Longtime Corona del Mar High cross-country and track and field coach Bill Sumner proclaims himself not to be “an awards guy,” even though he has won many in his career.
So when he got a call notifying him that the Pat Summitt Leadership Group wanted to honor him for his years of community service, Sumner was reluctant to accept the honor.
What pushed him over the edge was thinking about everyone who had helped him make a difference along the way.
“When they called me and told me about this award, I started thinking about all the people who have helped me,” Sumner said. “I’m going, ‘You know what, I’m just going to comb my hair, put on a suit, and go get the award at the Staples Center for all of the people who have helped me.’ ”
The Los Angeles Sparks held a tribute night for the late, great Tennessee Lady Volunteers women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt on Thursday as they hosted the Phoenix Mercury at Staples Center.
Before going into the locker room at halftime, Sparks forward Candace Parker, a two-time national champion at Tennessee, gave an interview in which she said her former college coach’s legacy went beyond the wins on the court.
An awards ceremony then took place, recognizing individuals who have made a difference in their profession and community. Sumner received the honor in the “sports and coaching” category.
Sumner, of course, has a track record of success, having coached his teams to 18 CIF Southern Section championships, nine CIF State crowns and two national titles. He has coached at CdM since 1984.
In the community, Sumner has also made his mark. He co-founded the Cal Coast running club, and at the age of 71, he can still be found running the surrounding road races.
It was also important to Sumner and his wife, Mary Ellen, that they help introduce others to their passion of exercise. Their work with the Cynthia Holcomb Magic Shoe Foundation has helped facilitate that goal.
The couple, who have been together for 38 years, helped get shoes into the hands of the less fortunate. The organization collects new and gently-used shoes, cleans and sanitizes them, and gives them to adults and children in need.
Sumner’s efforts have helped the foundation donate roughly 110,000 pairs of shoes over the past 37 years. He said they distribute around 200 pairs of shoes weekly.
“My wife has taken over a big chunk of this thing the last 12 years, doing the cleaning,” Sumner said. “I love handing out shoes. I felt special when I would take shoes to kids. It felt good.
“Cleaning them and sanitizing them and all that, it wasn’t so much fun — dirty old stinky shoes. I have a 15-passenger van. I’ve had it fully loaded from collecting used shoes, and all I had room for was myself in the van to drive to the laundromat to clean them.”
Sumner insisted those who have helped make the Magic Shoe Foundation a success cannot be forgotten, maintaining that he is just the driver.
“It’s not a Bill Sumner award,” he said. “It’s got my name on it, but when you think about it long and hard, I’ve had a lot of help.”
Growing up in Baldwin Park, Sumner had the mentality that he needed to make his own breaks. He bought his first pair of running shoes by saving up from collecting recyclable bottles.
As he has gotten older, Sumner has been humbled by the willing participants that have contributed to the cause.
“You don’t have to be embarrassed to ask for help because that’s the only way you’re going to get it,” Sumner said. “You have to ask for it. Every time that I turn around, I’m humbled by the people that are helping me.”
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