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Corona del Mar alumni rally to rename track field after longtime coach Bill Sumner

Bill Sumner is the head track and field coach at Corona del Mar.
Bill Sumner is the head track and field coach at Corona del Mar High School.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

He’s humbled by the effort on his behalf. Really, he is.

But Corona del Mar High School track and cross-country coach Bill Sumner says he doesn’t know what he did to deserve having the school’s track field named after him. He said he’s been around the campus long enough — nearly 40 years — to hear the conversations about naming the field, facility or something after him circle again and again, though they’ve never really gained any traction.

When the $14.6-million renovation on the current field began, Sumner said a few people had said it was obvious that the district was going to name the track after him.

“And I said, ‘No, it’s not obvious. What do you mean obvious? It’s not obvious to me!’” Sumner said, laughing.

“The conversation got rolling a bit more and it was the funniest thing,” Sumner said.

Some of his alumni brought the subject up at least five times at a November reunion dinner. “One of the guys ... said, ‘Get this track named after you,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. That’s not what I do. I think I gotta die before I get something named after me and I’m not signing up for any of that.’”

Bill Sumner.
Efforts have been launched by former Corona del Mar alumni to name the high school’s track after Bill Sumner, the school’s long-time track and field coach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

So, his track alumni took it upon themselves to start the process.

Josh Yelsey, who graduated in 2001, led the charge. He said renaming the track after Sumner would be a well-deserved recognition of Sumner’s career at the campus.

“Coach has helped a ton of people at that school,” said Yelsey, adding that he reached out to probably at least 1,000 alumni to support the naming effort. “It’s hard to estimate the impact that Coach has had, not just at Corona del Mar, but in the community. If you think about that track and the iterations of that field and its development, you can’t run without thinking of Coach Sumner.

“When I was there, the program had almost 200 kids. The last thing you remember if you’ve ever worked with the coach is that he would treat the kid that didn’t want to be there with as much attention and respect as he’d give his star athletes. There’s a focus on everyone… he has a real interest in providing mentorship and life skills that I think a lot of people in his position just aren’t capable of.”

Annie Beck agreed. Beck, nee St. Geme, graduated in 2006 and said she was one of at least five St. Geme children who passed through Corona del Mar’s track and cross-country program under Sumner’s tutelage.

“Coach Sumner was at my wedding,” said Beck, adding that Sumner helped her to continue running after sustaining some injuries in college. “I’m busy with three young children now so I don’t see him as much nowadays, but I consider him almost as a grandfatherly figure and he’s always been a phone call away for me. He’s always willing to let me bounce life and running off of him.”

Corona del Mar coaches and staff stand on the new track at Corona del Mar High School.
Corona del Mar coaches and staff Jeff Perry, left, Bryan Middleton, G.W. Mix, Dennis Wilbanks, Damien O’Brien, Dan O’Shea and Bill Sumner, right, stand on the new track at Corona del Mar High School in January 2021.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Beck said Yelsey reached out to her to write in a letter of recommendation to nominate Sumner and that she was more than happy to do so, though she adds she was surprised it’s taken this long before he was considered for such an honor.

“Obviously, the accolades are the more obvious, tangible credentials, but I think he has touched so many people. Josh and I are kind of the 1%. We are the elite athletes…but I’ve crossed paths now that I’m back in the area with some of my peers from high school who mentioned him as having had an impact on their lives and steered them straight, so to speak.

“He had an open door policy. As long as you showed up, you could be part of the track and cross-country team. I’m still in awe of the crowd he draws for his summer runs. It’s a requirement to join cross-country, but you’ll see kids running along [Pacific Coast Highway] at 6:30 in the morning, Monday through Friday most of the summer.”

Beck said the summer runs are about 10 weeks long and usually include aspiring athletes, but also the kids trailing at the back of the crowd that are trying to avoid physical education classes.

“He inspires them. Sure, there’s always the crew that has their parents forcing them into it. But there are alternative activities and I’ve just always been impressed by how many kids he could rally out there in the summers. People show up for him,” she said.

From left, coach Kayvan Aminzadeh, Tanner Touchard, Cooper Hoch, David Rasor, Jason Plumb and head coach Bill Sumner.
From left, coach Kayvan Aminzadeh, Tanner Touchard, Cooper Hoch, David Rasor, Jason Plumb and head coach Bill Sumner pose for a group photo after Corona del Mar finished first in Heat 1 of the boys 4x100 meter-relay during the Laguna Beach Trophy Invitational at Laguna Beach High School earlier this month.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

A survey went out to the Newport-Mesa community on March 23 and closed on Friday to solicit input on naming the track after Sumner, though it is unclear when the item itself might go up for consideration by the school district’s board of trustees.

Sumner said he doesn’t know if anything will come of it, though he’s heard from some people who were convinced his retirement from coaching is coming hand-in-hand with the effort.

“Some people are saying this is a sign of my retiring, but I don’t think it is,” he said. “Right now, I’m looking at April 26th, which is league finals. The more kids I can get to league, the more kids I can get to CIF. That’s the biggest thing on my plate. Not retiring, not planning any funerals — none of that stuff.

“I’m extremely, extremely humbled by [the field renaming effort]. I’m kind of a servant of the people. I call myself that because I don’t worry about it. If you gotta give a kid a ride somewhere or give a kid a pair of shoes, I’ve kind of been doing that. I took that role a long long time ago. I didn’t expect — I don’t expect it. I’m humbled by it and the more I think about it, how did those people get those names on their stadiums, facilities and fields? I don’t know.

“I guess I’ve been around long enough. I don’t remember doing anything that would make me that person. I do one day at a time. I do as much as I can a day. I wake up at 5 in the morning every day and I enjoy it. Coaching’s better than working.”

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