“He loved what he did,” says alumni runner Mrs. Leah Genuario. “He was incredibly passionate about cross country.”
Back in 1987, Mr. Apol inherited the role of Eastern Christian High School’s newest cross country coach. With a rag-tag group of high school students, he and his team managed to pull off a 6-10 season for the boys and a 4-5 season for the girls. While these records are fairly average, they kicked off a lengthy and respected career for the young Mr. Apol. “In cross country, we’ve won 7 guys league titles and 5 girls league titles in the county, where we are very disadvantaged,” Mr. Apol remembers. “It’s amazing what a little, teeny school like us can do.”
Over his thirty-three year career, Mr. Apol coached three generations of runners that came in all shapes and sizes. He also grew and learned many things from his starting point in 1987.
“You’d think that by the time you’ve been teaching for 30+ years, you would have the same style of coaching,” he reflects. “This is completely different. You are going to see changes and different methods through the learning that you go through.”
Mrs. Genuario, who was on one of his teams in the late 1990s, recalls his persistence and determination to improve his athletes. “I remember when I told him where I took a short break to rest at the Garret Mountain races,” she says. “For the next couple of meets, he went and parked himself at that spot so that I wouldn’t stop to walk.”
Mr. Apol is not only known for his contributions to the cross country team; he is also remembered for his creativity and unique ideas. For instance, he created “ice cream times,” specialized goals set for each athlete that, once achieved, would reward them with an ice cream treat. Other activities like “Foxes and Hounds,” a game in which the cross country team has to chase a handful of members around the woods, are yearly traditions that the runners always look forward to.
“I think the most fond memory I have was at cross country camp and the amount of fun we had on our hikes,” remembers cross country runner Luke Parker. “The conversations we had in the halls were also a lot of fun.”
Mr. Apol not only impacted the athletes he coached; he also inspired those that he worked and coached with as well.
Eastern Christian’s athletics director, Mr. Barry Veenstra, remembers how different Mr. Apol was compared to other coaches. “He was selfless, unique, and sacrificial,” he says. “He gave up his time, weekends, and evenings. He was always willing to go the extra mile for the sake of his team.”
“Coaching with Mr. Apol was always fun,” reflects the current EC cross country coach, Mr. Stephen Bailey. “I think that’s the biggest thing. He was really good at balancing a fun and dynamic team experience while also keeping a level head, being able to tell athletes what did and didn’t matter.”
For his final season, Mr. Apol trained an outstanding team of young, enthusiastic runners. With his 33 year coaching career concluded, Mr. Apol left an impressive and inspiring legacy that has impacted every athlete he has coached in some way.
Mrs. Genuario, when asked to describe him in one word, concluded that he was a passionate person. “He fiercely loves his students and athletes. He cared about them as both runners and people,” she says.
“A lesson I learned from him was that even the most broken toys are fixable,” says Luke Parker. “He could always find a person and want to help them improve, no matter how tough their situation was. He wanted to make them better people, not just better athletes.”
Coach Bailey remembers how Mr. Apol was able to focus on his athletes as individuals and train them according to what they wanted to achieve. “He managed to look at the big picture and not just the single season, which ended up making very competitive and respectable teams.”
“He invited me and others to think about what high school athletics should be about,” reflects Mr. Veenstra. “Too often high school coaches make it about themselves and the amount of wins they achieved. Coach Apol was different. He always made it about the athletes. He emphasized not only doing your best, but being your best. Because of that, I can say that in the 40 years that I’ve been here, Mr. Apol was easily the best coach Eastern Christian has ever had.”
When asked what he learned the most through his career, Mr. Apol said that it is the life lessons that are the most important thing that will be remembered. “Nobody is going to remember the medals. They will end up in a drawer in a couple of years and be completely forgotten about. Those things don’t matter. Sports are practice for life. Sports experiences can help you throughout your life and bolster you in ways you never thought.”