Tom York, a teacher-coach for 17 years who gained students' respect and appreciation by offering tough but unconditional love along with his lessons, passed away last week.
Mr. York served at Norfolk Academy from 1989 until 2006. He taught math, was Varsity Football Head Coach - guiding the Bulldogs to 13 TCIS championships - and assisted in Norfolk Academy's basketball and lacrosse programs. He was also Director of Athletics for four years.
Mary Werkheiser started as a teacher-coach the same year as Mr. York. Coach Werkheiser, who is still at NA and has won multiple state championships, called Mr. York her mentor in coaching. They were together on the lacrosse staff for a few seasons, and she recalls how much fun he made practices and games.
He was also dedicated to his teaching, and would spend some Saturday and Sunday mornings tutoring on campus.
“He was the heart and soul of Norfolk Academy athletics," Ms. Werkheiser said.
Steven Goldburg '04 studied eighth grade algebra with Mr. York, who later coached him for three seasons in football. Now a teacher-coach at Academy himself, Mr. Goldburg still remembers his old Coach's popular phrases.
If a student forgot homework, he'd bellow “My name is T-O-M. Not M-O-M!" On the field he'd yell “Run it again!" until a play looked exactly right.
Students enjoyed being in Mr. York's class and on his teams, though, because he knew when to switch gears from stern to warm and comforting.
“He was extremely tough and demanding," Mr. Goldburg said. “But he was as loving a teacher as you could imagine."
Chazz Woodson '01 also benefited from Mr. York's rigorous approach in algebra, as well as football and basketball. Mr. Woodson still fondly remembers the final football game of his junior year. The Bulldogs lost to an outstanding Fork Union Military Academy squad, but Woodson played his best game of the season.
As soon as the game ended, Coach came over to congratulate him. He also reminded him that he was always capable of that kind of performance.
Now a teacher and lacrosse coach in Florida, Mr. Woodson applies many of the lessons he learned from Coach York. Among them are the five P’s: Prior planning prevents poor performance.
“He was as tough a coach as anyone I ever had," Mr. Woodson said. “But you also knew he cared. And he was very quick to show that. One of the best people I've ever been around."
Claude Diggs '98 came to NA in seventh grade, and first got to know Mr. York as a math teacher who was always there, helping to make sure he learned the material. In 10th grade, Diggs got to know him as a football coach who pushed him to excel.
“To say the least he changed my life," Diggs said. “I never thought I was good enough to play at the next level but he did. He saw potential in me where I did not."
Diggs went on to play at the University of Richmond, then had a stint in the National Football League.
“It all started with an algebra teacher who was hard on me, believed in me in the classroom and on the field," Diggs said.
Mr. York was a 1970 graduate of the University of Massachusetts, where he was a captain on the football team and earned all-conference honors. He later earned a master's degree from Springfield College, then taught and coached at institutions in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Florida before joining the Norfolk Academy family. He was a teacher-coach for a few years at Hampton Roads Academy after his time at NA.
He has two children who graduated from NA: Andrew York '94 and Stephanie Warren '96.
Chad Byler, who is now Director of Athletics, was an athletic trainer for the football team during part of Mr. York's tenure. The Bulldogs earned plenty of impressive wins under Coach York - Mr. Byler still remembers a 1996 upset of FUMA in which NA rallied from a 20-0 deficit.
But what stands out more is the way Coach treated student-athletes. He'd ask them constantly about their families and made sure they were doing well off the field.
“He loved kids," Mr. Byler said. “He did it for the kids."
Witt Borum played against Coach York in football when he attended St. Christopher's School. When Mr. Borum came to NA in 2002, he taught eighth grade math alongside Mr. York and was one of his assistant coaches.
A large presence, Mr. York would “Bring Out the Bear," displaying a deep, bellowing voice to grab his students' attention. But once he had that attention, he had a knack for turning into a kind, sweet teddy bear, quick to give big hugs.
“That was a magical talent that he had," Mr. Borum said.
Gary Laws, a longtime Middle School Director, held that post the entire time Mr. York was at NA. What made him successful was that he didn't just teach math and coach sports, Mr. Laws said.
Mr. York did both those things extremely well. But he also taught students invaluable life skills, like character, integrity, and discipline.“They knew he absolutely was on their side," Mr. Laws said, “helping them become stronger people."
Headmaster Dennis Manning also highlighted Mr. York's dedication and the impact he made.
“Like the decorated college football player and lineman he was, Coach York would run through a wall for his students and athletes," Mr. Manning said. “He poured every ounce of himself into teaching, coaching, challenging, and inspiring them all — and they appreciated, respected, and loved him for it."
The Virginian-Pilot also wrote a tribute article on Coach York.
As noted in his obituary, gifts in honor of Coach York may be made to Norfolk Academy.