After a 40-year career, Sharples is Hall of Fame-worthy

Doug Sharples, center, retired from coaching cross country at the St. Bernard School in 2001, following 34 successful seasons. He later coached for six more at East Lyme and last week was inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches' Hall of Fame.
Sean D. Elliot/ Day File Photo Doug Sharples, center, retired from coaching cross country at the St. Bernard School in 2001, following 34 successful seasons. He later coached for six more at East Lyme and last week was inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches' Hall of Fame.

A longtime coaching friend was on the phone recently with Doug Sharples and Sharples was talking about going to the National High School Athletic Coaches' Association convention in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sharples, the chairman of the organization's girls' cross country committee, always goes to the conventions, so Griswold High School boys' cross country coach Gerry Chester thought nothing of Sharples' plans to head to Iowa.

"Someone said to me, 'Didn't you know (he was going into the hall of fame)?'" Chester said. "I said, 'No.' The funny part is I just spoke to him the night before."

Sharples, whose high school coaching career spanned 40 years, 34 as the St. Bernard boys' cross country coach and six as the East Lyme boys' coach, had another purpose in Des Moines, as it turns out.

He was inducted into the NHSACA Hall of Fame on Tuesday, June 25, his reward for 537 career victories, eight state championships, three State Open titles and a lifetime of service.

Sharples was the NHSACA coach of the year in 1986, was inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches' Association Hall of Fame in 2000 and the St. Bernard Hall of Fame in 2006.

He received the NHSACA Carey E. McDonald Citation in 2009 and the Dwight T. Keith Award for Dedication and Advancement in Athletics in 2011.

His teams were designated as All-American Cross Country teams in 1981 and 1983 by Harrier Magazine. In 1981, Runners World named Sharples as one of the top 10 high school cross country coaches in America.

"I was very honored. It's a humbling experience," Sharples, 71, said of the hall of fame honor. "All the people that go in ... the gentleman and his wife I was sitting next to, he was chosen to coach one of the McDonald's All-America teams. That's impressive.

"It means I'm old and that my career is over, but it's wonderful to be honored by our peers."

Sharples was dean of students at St. Bernard from 1986-95 and taught science at the school from 1967-2001. He retired in 2001, having coached the cross country team to a record of 404-106, including back-to-back State Open titles in 1968-69. He also started the school's track program in 1968, coaching it for 11 years, as well.

Sharples is a 1960 Norwich Free Academy graduate and a 1964 graduate of Georgetown (Ky.) College.

Chester was a student at NFA and lived on the same street as Sharples in Norwich. Chester liked to talk to the St. Bernard coach, he said, another guy who loved the sport as much as he did.

Sharples, who now lives with his wife Helene in Groton, gave Chester his first assistant coaching job in 1974 and later was the best man at Chester's wedding.

"Getting into the hall of fame is really well deserved," Chester said. "He's one of the legends in the state and he's in it for the right reasons. I've coached a million years and there's people that do it with a lot of ego involved. You talk to Doug and you never know it."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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