Family, Friends, Colleagues Honor Bill Schnier

May 14, 2013

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CINCINNATI -Hundreds of family, friends and colleagues gathered at the University of Cincinnati Saturday evening to honor and celebrate men's cross country and track and field coach Bill Schnier, who will retire in June after coaching the Bearcats for 33 years.

The celebration, which took place inside UC's Great Hall at the Tangeman University Center, was led by master of ceremonies John Wagner and featured guest speakers UC Director of Athletics Whit Babcock, Emily Wolterman Herman, Muhammad Saafir, Keller Schnier and Rodney Van Johnson.

Wagner, who graduated from UC in 1971, was a graduate assistant for the men's track and field program and was immediately connected to Coach Schnier, as are most people.

"Coach Schnier had an amazing impact on my life," said UC Senior Associate Athletics Director Maggie McKinley. "He recruited me right out of high school, and I've been at the University of Cincinnati ever since. He had such a positive influence on me, and I know I wouldn't be where I am today if he wasn't a part of that at age 17."

Schnier began his career at UC in 1980 and garnered 12 team conference titles, 164 individual and relay titles, 25 NCAA Championship qualifiers, 10 All-Americans, two Olympic medalists and was named coach of the year 15 times.

Milling around the room, conversations of Schnier's character filled the Great Hall.

"I graduated with an engineering degree and was able to get a really good job with a Fortune 500 company," said former standout Antione Drakeford, who still holds the school record for the 400-meter dash. "All of that would not have been possible if Bill wouldn't have given me a scholarship... I wouldn't be where I am now, the position I'm in now or accomplish anything I did in college without Bill's advice, without his influence."

As Wagner stated, "It isn't what you say it's what you do." One thing Coach Schnier has done is stand as a father figure for the many student-athletes that have trekked UC's campus. From the videos to the side conversations, from the invocation to the speakers, it is obvious Schnier had an indelible impact on all those he encountered.

Saafir, the youngest of five children to a single mother, grew up in one of Cleveland, Ohio's poorest neighborhoods. Financially marginalized, Saafir never thought he would go to college. Two weeks after the Ohio State High School Championships, he received a call from Schnier and was given a scholarship. Saafir, who received the Best Freshman award during the 2000-01 season, is now a physician.

From Saafir and Drakeford to Rodney Van Johnson and Olympian Mary Wineberg, Schnier was the father figure they never had. Wolterman Herman, a teacher for Lakota Local Schools (Ohio) and former pole vaulter, echoed these sentiments stating, "Bill was always a father figure and great neighbor, and I was fortunate to have a coach I knew so well."

Keller Schnier knows Bill as both a father and coach. Keller, the youngest of three, thought of Bill as a "normal guy". But there is not much normal about someone who stays at one institution for 33 years, coaches thousands of student-athletes, is named Conference USA Coach of the Decade for both cross country and track and field and had 47 of UC's 53 school records set during his tenure. The stats on Bill Schnier are extraordinary, but his impact on people's lives is immeasurable.

"It is so great to see so many people from different eras and different parts of his life here," said Keller.

All the people in attendance, including his longtime mentor, Sam Bell, those who could not make it and those who have passed are a part of his team. Schnier stated that he would miss not having a team.

Keller stated, "It is true that he will not be in charge of a collection of collegiate athletes every day like he has been the last 33 years [at UC] and 46 years in coaching, but he'll always have a team.

"His team spans across decades," Keller continued. "It spans across the entire country, even internationally, across all events and across all walks of life."

The legacy of Schnier's teams will continue, thanks to Babcock who recently reinstated scholarships for the program and brought back to UC the men's indoor track and field program.

"Like everyone in the room, he's made an impact on my life in a short time and made me a better athletic director, a better person and better father," Babcock said. "We designated this whole last year `The Year in Schnier'... Moving forward the track and field offices and those suites will forever be named in honor of Bill and his family, and there's no better name to be on those."

For Babcock, Bill Schnier epitomizes character and confidence and is in the mold that has impacted lives at the level of John Wooden.

After throwing out the first pitch at the Bearcats' baseball game Saturday afternoon, Schnier was overwhelmed with the love and support from friends, family and colleagues at his celebration. Recognizing how much people have impacted him, Schnier honored those who have taught him life-long lessons.

"You're here to honor me because I've been the teacher, but anyone who's ever been a teacher knows that the teacher learns as much from the students as the students learn from the teacher," said Schnier.

"And over a thousand people who ran for me I must say thank you so much for those who listened, thanks to those who laughed with me, and at me," Schnier continued. "Thanks for all those who treated one another with kindness."

Bill Schnier may be hanging up his spikes, stopwatch and whistle, but he will never lose his fervor for life.

"I've loved all phases of my life from start to finish, and this is just one of those phases," Schnier said. "It's not going to be the last ... I look forward to the future, the unknown future, and that's the most beautiful of all - the unknown.

"All I can say to everyone here tonight, and those not here, is thank you from the bottom of my heart."

The legacy of Bill Schnier is deep-rooted and enduring. He has touched thousands of lives in his 46 years of coaching and 33 years at UC. As he leaves the program, he will remain ingrained in the makeup of UC athletics and knows once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat.