Styrna was always on right track with Black Bears

Posted Nov. 06, 2008, at 10:23 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:03 a.m.

For 30 years, between 1956-86, there were two constants in the University of Maine’s field house.

The dry, stale air that would send athletes to the water fountains with regularity.

And the late Ed Styrna, who died on Oct. 31 at the age of 87.

Styrna was the university’s indoor/outdoor track coach and would work with his athletes at all hours, day and night.

“Track teams rarely practiced together,” explained former University of Maine athletic director Stu Haskell. “If a kid could only work out at 8 in the morning [due to classes], Ed was there for them.”

“He was very proud of his work with individual athletes,” said Jim Ballinger, who ran for Styrna, became his assistant coach and then took over after he retired. “Even though he was a real competitor [who loved to win], he was probably more concerned with their development. He was very proud when they performed well and with how they turned out later in life.”

Ballinger called Styrna a “very intense coach” who was “very detail-oriented.

“He’d sit down and figure the meets out before they were held. He knew exactly where we were before the meets,” said Ballinger.

Styrna, a World War II veteran, led his Bear teams to a 130-52-5 dual-meet record, six Yankee Conference championships and 30 state titles.

The former All-American at Nashua (N.H.) High School, Seton Hall Prep School and UNH became the first athlete to win both the hammer and javelin throws at the IC4A meet.

He has been inducted into the University of Maine and UNH Halls of Fame; the Maine Sports Hall of Fame and the Nashua Sports Hall.

“He was an exceptional individual,” said Haskell. “He was a man of high standards. He was a very good teacher and to be a good coach, you have to be a good teacher.

“There’s no question about it: he was an outstanding coach,” added Haskell. “I had conversations with other track coaches away from here and he was highly regarded on the national scene. Even after he retired, his name would come up now and then and coaches would tell me he was ‘one of the great ones.’ I heard that many times.”

Haskell and Stryna were together at the university for 29 years and Haskell said, “I can’t think of a time we ever exchanged cross words. He was always great to me.”

“I have a lot of good memories of him as a coach,” said Glendon Rand, who coaches Brewer High School’s outdoor track and cross country teams. “His legacy will be how many of his former athletes are in coaching right now. I can name at least 20 I’ve coached against in cross country or track who went to the University of Maine and had Ed as a coach.

“The thing I remember most about him is he was very loyal to his athletes. He really fought for his program. If he didn’t think his athletes were getting a fair shake compared to other sports, he would go to bat for us. He would fight for his athletes,” said Rand.

Joe Dahl, who ran for Styrna in the 1960s, concurred.

“If we needed something from the equipment room and we couldn’t get it, he’d straighten it out,” said Dahl. “And if one of us needed to use the whirlpool but a football player was hogging it, he fought for us.”

Dahl said Stryna ran a “tight ship.

“He was very serious. He didn’t like you fooling around. And he was always fair,” said Dahl.

“He really demanded excellence from you,” said Ballinger.

Dahl said Styrna’s passion for track was evident.

“He lived and breathed it. He would get some fired up when we won the Yankee Conference championship,” said Dahl.

“He was a student of track and field,” added Ballinger.

Ballinger said Styrna was always “well-prepared” for every meet and had “all kinds of contingency plans drawn up depending upon how the meet was going so we could score a maximum number of points.

“And he was able to get you motivated without a lot of meetings or pep talks,” he said.

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who ran for Styrna in the mid-1980s, said Styrna never played favorites.

“He was a real democratic coach. He treated everybody on equal terms,” said Dunlap. “He always put you into position to succeed.

“He believed in people. If you had legs, he felt you could run,” added Dunlap.

His stoic exterior didn’t tell the whole story about him.

“When you got to know him, he was fun to be around,” said Ballinger. “He enjoyed being needled now and then.”

“He had a great sense of humor,” said Haskell who promptly told a story epitomizing Styrna’s sense of humor.

“Ed loved to play golf and one time we were playing with [men’s basketball coach] Brian McCall.

“He had never beaten McCall. Ed was a good golfer but he wasn’t in Brian’s class. Brian was the runner-up for the club championship at [Penobscot Valley Country Club one year. They came down to the last hole tied and Ed got a birdie and Brian got a par. Brian congratulated him but you could tell he was boiling inside. He told Ed he wanted to play him again.

“Ed said ‘Never. We’re never going to play again.’ I want to go out on top,” recalled Haskell with a chuckle.

Stryna, who also coached cross country before handing it over to Ballinger, didn’t dispense praise if unwarranted.

“If he came up and congratulated you, you really did a good job,” said Ballinger.

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