Legendary Glenbrook North Coach Samorian: 'A heck of a man'
Many people hold that job title. The most notable are called "Coach" the rest of their days as a sign of respect.
Harold "Sam" Samorian Sr. belongs to that latter group.
"He never coached me as a player, but he coached me as a teacher, he coached me as an adult, he coached me as a coach," Glenbrook North football coach Matt Purdy said of Mr. Samorian, who died Dec. 29, age 89, at Northbrook's Brandel Care Center after a lengthy illness.
"He was a guy who from the day you met him felt like he was your father, your grandfather, however you want to put it. He was just a true pleasure of a person," Purdy said.
A physical education, health and biology teacher at Glenbrook North High School from 1958-92 -- after teaching a year at Sycamore he arrived in Northbrook when the high school was still known as "Glenbrook" -- Mr. Samorian is a member of five halls of fame regarding mainly football and wrestling.
Leading the 12-0 Spartans to the 1974 Class 5A state championship in the first year of the football state series, when the time comes for Glenbrook North to establish its own athletic hall, he undoubtedly will be inducted posthumously into that as well.
"He certainly was a proud father and son and educator, he took pride in all of those. Glenbrook North was his pride and joy. He loved being a Spartan," said one of Sylvia and Harold Samorian's four sons, Harold Samorian Jr., of Williamsburg, Virginia, who also goes by "Sam."
Head football coach for the Spartans from 1964-85, Mr. Samorian's career record of 112-79-4 earned the program record for victories. He led the team to two other playoff appearances and three Central Suburban League championships. Bob Pieper, who retired in 2018, eclipsed Mr. Samorian's program record with a mark of 120-68.
While perhaps "old-school," Mr. Samorian welcomed input and fostered a "wonderful network," his son said, of younger people who went on to teach and coach.
"What you saw was what you got," Samorian Jr. said. "He always thought well of others and he was always learning. He was open to new ideas and he learned a great deal from other people."
A coach in the first Illinois High School Shrine Game in 1975, following the Spartans' 1974 state championship Mr. Samorian was named Illinois Football coach of the year and also the Notre Dame Club Frank Leahy coach of the year.
He was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 1994 was honored with the Ray Eliot Award for contributions to the IHSFCA.
Well-rounded athletically, he participated in state finals as a basketball player for runner-up Rockford East in 1948, as an assistant coach for Glenbrook North's 1966 baseball state champions, and as the head floor official at the Illinois High School Association wrestling championships, along with his football title.
Mr. Samorian was as well regarded, if not even more so, in wrestling as an official.
"He was a good football coach, and he was a heck of a wrestling official," said Illinois wrestling historian Ed Ewoldt of Wheaton, retired Wheaton Central (now Wheaton Warrenville South) wrestling coach and athletic director.
In fact Mr. Samorian, a charter member of the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association, a 1984 inductee into its hall of fame and a 2004 lifetime achievement honoree, was among the IHSA's first 10 certified officials.
Some wrestling coaches, such as Glenbrook North athletic director John Catalano, a former head wrestling coach at St. Patrick, sought out competitions where they knew Samorian would be officiating. A tournament at Buffalo Grove was one of those.
"They were the best officials in the state of Illinois, and they called everything in this tournament as you would see it downstate," Catalano said. "All of the little, subtle, more challenging calls, they're going to be in sync and they're going to call it the right way. You almost get a sense that it was a way to learn."
This was not overlooked. Along with myriad assignments and accomplishments in high school and small-college wrestling -- like founding the Sycamore program in his single year there, 1957 -- Mr. Samorian was recognized on state, regional and national levels with such honors as National Federation of State High School Associations outstanding Illinois official (1989), IHSA grand marshall (1990), Midlands Wrestling Hall of Fame (2017). In 2003 the National Wrestling Hall of Fame gave him a lifetime achievement award.
"He's a heck of a man," said Ewoldt, who does not bestow superlatives lightly.
Born April 1, 1931, in Rockford to the late John and Catherine Samorian, after Mr. Samorian graduated from Rockford East (he's in its hall of fame) he attended Drake University then enlisted in the Army, serving stateside at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, during the Korean War.
He then attended what is now Illinois State University (he's in its hall of fame, too), where he met his wife of 65 years, the former Sylvia Siefert, a Sycamore native.
After getting established in Northbrook, the Samorians and sons Harold Jr., Michael, P.J. and Tom enjoyed their summer home in Mercer, Wisconsin, where Samorian Jr. said his father would "recharge his batteries."
Noting that his father worked his way through high school and college, Samorian Jr. said he preferred to give credit for team success to his players, assistant coaches, trainers and support staff.
"I think he had a great appreciation of work ethic and people that did everyday jobs," said Samorian Jr. "The people that he taught and coached, from top-of-the-line Olympic athletes, medal winners, to people who own filling stations and work as maintenance people, he appreciated what everyone did. He didn't look down at anyone at all."
Mr. Samorian instituted the Golden Helmet Award at Glenbrook North, a scholarship granted to a worthy player on and off the field. He maintained his connection to the school, coming in to chat with Catalano, attending games, speaking with current coaches.
"His first question when I called him (Dec. 18) while he was in hospice was, 'Are they going to be playing (football) this spring?'" Purdy said.
Twelve days later, Sylvia Samorian called Purdy with the sad news.
"They're special people, they're a special part of Glenbrook North and its history," Purdy said.
A celebration of life will be held this spring or as soon as it's safe for people to gather. Memorial contributions may be made to the Glenbrook High School Foundation, St. Norbert Church, Society of the Divine Word, or Covenant Living of Northbrook.
"He worked hard," Samorian Jr. said, "but he received many blessings and rewards."