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Community mourns former Woodstock, Hartford lacrosse coach Bill Elberty

  • Hartford High boys lacrosse coach Bill Elberty on July 26, 2010. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • As the setting sun casts long shadows on the players, Bill Elberty kicks the ball downfield toward the end of a summer soccer league game on July 30, 2007. (Valley News - Nicholas Richer) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bob Potter, of Wilder, steadies a vase of flowers that had fallen over at a memorial for Hartford High School independent learning teacher and lacrosse coach Bill Elberty in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. He had just a great attitude about life,” said Potter, who taught history at Hartford High until retiring in 2009. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kassady Smith, of White River Junction left, with her son Theodore Marsh, and mother Mari Destellano, middle, talk with Hartford social studies teacher Alexis Nelson, and her daughter Odette Schleigher, right, at a memorial for Bill Elberty in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. Smith, a 2016 Hartford High graduate, worked with Elberty in the Quest program for independent learning. “He was the one that always pushed everyone to graduate,” said Smith. “He knew how to reach kids and help them,” said Destellano. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tributes to Hartford High independent learning teacher and lacrosse coach Bill Elberty are left at a memorial at the school’s athletic fields in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford High School Assistant Principal Jeff Moreno reads a framed saying left by social studies teacher Alexis Nelson, of Lyme, left, during a visit with her daughter Odette to a memorial for lacrosse coach Bill Elberty in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Robin Martin, assistant to the Hartford High School principal, steps away after visiting a memorial to independent learning teacher and lacrosse coach Bill Elberty in White River Junction, Vt., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. “He was one of the really good ones,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard because he was just here.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2020 9:36:59 PM
Modified: 5/20/2020 9:36:50 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — It’s a normal thing for Grant Whiteway to work on his lacrosse skills on a sunny spring afternoon. Doing so on Wednesday seemed wholly appropriate.

A half-staff Hartford High flag waved in a light breeze as Whiteway thumped a ball off of an elastic pitchback, retrieved it off the ground and fired into an adjacent goal.

About 150 yards away, on the high school football and lacrosse field, another net stood covered in jerseys and surrounded by flowers, various balls, a captain’s armband, a welder’s helmet and multiple other trinkets, all set beside pictures of Bill Elberty, who was Whiteway’s co-coach with the Hartford boys lacrosse program the past three years.

Elberty died suddenly on Monday night at the age of 66. He would have been in his 11th year on the sidelines with the Hurricanes and his 15th as a high school varsity lacrosse coach had the spring season not been canceled by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Just as a coach and a mentor to the kids, there couldn’t have been anyone better,” Whiteway said on Tuesday night. “He was a genuine person, and the kids loved him. He’s a great lacrosse coach and an even better person.”

Hartford High officials spent Tuesday setting up a remembrance of Elberty, who also oversaw the school’s QUEST program for at-risk students.

The school invited anyone to the field to leave keepsakes and messages in Elberty’s memory.

Whiteway said there was a steady flow of mourners to the memorial — arranged around the perimeter of a painted Hurricane logo — that continued to draw visitors on Wednesday.

“Boy, it’s been a tough couple of days,” Hartford principal Nelson Fogg said. “What we’ve seen over the last two days is really what we sort of knew about the people Bill touched. It’s very clear that Bill had a mission in life, and that was to impact young people.

“He did some of that on a soccer pitch, he did some of that on a lacrosse field and he did a lot of work in a classroom or working the hallways. His life is a testament to the way he cared for all of us, really.”

According to his LinkedIn profile, Elberty earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling and administration from St. Lawrence University. He went on to a career in coaching, teaching and administration, with significant amounts of time at schools or with programs working with exceptional needs students.

Elberty also posted a 119-92 record as a varsity lacrosse coach. Although he never won a Vermont Principals Association state championship, he maintained Woodstock High’s competitive Division I reputation during a four-year stint there in the mid-2000s and, more recently, helped build Hartford into a regular D-II contender.

“Bill was always an old-school gentleman coach,” recalled former Lebanon High boys lacrosse coach Star Johnson, who now organizes the annual Byrne Cup senior all-star game for the Hanover Lions. “He took a very ... scholarly approach to the game and was a great sportsman, very gracious and complimentary. He was a good guy.”

Elberty’s first varsity lacrosse coaching stint came at Woodstock when he took over for Neal Lantz in 2004. Three candidates couldn’t accept the position for various reasons. Officials approached Elberty and convinced him to take it. He accumulated a 50-14 record in four seasons, the first three of which the Wasps were seeded either first or second in the D-I state tournament.

With his son Liam’s graduation in 2008, Elberty resigned from coaching to open the door for Brandon Little to take over.

“He was my first coaching mentor,” Little said on Tuesday in a halting voice. “I had coaches who were mentors when I was a player, but he was always the first coach that taught me so much about the game, about athletics and kids and reaching so many kids.”

“He coached hockey, middle school lacrosse, soccer; he affected more kids than anybody I know has,” added Little, who ended his own Woodstock boys lax coaching run last spring after 11 seasons. “We had no idea how much of an effect he had on so many people.”

Elberty took over the Hartford program in 2010, two years after joining the faculty. It took a while to build success, but the Canes made back-to-back D-III finals in 2016 and ’17 and remained a tough out upon a return to D-II right after that.

Working side by side with Whiteway, the Canes reached the D-II semifinals the last two years. They also produced the program’s first career 200-point scorer in Reece Thompson last spring. The Canes were 69-78 in Elberty’s 10 seasons with them, 43-20 the last four campaigns.

“He had a big, old handshake that would make you cry and a hug that you knew he meant it,” Hartford vice principal and athletic director Jeff Moreno said. “He was a very physical character, a physical specimen for (his age). He could give any of our athletes the business.”

Elberty also connected with students without the need of a stick or whistle. QUEST gave Elberty the ability to use online tools to help students progress, Moreno said. Fogg said Elberty was “sort of a Swiss Army knife. ... His rich background as an educator allowed him to support math students as much as English students as much as science students.”

“He gets people, he understands humans, he understands human nature,” Moreno noted. “He’s a great storyteller. If half of his stories are true, he’s lived seven lifetimes’ worth of adventures that helped him understand what kids were going through in their heads and why school wasn’t a priority. He was good at connecting them with the ground and keeping there for enough time to make some meaning out of their educations.”

That’s why a welder’s helmet belonged in a space surrounded by athletic equipment and Elberty’s photographs on Wednesday.

“He would just create an awesome bond with the kids,” Whiteway said. “I’ve been calling and talking to some of the kids who have graduated the last couple of years, and they all love him. He’s an awesome guy.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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