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Bill Sumner honored as CdM track to be named after Sea Kings’ longtime coach

Bill Sumner, the Corona del Mar High School cross-country and track and field coach, stands during a meeting on Tuesday.
Bill Sumner, the Corona del Mar High School cross-country and track and field coach, stands in appreciation during a school board meeting after the board voted unanimously to name the new track after Sumner on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

After a groundswell of support to recognize Bill Sumner, the new track at Corona del Mar High School — at which he has coached for parts of five decades — will bear his name.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously at its meeting Tuesday evening to name the facility after the decorated coach, drawing applause from those who had come to see Sumner honored.

Sumner, who is in his 39th season of coaching the cross-country and track and field programs at the school, was surrounded by about a dozen fans — including past runners from multiple generations.

“Coach Sumner’s ability to ensure that all of his athletes are made to feel significant can be life-changing for teens, and it was for mine,” Ruth Kobayashi said prior to the vote. “There is no one who epitomizes the values of our district, the hopes and dreams of our athletes and the inspiration to an entire community more than Coach Bill Sumner. Coach Sumner’s name on that track will be a reminder of those values, hopes and that inspiration for generations to come.”

Bill Sumner and his wife Mary Ellen pose for a photo with supporters on Tuesday.
Bill Sumner and his wife Mary Ellen pose for a photo with supporters after the Newport-Mesa school board voted unanimously to name the new track at Corona del Mar after him on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The legendary coach got to his feet — nothing new for someone often seen competing in community running events with his Cal Coast Track Club — and acknowledged the board after the vote. He then stepped outside and stopped to take pictures with the group that attended the meeting in hopes of seeing the track named after him.

“He’s been instrumental to so many families,” Board Trustee Karen Yelsey said. “I’ve known him for about 25 years, but I only knew him because my son started running. He’s become, over that time, a very close family friend.

“In fact, I tell people, besides my husband and myself, there’s no one who has had more influence on my son’s life, and he is now turning 40. … I know a lot of people in this community can say the same thing.”

Board Clerk Carol Crane, who also had a daughter run for Sumner, noted the characteristic that stands out for her regarding Sumner is his humility.

Bill Sumner, right, shakes hands with Dr. Kirk Bauermeister during a school board meeting on Tuesday.
Bill Sumner, right, the Corona del Mar High School cross-country and track and field coach, shakes hands with Dr. Kirk Bauermeister during a school board meeting on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“You inspire because you lead by example, and you don’t ever ask for anything in return, so thank you for inspiring our kids,” Crane said to Sumner in the audience.

The testimony shared at the meeting clearly indicated Sumner will be remembered as much, if not more, for the relationships he has established with his pupils as he will be for the accomplishments of his teams.

Bill Sumner, a Sea Kings cross-country and track and field coach, was recognized for his leadership in the field of coaching and sports at a Los Angeles Sparks game.

“It makes sense,” Sumner said. “You don’t think about it until you hear it, but I don’t go to practice and say, ‘How many first-place wins can we get today?’ But I also never forget about it. I’m a lot more competitive than people know because I hold my cards close to my chest.”

Collectively, Sumner’s teams have claimed 18 CIF titles and eight state championships.

Bill Sumner and his wife Mary Ellen pose for photos.
Bill Sumner and his wife Mary Ellen pose for photos after the Newport-Mesa school board voted unanimously to name the new track at Corona del Mar after Sumner on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

His community service has also extended to the Cynthia Holcomb Magic Shoe Foundation. The founder of the organization, Sumner and his wife Mary Ellen have collected, cleaned and distributed new and gently used shoes to people in need for decades.

Sumner said the reason he has remained in coaching for so long is to help people.

“This is the way I make a decision,” Sumner said. “I look and I say, ‘OK, this guy is voting this way, this guy is voting that way. I’m the [tie-breaking] vote.’ If it doesn’t hurt anybody but it helps somebody, I’m in. If it hurts somebody, I’m off. I’m out of the picture. That’s the whole thing. That’s why I coach.

“… That’s the path I take. I want to teach them how to get something done. I want to teach the kids to move up. I want to teach them how to be stuff, be things, do things.”

Supporters cheer for Bill Sumner after the school board voted unanimously to name the new track after him on Tuesday.
Supporters cheer for Bill Sumner, the Corona del Mar High School cross-country and track and field coach, after the school board voted unanimously to name the new track after Sumner on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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