Warren coach Dawson touched many lives
It seems like a no-brainer now.
Bryan Holland and Severio Hernandez are collegiate runners, and are thriving.
But before Holland and Hernandez met Bill Dawson, they never figured they'd be running at the college level. Heck, they never figured they'd be running period.
"Without him, my life would be completely different," Holland said of Dawson. "I'm here at Marquette running on the track team and I know I wouldn't be here without him. To be honest, I wouldn't be running at all.
"He definitely changed my life for the better."
Hernandez, who is running at St. Ambrose on both the cross country and track teams, has a similar take on Dawson's influence on him.
"I think of him as the reason I'm going to college," Hernandez said of Dawson. "Without running and without him, I wouldn't have been given this opportunity to go to college. He has impacted me so much."
It was bittersweet for Holland and Hernandez, both 2019 graduates of Warren, to speak recently of Dawson's impact on their lives. They are happy to think about how they have evolved due to Dawson's influence, but they are incredibly sad to know they can no longer tell him how grateful they are.
Dawson, Warren's boys cross country coach for the last 34 years and its boys track coach for the last 26 years, died on Sept. 11 after a yearlong fight against esophageal cancer.
Just a couple months after Dawson, also a longtime math teacher at Warren, officially retired at the end of the 2018-19 school year, he was diagnosed. However, he returned in the fall of 2019 to coach the cross country season.
He was also coaching this fall.
"It was amazing Bill came back to coach," said Jason Jecmen, Dawson's assistant with the track team for 27 years and his assistant with the cross country team since 2006. "Before he was diagnosed, we knew he was struggling with something. He had indigestion and he was coughing. There was a growing concern that something just wasn't right.
"But it was still a shock when he got the diagnosis, and you're still in a state of shock when you heard the news that he had died. Bill brought so much to our athletes and our staff.
"To think he was diagnosed in July after just retiring (in June), is sad. I think it's made a lot of us think about the things we do in our lives, that they really need to be things we want to do, because tomorrow is guaranteed to no one."
Dawson definitely was doing what he wanted to do. He loved encouraging students to try out for the track and cross country teams, like he did with Holland and Hernandez, and he loved helping them improve and evolve.
"My sophomore year, I went out for track and I didn't really care that much about how I did, I was kind of doing it for fun," Holland said. "In my first-ever meet, I got a 2:17 in the 800, which I didn't think was very good, and Coach Dawson came up to me afterwards and told me that he thought I had a lot of potential. He said that by my senior year, he saw me getting a 1:55.
"My senior year at the state meet, I got a 1:55 as part of the 4X800 relay, and we placed fourth. He really motivated me to improve."
Hernandez remembers Dawson taking a chance on him, and that one single act totally changed the trajectory of his career.
"My junior year in track, we were in the sectionals and a lot of coaches at that point have their best people do two or three events, but Coach Dawson wanted everyone to get experience so he spread things out and I got to run a race that I probably shouldn't have been running," Hernandez said. "There were definitely people on our team that were better in that event than me, but he let me run anyway and I ended up setting a PR that day. Actually, that happened to a lot of people that day, a lot of PRs.
"Coach always had everyone's best interest at heart and he wanted to give everyone a chance to succeed. That was really important."
And so the Warren cross country and track teams will keep running, keep trying to succeed, to carry on Dawson's legacy.
"The kids are doing OK and we are doing what Bill would want us to do, go for a run," Jecmen said. "He always said the best way to get rid of stress is to go for a run.
"I'm going to miss him. He was a big part of my life and a wonderful and caring man. He was like a brother, father, coach and mentor. There aren't many like him who come along in a lifetime."
Services for Dawson have not yet been announced but Jecmen is hoping that Warren and the North Suburban Conference will be able to celebrate him at a future meet this fall.