FINISH STRONG: Community members’ donations honor former coach

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CHARLOTTESVILLE – Gary Powers always had a favorite piece of advice for cross-country runners, his son Jeremy Powers recalled: “Finish strong.” Memorial donations in Gary Powers’ honor to the athletic programs he helped coach for most of his career helped him do just that.

Eastern Hancock received a number of donations toward its athletic programs in honor of the late former coach. At its most recent meeting, the EH school board accepted over 20 donations totaling more than $1,200 given in honor of Powers, who died Nov. 23, 2021.

Aaron Spaulding, Eastern Hancock High School’s director of athletics, got to know Powers well. Powers was the director of maintenance for the school corporation for many years. Among his coaching responsibilities, he worked with the softball and girls’s basketball teams and also coached middle school cross country and track, according to his obituary.

“Gary was wonderful,” Spaulding said. “Very mild-mannered, hard-working, and had a wonderful way to relate to kids.”

Spaulding said he was touched that in lieu of flowers, the family chose to request donations to Eastern Hancock at Powers’ funeral. The donations will go to help the district’s cross-country athletes attend competitions and purchase gear.

Powers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008 and retired from his job as head of maintenance soon after, but he continued coaching. In 2017, at age 63 and after working with EH student-athletes for 23 years, Powers had to step away from coaching as well.

In an interview with the Daily Reporter at the time, Powers said it was hard for him to give up his coaching responsibilities and that he planned to keep cheering on his teams from the sidelines. The middle school cross-country runners made T-shirts reading “Finish Strong for Gary” to show their gratitude.

“It makes me feel very honored,” Powers said at the time.

Powers’ son Jeremy Powers is now the principal of Morristown Junior/Senior High School in Shelby County. He said when his father died, the family wanted to do something that would honor his legacy, and they immediately thought of Eastern Hancock.

“One of the sports that he really had a passion for was cross country,” Jeremy said.

Jeremy said his dad was a lifelong Eastern Hancock Royal. He graduated from the school in 1972 and began working there as a custodian not long after. He had a passion for coaching students and helping them improve, said Jeremy, who was also a cross-country athlete.

Two of the first people community members would associate with Eastern Hancock athletics, Jeremy said, were Powers and his friend Clayton Shultz, the coach at EH who died at 42 in 2020 after a battle with cancer. Losing both, Jeremy said, was a big blow to the corporation’s coaching staff.

When the family asked for donations at Powers’ funeral, Jeremy said he expected to receive a few. When he and his stepmother began totaling up the contributions, he was taken by surprise by the number of people who had donated.

“We were overwhelmed,” Jeremy said. “It just shows you how much he touched a lot of people’s lives.”

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