Sports fans and writers tend to throw around the word “legend” rather freely when, in fact, very few people actually live up to that moniker. Roger Fuller was one of those people. A native of Newburyport and an iconic track coach at Methuen High School, Fuller passed away April 5.

The UMass Amherst grad was a science teacher at Methuen High School for 34 years. In that time span and for 46 years altogether, he coached cross-country, indoor track & field, and spring track & field on Ranger Road. 

An MHS Athletic Hall of Famer, Fuller was inducted into the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Hall of Fame in 2013 and was recognized with numerous awards including the National Federation of State High School Coaches Association indoor track Northeast Coach of the Year in 2017.

Yes, the word “legend” definitely fits, but in speaking with some of Fuller’s former athletes, I believe the word “impact” is just as appropriate.

“I ran for Coach Fuller from 1979 to 1983,” says Methuen’s Tim Vermette. “Thanks to Coach, we won two Merrimack Valley Conference titles, cross-country in 1982 and indoor track in 1983. He positively affected my life and the lives of so many runners as a coach and a person.”

MHS Hall of Famer Chris Cameron ran for Fuller, graduating in 1984. He has been coaching runners for 32 years and is the head cross country coach/assistant track & field coach at  Merrimack College. He relates, “Coach Fuller was like a father figure to me my whole life. His impact on myself and countless others is so profound that it’s difficult to put into words.

“To me, he was the perfect mentor. He was always there to support me and also showed me tough love when I needed it the most. He helped inspire me to be a coach, and I still find myself using many of the lessons he taught.”

Cameron’s 1984 classmate and teammate Paul Hickey agrees: “Roger Fuller literally made me the man I am today instilling in us determination, perseverance and teamwork. I owe Roger not just the results of long-ago high school and college track performances, but my career and family. 

 “What I am forever grateful for is that he introduced teenage me to a group of boys who grew to be lifelong friends, men I admire deeply. For that I’ll never have the words to express my gratitude.”

The late 1970s and early 1980s marked a golden era of Ranger runners.

“Competing for MHS on the cross-country and track teams at MHS was truly a gift,” says Cameron. “All of us were so fortunate to have two legends in Coach Fuller and Larry Klimas guiding us through our formative years.

“Coach Fuller and I became lifelong friends and I will always cherish our friendship. I will never forget the impact he had on me and so many others. I know I speak for all of us when I say we love and miss him dearly.”

Fuller’s impact spanned generations. Current MHS track coach Kevin Alliette competed for Fuller and shares some memories: “Coach Fuller was everything. He changed so many lives by being there for his athletes and believing in them. I will never forget all the time that I got to spend with him over the past 29 years. He and Coach Bill James changed my life. I do what I do today because of what those two did for me and continue to do for me to this day.

“We don’t all have perfect families growing up, but the family that was created when I started running for Methuen High School is as strong as ever. I will spend some time in Maudslay in Newburyport this summer logging miles and chatting with Coach Fuller in his favorite place.” 

Shortly after Fuller’s passing, Dave Kazanjian, longtime co-owner of Whirlaway Sports Center in Methuen, and another of Fuller’s outstanding runners, posted a heartfelt tribute on Facebook.

“If you were a distance runner in the last 50 years at Methuen High School and mention the word, ‘Coach,’ it only meant one person: Roger Fuller,” wrote Kazanjian who also coached at MHS and runs the Whirlaway Racing Team. “It was like we were all in an exclusive fraternity; some have even called it the University of Roger. Coach taught me what words like dedication, discipline, determination, and desire really meant. He always knew how to take the dark days and tough races and somehow still made you feel good about yourself. The lessons he taught have helped me through my whole life.”

Kazanjian hits at the heart of Fuller’s true impact. “He was so invested in his athletes. He had a way of making every single person on the team feel special and included, whether you scored or not, no matter how fast or slow, first or last, talented or not, you were part of the team.

“Coach passing away feels unreal. I’ve thought about how someone so selfless could have such an extraordinary impact. I will miss his laugh and sense of humor. He was loved and will be missed.”

From 1975-79 under the tutelage of Fuller, Kazanjian’s cross-country, indoor and outdoor track teams posted an astounding 107-9 record. As a senior, Kazanjian captained three undefeated teams (cross-country, indoor and outdoor track) logging a 29-0 record and helping to bring Methuen High School its first ever Dalton Trophy for multi-sport excellence.

After his final cross-country season with Fuller in the fall of 1978, Kazanjian penned this poem in tribute to his coach. It is only fitting to end with these lines from that ode:

You’re always there when the going gets tough,
When things seem uphill, and it’s getting rough.
Pulling me up when I was down,
Making a smile out of a frown. 

Yes, the smiles the fun and even the pain,
The season is over, but the memories remain.
Time has come the season must end, To Mr. Fuller,
A coach, a runner, but most of all A Friend.

 

John Molori is an author, columnist, and a 2011 inductee into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame. Facebook: John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email molorimedia@gmail.com