Lasting legacy: Community gathers to remember Coach Chrisman

Page News and Courier

LURAY, Oct. 4 ― Hundreds of community members packed the Luray Middle School gymnasium last Tuesday to remember the life of a longtime coach, mentor and teacher ― and to celebrate a lasting legacy.

Michael “Coach” Chrisman, of Luray, died on Friday, Sept. 30. He was 64. He is survived by his wife, Kathy Teresa Thomason, and two sons, Cliff and Michael Chrisman, both of Luray.

“He was one of those coaches and teachers that never gave up on anyone,” remembered Mary Alice Crews, who had Chrisman as a coach and earth science teacher at Luray High School in the 1980s. “He genuinely cared about every person that he came across.”

Dr. Paul Johnson, who also ran track and cross-country in the 1980s under Chrisman's leadership, remembered the coach as “a friend.”

“Mike Chrisman displayed unconditional love for an unconditional length of time,” said Johnson. “Mike taught me how to live and he taught me how to endure.”

Crews and Johnson reflected on Chrisman's impact in the community as they spoke during a memorial service last Tuesday. Those in attendance donned maroon and white at the family's request in honor of Chrisman's bulldog pride.

“I don't know that there's anybody in the community that's had a wider spread impact,” said Superintendent for Page County Public Schools Donna Whitley-Smith. “I never saw Mike when he wasn't positive or pleasant. He was always kind to everybody.”

In June 2009, Chrisman retired as a teacher from Page County Public Schools after 35 years of service, during which time he served as a track and field and cross country coach at Luray High School. He continued coaching after his retirement.

Before Tuesday's memorial service, students and coaches ran a pre-meet mile at the track at Bulldog Field in honor of the coach. It is believed that Chrisman's final run was a 10:53 mile. Participants in the memorial mile ran it in that exact time.

Both Crews and Johnson not only attribute Coach Chrisman's influence in their continued love of running ― but their children's interest in the sport. Johnson and Crews each have a child in the eighth grade, said Crews, who Chrisman was coaching.

Chrisman additionally inspired Crews and Johnson as educators. Crews is a teacher at Springfield Elementary, while Johnson serves as director of human resources and administration for the school system.

During Tuesday's memorial service, Crews recalled her first day of cross country practice, her reluctancy to run and Chrisman's encouragement.

“That's just the way Coach made running feel,” said Crews. “When he said the word 'run,' it felt like a privilege.”

Johnson reflected on a 35-year friendship with Chrisman. Between 1981 and 1985, Johnson said he and the coach logged 5,000 miles or more during school runs, 10K's and marathons ― including the 10th annual Marine Corps Marathon in 1985. Chrisman achieved his lifelong goal of completing the course in under three hours.

“If our relationship was just a running story, I guess it would come to a quick end,” Johnson said. “However, it was much more than that. You see, Mike Chrisman took an interest in me as a person.”

Following the service, many shared stories of how Chrisman shaped and influenced their lives personally. Others took to Facebook to share memories and reflect.

“He saw us as all as students, and always did his best by us all,” one former student posted. “I can truly say knowing him made me a better person.”

A former track runner noted that Chrisman was “the best part about being on the team,” while another remembered his kindness, sense of humor and guitar playing: “He always knew you when he saw you out and always spoke to you.”

And another reflected on the span of Chrisman's influence in the community in her Facebook post.

“[He was] a great man ― a father, husband, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a great friend and honorable man all the way around.Today, tomorrow and the days to come ― our hearts bleed maroon and white” for Coach Chrisman.

As Crews continued sharing memories during last week's memorial service, she told those in attendance that after hearing of Chrisman's passing, she reached out to his wife.

“I asked her, 'Is there anything that we can do?'” said Crews. “She said, 'Just be a little bit better because of him.'

“And he really did do that,” Crews continued. “He didn't just coach. He didn't just teach. He gave so much of who he was that you couldn't help but be a little bit better because you knew him.”

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