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Concord track coach Bill Luti left behind a lot

  • Bill Luti and Marjorie Barnes Luti took what today would be called a selfie way back in 1946 when Bill was at the US Naval Hospital in Corona, Calif. Courtesy photo

  • Bill Luti started a local race – now named the Bill Luti 5-mile Road Race – in 1968, and he continued to fire the starting gun until two years ago. Courtesy

  • Courtesy—

Monitor columnist
Published: 12/3/2019 6:28:03 PM

The settings changed.

His impact, however, never did.

From an oval track, to a tree-lined cross-country trail, to life itself, Bill Luti made sure you kept going, somehow connecting to something deep within, something that motivated you, that tapped into your potential.

Luti – a giant in the state’s high school running community – died Sunday night at the age of 98, but you can bet his influence will live on for a very long time.

“He was a role model for a lot of us,” said Bob Estabrook, who ran cross country under Luti at Concord High in the early 1960s. “For me, he was the most influential person in my life, other than my parents. To a lot of people, he was like a second father, and it was more than just during the high school years. He maintained relationships, and I think about him all the time.”

Where do you start when it comes to Luti? Maybe all those state and New England championships or the innovative training techniques he introduced. Others point to the doors he opened for girls at Concord High or the manner in which he transformed running into a serious varsity sport.

No. Let’s start with something simpler. Like the fact that he made you feel good about yourself and he treated everyone the same. And in the world of high school sports, where the stars are often singled out as special individuals, Luti showed no signs of preferential treatment.

That’s one way he got you to stick with a sport that never received the headlines of football or basketball. Everyone was important. Everyone was part of the team.

“He was a very inspirational guy,” said Bob Teschek, a teammate of Estabrook’s during the early years of Luti’s coaching career. “He was full of energy and you believed everything he told you. His big thing was getting us excited.”

For proof, go back to the days when cross country and track were not taken seriously on the high school landscape. Luti arrived at Concord High in 1957, after coaching in Somerset, Mass.

Within a few years, he had convinced dozens of athletes to look his way, to a pair of evolving sports that had his name all over them, just like Concord’s annual Bill Luti 5-Mile Road Race does.

Teschek and Estabrook are two good examples of Luti’s profound reach. Estabrook compiled a 124-page booklet documenting Luti’s life and accomplishments. Teschek created Granite State Race Services 35 years ago, leading to official digital timing and prestige to the state’s road races.

“He got 50 people to go out for the team, and that was more than the football team,” Teschek said. “The numbers helped you find talent in people who had no idea they could run. We had a bus full of people, and we were good.”

How good? He coached the Concord High boys’ track and field team for 25 years, winning 13 state championships and four New England titles. He started the Concord High girls’ track and field program in the mid 1970s – when no one else in the state gave a hoot about girls’ competitive running – and won six Class L titles and one New England championship.

And when Luti came out of retirement to coach the Concord High girls’ cross-country team in 1986 and ‘87, the Tide won the Class L title both seasons.

And how, you ask, did Luti instill this level of greatness in his athletes? Simple. He began training his runners like no one else at the time. He relied on interval training, fast running, followed by a slow-down jog, followed by some more speed work. He pushed his kids, up hills and down hills. And he promoted extra out-of-season work.

“He would send out letters in the summer, tell us to go hiking, tell us to go out and run and enjoy it,” Teschek said. “Don’t push, but build up your base.”

Teschek, like others, knew nothing about competitive running when he got to Concord High. Soon, though, he knew better, incorporating the sport into his life.

“I went to UNH and competed and continued running,” Teschek said. “He changed my whole life, and running became one of the most important things in my life.”

Mike Eliasberg, who now lives in Portsmouth, graduated from Concord High in 1984. He got the bug, too, the running bug, and in fact he’s been a volunteer coach for the Concord High boys’ cross country team for 20 years.

He called Luti “Red Auerbach with class,” meaning Luti never rubbed it in after another winning effort, unlike the former Celtics coach and general manager, who’d light up a victory cigar in plain sight of his defeated opponent.

Eliasberg ran two years of cross country under Luti. His sister ran for him as well, after Luti came out of retirement in 1986.

“Some schools ran cross country to prepare for basketball,” Eliasberg said. “At Concord, we were held to a higher standard. We knew at championship meets we were going to win. We were varsity, while it was treated as an intramural sport at some schools.”

Luti’s daughter, Angela Klein, lives in Cape Cod and described a coach who blended friendship with toughness.

“He took no guff from anyone,” Klein said. “He was in charge and they knew it.”

Klein also mentioned the fact that her father, like those early runners, knew nothing about the sport when he arrived at Concord High.

“He had to learn how to score and how to build up endurance,” Klein said. “He had a good record, and once you get going with that, the kids want to join a team that has become popular and successful.”

Patrick Piper attended Hopkinton High School, which had no cross country team in the early 1980s, so Luti allowed him to train with and compete for Concord High.

“I attribute a great deal of my high school successes to his support,” Piper wrote in an email. “I’m just one lucky person to have met, befriended and loved coach Luti. Just think about how many others he touched.”

One was Barbara Higgins, who went to Boston University on a full athletic scholarship thanks, in part, to Luti. She still holds the Concord High record in the 1,600-meter run at 4:56.1, set at the 1981 Meet of Champions.

“It was his nature to take an interest,” Higgins said. “If he heard I was having a hard time at school, he would come find me.”

Many in the area know Luti from the race that bears his name. He started it in 1968. He continued to fire the starter’s pistol up until two years ago, when he began to slow down.

But Luti was strong enough to spend Thanksgiving with family at his son’s house in Hebron. It gave him one last chance to be with his five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“They were his reason to get up in the morning,” Klein said.

He left behind more than family, though. He left behind a method of coaching and teaching and caring that will surely be talked about during a funeral mass Thursday at St. John’s Church.

The service begins at 10 a.m. Luti’s  legacy began the second he died.

“For a lot of people, he was a leader,” Esta brook said. “You wanted to do your best for him.”

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