By Jeff Holt
Published October 20, 2022 in The Burg
Last week, I went to the funeral of former Monmouth College baseball coach Roger Sander.
He's a person and a coach that I'll really miss. He passed away at just 65 years old.
I had just started out as a sports writer in Monmouth - right out of journalism school in Macomb - and here is a coach that seemed more like a noseguard for the Chicago Bears. He stood in at every bit of 6-foot-5, seemed a bit intimidating and he didn't seem too friendly - unless you got to know him.
"Hey Scoop," he'd always say to me.
I grew to really respect him and admire how he coached the Fighting Scots baseball team. He kept the game simple.
Coach Sander kept the game of baseball simple and he loved what he did.
"See the ball, hit the ball," is what he'd always holler out from the dugout during the game.
Then after a doubleheader, he'd often say to me, "The game of baseball is simple."
Well, it worked for him with 373 baseball victories from 1994-2015.
On game day in Monmouth, you'd often see a strong "brotherhood" in full support of Coach Sander and his baseball team. You'd look beyond the outfield fence of Glasgow Field and see the parking lot of the Monmouth American Legion with some of his former assistant coaches (like Doug Winebright), some of his former players (like Michael Blaesing) and just die-hard sports fans (like the late Pete Thierry from Galesburg). His wife, Elaine, was right there in full support too - hollering out words of encouragement and, sometimes, helping out the umpires. It was just a great atmosphere for Monmouth College baseball.
Sander always seemed to have a bunch of hard-nosed and highly-competitive players on his baseball team. Plus, he often had some standout players on his team from Galesburg like pitcher Joe Larkins and shortstop Casey Boydstun.
"A really good human being," said Knox College coach (and Galesburg native) Jami Isaacson. "He took care of his kids and he cared about his program. And probably more importantly, he cared about the Midwest Conference. He and I were very vocal at conference meetings on what was right and what was wrong. He'll be missed - that's for sure."
Isaacson went on to say, "I can remember when he came over here (to Galesburg) in 2001 or 2002 with probably the best team he ever had. We had them down 3-2 in the top of the eighth inning of the Midwest Conference Championship. An error later we lose. They were by far a better team - no doubt about it. They were well-coached, good guys and they got after you."
Ones like Monmouth College Hall of Fame quarterback Mark Reed also made it a point to drive over to Monmouth to help honor Coach Sander.
Like a father figure ...
On the basketball court, Sander evolved into an All-American player for Dr. Terry Glasgow. They had countless stories and some I couldn't even print.
But more than that, Sander looked up to Coach Glasgow as a father figure.
"He (Sander) was a leader and kept guys in line," said Glasgow, who hired Sander as the Equipment Manager and baseball coach at Monmouth College. "When the recruits came in, he hosted them. He was a very instrumental person in my life and certainly in the life of Monmouth College."
Coach Glasgow mentioned how much Sander helped as a recruiter. One great example of that has to be former Monmouth College basketball player Jeff Houston whose daughter (Katie) also played basketball for the Fighting Scots and had a standout career. I can still remember covering the Monmouth College women's basketball games and seeing Houston standing in the doorway of Glennie Gym and visiting with Coach Sander before the games. The term "Scots Pride" spoke volumes.
A tough week ...
Former Monmouth College baseball standout Jake Libby also made it over for the funeral of Coach Sander. Libby had a really tough week though in also losing his high school baseball coach (Gary Bruington) from that 1988 state championship team at Galesburg High School.
"They were very loyal coaches and they would do anything for you on the field or off the field," said Libby. "Area baseball took a big hit. Two guys - not looking at wins or losses - but just looking at the impact both men had on the players they coached through the years."
Ending thought ...
The word loyalty is often overlooked in today's world. But with Coach Sander - whether it was on the field or off the field - you had a strong bond of loyalty with him. Ask someone like (Galesburg native) Taylor Thiel or Steve Glasgow what they think of Coach Sander? Thiel even wore his Monmouth College baseball jersey to Coach Sander's funeral last week. The heartfelt video at Coach Sander's funeral - and mixed in with the faith-driven speech at the podium from his wife (Elaine) that he is in a better place now - pulled the heart strings of even the toughest sports fans and Monmouth College alum.
Looking back, it was an honor to cover Monmouth College baseball with Coach Sander at the helm and I'll always cherish those days.
I'll end this column a bit choked up at my computer and with my eyes all watery because it meant so much to me. Ones like Coach Sander (and I've got to include Coach Glasgow) don't come around too often in the sports world, and they made a small-town sports writer like me from Galesburg feel like I had the greatest job in the world.
Band of Brothers in Scots country ...
Joe O'Brien (former basketball teammate of Sander): I was a sophomore in the fall of 1974 and Roger came in as a freshman. That was a big freshman class. Roger was bigger than life. He came in and I thought he was 6-6 and about 280. He was a space eater and he could really dominate the paint. But in his second or third year, he got down to 220. He was a lot more active and agile, and a great rebounder ... an even better person. My roommate was Mark Wilson from Galesburg, a tight-knit group of guys back then.
Bobby Joe Mason (from Galesburg, a Monmouth College alum and former AAU teammate of Sander): I'm four years older than Roger and we became instant friends. I kept going back to the Monmouth College basketball games when I graduated and watched him play. Roger and I became really good friends - he, I and Benny Coleman. We played AAU ball together and Italian Village sponsored our team, and we got second in the nationals one year. Roger enjoyed life to the fullest and I had my little stint. Roger and I remained close right up until his death. One thing about Roger is that he had your back. We'd go down fighting. When things got scrappy, he was there. We had that bond like we were brothers. I can honestly say I loved that man. He was a good ballplayer and someone you had to respect.
Andy Sottos (former teammate and great friend of Sander): We had a lot of good times and did a lot of crazy stuff. The old adage about who you would like in a foxhole ... the only person I could ever think of is Roger Sander. If I ever had to be in a foxhole, it would have to be with Roger Sander. My kids grew up with him and he was there for weddings, baptisms and graduations. He's the only friend I was able to say I love you to. We were like brothers. There are two things I'm thankful for: Number one is that I met my wife in Monmouth and because of that we've got a beautiful family. Number two is that I had the honor and the privilege of knowing Roger Sander and being his friend. He'll forever be in our memories.