Roger Sullenberger, coach with encyclopedic knowledge of Hempfield track, dies at age 75
Saturday, January 16, 2021 | 12:43 PM
Roger Sullenberger was a math teacher at Hempfield, but if anyone wanted to know the history of the school’s track program, Sully was the guy to go to.
He could recite every record, current or retired, in the school’s history.
Hempfield assistant track coach LaRoyal Wilson referred to Sullenberger as “Mr. Track and Field” at Hempfield.
“He’s doing that book on Hempfield track and field from 1957 to now,” Wilson said. “He named it ‘Committed to Excellence.’ I feel he was committed to excellence.
“It’s amazing what he was putting together. He had statistics of every boy or girl that scored a point at Hempfield.”
Sullenberger was a part of the Hempfield track program since he started as a teacher in 1966. He also coached football.
He evened served as the head coach (1979-81) before turning the reins over to Ron Colland so he could work on his doctoral degree from Pitt.
But for the second time this week, Hempfield suffered a loss of a legend. On Tuesday, softball pitching guru Ralph Snyder died. On Wednesday, Sullenberger lost his long battle with cancer. He was 75.
Coincidentally, both were graduates of Rostraver High School. Sullenberger graduated in 1963.
“It shook me up when I heard the news,” Colland said. “I talked to him Christmas Eve. He didn’t know how much time he had left.
“It bothers me because he was like my older brother. He loved coaching and he affected a lot of athletes’ lives.”
Sullenberger retired from teaching in 2002, but he stayed involved as a track coach. In his later years, he was a volunteer coach.
Colland said Sully allowed his assistant coaches to coach their events.
“I coached the distance runners and LaRoyal (Wilson) the sprinters,” Colland said. “Roger coached the other events, and he wasn’t shy about learning what it took to excel.”
Gene Brisbane, who also coached track with Sullenberger, remembers when he was playing basketball his senior season and he dislocated his thumb at Jeannette.
Brisbane went to the hospital, and when he got home, basketball coach Ron Thom and Sullenberger came to visit that night.
“I’ll always remember that,” Brisbane said. “He was passionate toward the track team. He kept detailed statistics and knew all the records. We had a lot of good times.”
Sullenberger’s wife of 34 years, Deborah (Misutka), said he was very opinionated and a good family man.
“When he shared an opinion, he had the facts to back them up,” Deborah Sullenberger said. “He defended every point.
“He was also very dedicated to the track team. He was working on all the records for the track team and we have 11 binders at the house. My daughter (Lindsey) promised her dad that she would finish it for him and present it to the historical society.”
Wilson said Sullenberger was instrumental in combining the boys and girls programs, which might have been the first in the WPIAL.
Hempfield softball coach Bob Kalp said many people felt he and Sullenberger were similar in how they taught.
“We weren’t,” Kalp said. “We had different approaches. He was a task master. He told you like it was, and if you didn’t like it, so be it. But a lot of the good kids liked direction.”
Hempfield indoor track and throwing coach Dave Murray said he didn’t know anyone who loved Hempfield track as much as Sullenberger.
“He’s going to be missed,” Murray said. “He’s a legend in track and field. He had a strong belief, and he wanted it done a certain way.
“He wanted what was best for the program, and he engrained a team-first attitude among the coaches. Some didn’t like it, but once he trusted you, he left you alone.”
Sullenberger was an avid Pitt fan and enjoyed golfing, bowling, hunting and fishing. He was a member of the Westmoreland County Coaches’ Association, where he volunteered at numerous events.
He was the son of the late William and Rosetta Altamare Sullenberger. He was preceded in death by his sister Donna Bradshaw.
He is survived by his wife Deborah, sons Roger Sullenberger Jr. (Irwin) and Neil (Cristin) Sullenberger (Arvada, Colo.) and daughters Maureen (Gary) Fleming (Greensburg) and Lindsey Sullenberger (Cheswick).
Viewing will be from 2 or 4 p.m. and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Barnhart Funeral Home, Greensburg.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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