WHITING | Laura Blackwell will probably have a few more dollars in her tip jar this spring. It seems like that would be a happy thing for the Whiting hair stylist.
That isn't the case, though. The mother of Whiting softball standout Amanda Blackwell would much rather have an empty jug. Lint instead of dollars, because if that was the case, it would mean long-time assistant softball coach Bruce Stewart would be around.
But the 1966 Whiting grad passed away early Wednesday morning. And Whiting head coach Paul Laub will need to find someone new to have a postgame coffee with.
"I'm lost right now," Laub said. "At (Wednesday's) practice I looked at all of our sectional championship pictures, and Stew was in all of them. I usually don't break down very much, but that was tough."
In 2008 Stewart had Laura Blackwell cut his hair. Every week. Amanda was a standout freshman for the Oilers, who would win the state title in June with an undefeated season.
Stewart would say the same thing to Blackwell every week.
"You've got to dip into that tip jar. Amanda had a great game."
Stewart coached Laura Blackwell in basketball in the mid 1980s, when he joined Laub's staff in hoops and softball. Stewart's daughters played with Blackwell.
Once Laub was backing the bus up and asking some Oilers for help. One gave him the wrong distance, and he hit a pole. So Stewart exclaimed, "Why would you trust three blondes?"
"He had girls, so he knew girls have emotions," Laura said. "He always tried to get us to be relaxed. If we made a mistake, he'd tell us to get 'em next time."
He told Amanda the same kind of things. The two won 253 games in 19 years together in girls basketball. They won more than 500 games together on the softball diamond, even though Stewart wasn't at every practice or game the last two years.
Stewart was a police officer, court bailiff, probation officer and attendance officer/safety coordinator for the Whiting schools.
But most importantly he was a great husband and father. He was a tremendous role model for all the Oilers he coached, whether he was giving the wrong directions to the bus driver on a country road or dodging line drives with the sun in his eyes in the first-base coaching box.
Whiting's state-power softball program will honor "Coach Stew" this spring. Laub has not had time to finalize how this will be done but finding a coffee mate is going to be the hardest.
The two shared java and conversation after every practice and game for 25 years.
"He seemed kind of gruff to some people, but he did things the way he wanted to," Laub said. "People couldn't help but like him when they spoke to him. He was loyal and a friend, and those things are hard to find today.
"He loved Whiting and the kids of Whiting."
You will be missed, coach. Thank you for everything you did for your community. Enjoy your cup of Folgers in your golden mug.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.