LAKEWOOD — Leaned up against a chain-linked fence just outside the track at Jefferson County Stadium, longtime Lyons coach Mark Roberts could introduce you to the state meet as if you were walking into his family reunion.
The sun in his face Sunday, the father of 10 and grandad of eight grinned as he pointed to three of his own kids helping at the triple jump, and he spoke of another working by the shot put.
Roberts always could effortlessly blend family and running. Other volunteers on the final day of the meet would pass by — a friend here, former athlete there — all of it connected to the coach who’d long practiced and preached the importance of character over talent for three decades at the small school.
Now, he said he’s leaving.
“Within my own program, it’s been about servant leadership,” said Roberts, who came to Lyons in 1991 and is stepping away after 31 years. “Early enough on, I knew if I built character in our program and if our kids learned servant leadership, if they learned how to help us put on meets and are ambassadors of the sport, what I figured out is that if you have talented kids and that’s the environment they’re going into, they will work hard and get better.”
Roberts, leading the Lions for the final time Sunday, said he is moving to a house in Johnstown and is retiring from public teaching.
Next school year, he will teach and coach at Resurrection Christian School.
Before that, though, a victory lap was in order. The Lions’ boys finished fourth, the girls 21st.
Tyler Ball won the Class 2A boys 3,200 Saturday and Gemma Powell threw 119 feet, 8 inches on her first toss Sunday to grab gold in the discus event. Cole Thomas added a second-place finish in three events, netting silver in the 1,600, 800 and 3,200 relay.
“It’s kind of sad because he’s been a great mentor to me,” Thomas said. “He’s kind of shaped me into the intelligent, strong runner that I am. And he’s just been a huge inspiration for all the Lyons teams. It’s like the Dr. Seuss quote, though. Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy because it happened. And I’m happy because it happened.”
Roberts, a 35-year coach, started in football at the school while leading the track team in the early 90s. Five years in, he convinced enough kids to come out for long distance running and created a cross country program.
His teams were usually small but mighty. Many of his runners talked about the culture in terms of service. One example: Before each race, they’d choose a teammate to run for.
Many of his assistant coaches, meanwhile, have been with him for decades.
“Lyons is a unique place because you go there and you stay there,” said Jason Maguire, who is still the throws coach at Lyons despite being a P.E. teacher at Timberline and the girls basketball coach at Skyline “It is a big family. We’ve gone through a lot with the flood and everything, and everybody has each other’s back.”
Roberts said he will be the head cross country coach at Resurrection Christian and an assistant for the track team.
“I’m a blessed man,” he said in reflection. “It’s been an amazing journey.”