Stew would have enjoyed this sendoff
MORGANTOWN - There was a heck of a party held for Bill Stewart Friday, replete with hundreds of his closest friends, heartfelt tributes, lunch for the guests and even a 70-mile, two-hour parade to his hometown of New Martinsville, where he was buried.
It was exactly the kind of environment in which Stewart would have thrived - provided, of course, that it had been meant for someone else. He never did much care for platitudes unless he was the one directing them elsewhere.
"He'd be talking to everybody,'' said Mike Skinner, the former Grafton coach who had been close to Stewart since their days at Fairmont State and who came from Florida for Stewart's funeral. "I still can't believe it.''
Stew himself might have had a hard time believing all the fuss and the people who showed up for his funeral at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church. He died Monday of an apparent heart attack while playing golf at Stonewall Jackson Resort.
Really, how many people are celebrated by six priests and a bishop?
Who is mourned by an NFL head coach (Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin) and students from the junior class at Morgantown High?
The coaching cognoscenti ran the gamut. Rich Rodriguez brought most of the West Virginia posse from Arizona (Jeff Casteel, Bill Kirelawich, David Lockwood, Tony Gibson, Tony Dews) and most of Stewart's WVU assistants were there. But just as prevalent were high school coaches from left (Ravenswood's Mick Price) to right (Jefferson's John Serian) on your West Virginia map and all points in between.
How many people could bring together in one cathedral Pat White, Bruce Irvin and Pat McAfee? The roster of current and former players would make an all-star team.
And who is eulogized by priests and play-by-play men?
"In a world that seems to be increasingly losing perspective over what's really important, Stew had so much of a better handle on what really matters,'' Tony Caridi said in an eloquent eulogy. "He said, 'I'm going to be judged on the wins. I know that. However, what I do with these young men's lives, I'm being judged by the Master Coach. And that's why every night I lay down and sleep well.' ''
What Bill Stewart did to guide those young lives - as well as the people he touched off the field and how he treated people - all seemed to come together this week. So many people have Bill Stewart stories, but tragically it took his death to really appreciate just how far flung those people are, from virtually every walk of life.
"While Stew's time on Earth is over, his life story is just now starting to come into focus,'' Caridi said. "It's as though each person that he touched along the way is a dot. And for the very first time the dots connect. And we're all collectively learning for the first time and we're all realizing what a truly remarkable person we were living with.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.