Ken Lampert, a 1972 Norfolk Academy graduate who coached the Bulldogs' track and cross country teams for more than four decades with a distinctive blend of dedication and humor that inspired thousands of student-athletes, passed away on Wednesday.
Coach Lampert had boundless passion for running and immense stamina: He coached three seasons a year from 1976 through this past winter track season, a total of 130 straight seasons over 44 years. Under his guidance, the Bulldogs met with extraordinary success, earning 86 Tidewater Conference championships and nine state championships.
However, his loving nature is what left the greatest mark on his student-athletes, who numbered more than 5,000 over the years.
“Ken was the Bulldog of all Bulldogs — our Lou Gehrig or Iron Man," said Headmaster Dennis Manning. “Ken epitomized and embodied what selfless service to your fellow man and woman truly means."
Ellie Vest '16 helped NA win a state track title in the spring of her senior season. Once she went on to college, she dealt with injuries. Coach Lampert kept in touch regularly, keeping her spirits up and helping her get ready to compete again. When she walked on to the team at Virginia Tech, he followed her results live online, then texted encouragement.
Now a junior at Tech — Coach Lampert's alma mater — Vest said his help went well beyond the track. When one of her relatives passed away, he was there offering encouragement.
“He was my biggest supporter," Vest said. “He just cared so much about each of his athletes."
David Rushing '08 still fondly recalls Coach Lampert's daily talks with his team. Whether he was discussing the finer points of track or his Hokies' football prospects, he kept the mood light and fun, and made students feel like they were part of a family.
Rushing went on to compete at George Mason University. He loved flying, and Coach encouraged him to consider joining the U.S. Air Force. When Rushing applied, Coach wrote a letter of recommendation, and was “a huge influence" on his gaining admittance.
“Truly one of the greats in terms of the whole person concept you would want in a coach," said Rushing, who is now a captain in the Air Force.
Jennifer Byrd '01 remembers Coach reinforcing triple jump technique with her on bus rides to meets. “There was never any down time for him," she said. When she was applying for college, he assembled recruiting packets and was able to include statistics from seventh grade onward.
With Lampert's support, Byrd went on to compete at Princeton University. He was more than just a coach though, Byrd said. He was like family. She remembers a time when a teammates' home burned, and he immediately organized a group to clean up.
“Everything he did was for the kids," Byrd said.
In addition to coaching, Mr. Lampert was a skilled meet director who officiated and scheduled on his own. He organized and ran many events free of charge.
“Ken’s direct manner or affect belied an intense and deep love of his fellow man and woman — as well as a wickedly wry sense of humor," Mr. Manning said. “Ken was also notorious for attention to detail. He maintained encyclopedic records on thousands of athletes, and he took great pride in running the most efficient cross country and track meets in the state."
Upon his graduation from Virginia Tech, Mr. Lampert began a 44-year career as a financial planner with MassMutual. Among his many philanthropic efforts, he was board treasurer for Eggleston Services, which provides education, training, and employment for people with disabilities.
Mr. Lampert — who never took pay for all his coaching — started NA's girls programs in track and cross country. He won numerous Coach of the Year awards. Because of his excellence, he received the Norfolk Sports Club’s Unsung Hero award in 2008. In 2016, he was inducted into the Tidewater Striders Hall of Fame.
Personal accolades did not drive him, though.
“He didn't care about certificates," said Chad Byler, Director of Athletics. “He was about the kids. He was just so dedicated to the kids."
Mr. Lampert was the beloved husband of Sarah Martin Lampert. He is survived by his children: Ted Lampert '99 and wife Lori; Zach Lampert '01; and Katie Lampert Kessler '05 and husband Ben. All three children ran for their father for six years at NA.
Zach Lampert later helped his dad coach for about a decade.
Zach said his father taught many lessons beyond running. Through his daily example, his father demonstrated the importance of tending to the details. “Do the little things first so they don't become big things," was a common expression.
His father would also remind athletes to thank officials after meets, and would often hear back from those officials about how gracious the NA team had been.
He also emphasized that track and cross country are team — not individual — sports, Zach said. He was an excellent motivator, who would reinforce positives by telling people what they did right before hitting on what needed correcting. He was also good at managing emotions — congratulating students after good events and helping them move on after bad ones.
“He just really liked helping people," Zach said.
Chris McCarthy '88 competed for Mr. Lampert for six years. Coach's emphasis on team was the reason the Bulldogs won so much, McCarthy said. He treated everyone the same, whether they were the most or least gifted.
McCarthy remained friends with his coach, even after moving to the Richmond area. Every year, he'd hear about a student going through a rough patch off the track.
“He was always the coach who was there for those students," McCarthy said. “Just like he would for a family member."
Click here to read a Virginian-Pilot tribute to Coach Lampert.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations may be made to The Eggleston Foundation’s Ken Lampert Memorial (1161 Ingleside Rd., Norfolk, VA 23502, 757-858-8011) or to Norfolk Academy, c/o The Ken Lampert ’72 Endowment Fund (1585 Wesleyan Drive, Norfolk, VA 23502, 757-461-6236). An online guestbook and future memorial service details are available at hdoliver.com.