and football at Boscobel (Wis.) High School and married his childhood sweetheart, Cindy, at 19. They had two small children by the time he was a senior at the University of Wisconsin, where he played baseball.

After earning his master’s in counseling at Wisconsin-Platteville, Steve Randall embarked on a high school teaching and coaching career, moving several times with his family that soon grew to four children and finally settled in Oshkosh, where he turned West High’s struggling program into a perennial powerhouse.

All of his children, including daughters Chelssee, 31, Erin, 27, and Maggie, 23, followed their father into teaching.

Lance, 33, played for his father at Iowa-Grant High School in Livingston, Wis., then starred at Beloit College. After three seasons as a Division III coach and two years overseas, he went to Saint Louis 2 1/2 years ago because his dream was to become a Division I coach so he could one day hire his father as his assistant.

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They got to do that once four years ago when Steve joined his son in Europe for 10 days.

“It was a little glimpse of what we hoped our future held,” Lance Randall said.

Everything changed on Sept. 30, 2004, when the angioplasty went awry.

A week later, Steve Randall settled in to watch the National League baseball playoffs and turned to Cindy, saying, “I don’t feel good.”

He took his last breaths and died in her arms.

“We were sweethearts and soul mates,” Cindy Randall said. “We were so happy and so lucky to be so much in love. It’s a hard thing when someone dies and it doesn’t have to happen. But somebody made a mistake. What can you do?”

Lance Randall knew exactly what he had to do.

At the funeral he realized there was a larger family that was hurting.

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“I took the job with no plans or any concerns about my career,” he said. “I did feel guilty about leaving Coach Soderberg on such short notice, though.”

Cindy Randall was thrilled, too.

“It’s like having Lance as guardian for me, for the team,” she said. “It’s still Steve’s team, but Lance is there to guide it along.”

Yet, at the same time, it’s difficult for her.

“There’s tremendous sadness every time I look and see Lance,” she said. “I’m proud. But I know why he’s here and who’s missing.”

Now Lance Randall is doing all he can to honor his father.


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