LISBON – Gary Stamp was granted another season to coach. Another vacation. More miles to run.
“Life’s a journey, and softball’s a journey,” Stamp said in July after his softball team from Mount Vernon High School lost to Solon in a Class 3A regional final.
“It’s going to hurt tomorrow, and the next day, and next week … but this season has been a joyous ride.”
Stamp, who coached 42 years at 12 different spots, died at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston at 1:45 Friday afternoon due to complications from lung cancer. He was 65.
He was diagnosed March 9, despite being a non-smoker.
“I won’t remember how he died, as much as I’ll remember how he lived,” said Bud Legg, information director for the Iowa High School Athletic Association. “He had a perspective, and if all coaches had it, it would be a better world.”
Through last winter, Stamp could not shake bad health. His appetite was poor. He was treated for bronchitis, then pneumonia. But his condition worsened.
In early March, a few weeks after he served as an official at the state wrestling tournament, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. A week later, it was discovered that it was in its most advanced stage (Stage IV) and had spread to his bones and lymph nodes. He underwent treatment at MD Anderson, then returned home.
A benefit was held in Stamp’s honor May 1 in Mount Vernon.
“Gary is an amazing, caring individual. He does things the right way,” said Kraig Snyder, who played football for Stamp at Olin High School in the mid-1980s and was a member of the benefit’s organizing committee. “He has the ability to make you feel unique, and he’s done that for so many people, for more than 40 years.”
Meanwhile, a drug named Tarceva, a chemotherapy pill that combats lung cancer without major side effects, seemed to be working.
From April into September, Stamp’s condition improved. He returned to coach the Mustangs to a 32-7 record. They finished one game short of the state tournament after advancing in 2009 and 2010.
“(Coaching softball has) been good medicine,” Stamp said before the regional final. “It’s been a fun, rewarding summer, and the kids have kept me energized.”
After the season, Stamp and his wife, Ava, went on an Alaskan vacation.
An avid jogger before his illness, Stamp was told by doctors during his original diagnosis that he would not run again. On Sept. 17, he completed a 5K road race at Coe College, winning the 65-and-under men’s age division in 33:24.
But soon after that, it was clear that cancer was on the move again in Stamp’s body. On Oct. 7, Tait Stamp wrote at his father’s Caring Bridge web page that it has spread to his bones and his liver.
A native of Camanche, Stamp began his coaching career at Vinton in 1969. It was the first of 13 posts he held.
From Vinton, he moved to Creston, Midland, Camanche, Lincoln Community, Olin, Lincoln again, Lisbon, Iowa City High, Tipton, Mount Mercy College, Anamosa and Mount Vernon.
He compiled a 548-360 record in softball, 253-157 in baseball and 112-89 in football. Last summer, he was voted into the Iowa Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Stamp will be inducted posthumously during the ceremony in November at the UNI-Dome.
Stamp coached Lisbon to the Class 1A state baseball championship in 1994. He coached three football teams to the playoffs – Lisbon advanced to the Class A quarterfinals in 1995; Tipton qualified in 2A in 2002 and 2003.
Gary and Ava had four children — Tait, Paige, Quinn and Shea. All graduated from Lisbon, and all excelled athletically.
Stamp resigned at Lisbon in 1999, just as the football season was beginning, after a number of parents and players felt he provided preferential treatment for his sons.
But judging by the volume of entries in Stamp’s Caring Bridge guest book through the past months, he had far more supporters than detractors.
“I never dreamed that this many people out there care as much as they do,” he said last spring. “All the e-mails, the cards, the visits … it’s all been overwhelming.”
Services are pending.