Five-time Delaware high school football champion David Hearn announced this week that he is stepping down as Athletic Director and teacher at Delmar High School.
Hearn taught driver's ed and coached football and baseball in his three decades after returning to his hometown school.
While it's uncertain whether he'll spend a 31st year on Delmar's football sidelines this fall, he did reflect on his experiences with WDEL's Sean Greene.
Coach Hearn, after 30 years as an Athletic Director and Head Coach at Delmar you've decided to step down, what went into that decision?
It's 40 years for me. 30 at Delmar, and 10 in Loudon County, Virginia. I taught U.S. history, and coached just about everything you can coach from football to tennis to gymnastics to wrestling, and taught a lot of summer school. They were 10 full years to start off, and then my wife and I moved back here, which is home for me, she's from New Jersey, and three kids. It's been a long 40 years, not just the 30, so I want to spend time with grandchildren that are coming along, and some other personal things I would like to do on my own, and it's about that time I think."
For many of us who live in New Castle County, we hear about Delmar and the special atmosphere that Delaware's southernmost city has. Can you try to explain what makes Delmar so special that you wanted to return home?
Well, you've got the beach close by, that's right off the bad. Most of us in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Delaware do, and that's a plus. For me, it's my family, that was a plus for me, being close to mom and dad and my brother and sister, plus a big extended family was near by. My wife loved it here, my kids, of course, loved it here, so that's a big bonus for me. The Delmar part, unless you've lived down here in the Laurel, Seaford, Delmar, Frankford, Millsboro area, each one of them has their own character. Delmar is something unique, there's something unique about that Delaware-Maryland line where you have two towns, really two towns, but it's just one, one character, one personality, and the people in the town are very supportive of the school. The school is what made the town when they united the Maryland and Delaware sides in education. Those civic organizations and the schools make Delmar what it is. The folks have always rallied to us, and any referendum. It's just a special place, everybody feels that way about their town I guess, but we take a lot of pride in our town.
Your athletics program, especially in the last decade, has really had a big renaissance. Your football team has been successful over the years, but seeing what Jodi Holloman has done with the field hockey team bringing them to the powerhouse level in Delaware, what about the Delmar community has allowed the athletics program to grow at the statewide level?
When I got here, there were seven sports, and now we have 14. We've doubled in size, our enrollment has gotten bigger, but not so much so. We've never had problems with participation. Our numbers have always been great, that is really specially here, especially considering we're being pulled by other towns with choice. Hasn't affected us as much, including with Wicomico schools in Maryland. (LINDA BUDD) coaching before Jodi, and then Jodi made them into a machine, they're really cranking along with no end in sight. Softball has always been special here, we've really been lucky. Baseball I've been involved with personally, I know we've been done pretty well. Our other sports, lacrosse has come on, golf has won division and conference titles, for older Delmar folks they wouldn't even recognize what's going on out here now. It really has benefited in the last 15 years with kids being interested in a wide range of sports.
What led you to become an educator?
I always wanted to be a teacher, well I wanted to be a baseball player. All of those aptitude things you fill out when you're in school I said 'Major League Baseball' player. There came a point when I recognized that ain't gonna happen. You get old enough where they tell you you're over the age if you're 22 or 23, you're too old, so I gave that up, but the coaching of baseball and football came about. They were a bonus, but I always wanted to be a teacher. To me, a coach is a teacher. I loved my teachers, I loved schools when I was in it. I loved Delmar when I was here because I want to school in Delmar elementary through high school, so I had both sides of the line Maryland and Delaware. We had good teachers, good coaches, so I was real lucky. When I went away to college, and wandered my way through 6-7 years of college I ended up at Sheppard, and they guided us towards education and I didn't know anything else I wanted to do at the time. I've been extremely lucky, because for those who complain about their jobs, I've never complained about my job. I've always enjoyed teaching and being around kids, and coaching has been a bonus. I don't know what led me there, maybe my own teachers I guess.
I can find a lot of satisfying coaching moments in your coaching career, but what's been your most satisfying moment of your teaching career?
It's with some of the kids who get in the car, because I'm a driver's ed teacher, but in 30 years there are some special things there. In the car is where you find out a lot of special things about kids. Once in a while, you'll get a kid who gets out there, the least one you expect to be any good and expecting to grab the wheel and finding the brake as a teacher, and they turn out to be really good and so excited at the end. There's too many of them that that happens, where you have the least expectations of them, and then they get in there and you think 'dang gone, I could take a nap while this is going on' and they really impress you. Or, they're really excited when they get through that first drive and they were so nervous, holding on so tight to the wheel. When it's over, and I've praised them, and you can see the pride they bubble up with, that's the fun part.
What's your proudest moment on the sports side? A state championship, or a moment people wouldn't think of?
I think it's the latter. For the team and program, in either of the sports, it's those championship where people ask which was the best, and there's no way to compare them. There's a lot of moments where you won a game you weren't expecting, or you came from behind, there's just too many. But, there's equally too many of what you said second, it's the day-to-day, the moments with the coaches. It's going to scout and stopping at Helen's Sausage House and I decide I'm not only going to try not only two sausage-and-egg sandwiches, but I'm going to get a scrapple-and-egg, too -- wow, I shouldn't have done that, I didn't eat the rest of the weekend -- but it's those kind of days with the coaching staff, with your kids on a summer workout and they're outside or in the weight room and you watch them lift something they hadn't before. It's almost every day you have special moments, I think any coach who has been around the real thing, they know what I'm saying, that's why you can do it for 30 or 40 years.
I wanted to ask you about two players. One of our players who made it to the NFL, in one of the great stories in recent history in Alex Ellis who was a walk-on at Tennessee, and then Shane Leatherbury who was a broadcaster and ended up starring at Towson. What were their experiences and did you ever sense they would get to the levels they did?
No, no for both of them.
Alex, determination because of his size you wouldn't have guessed it. When he was little, I have a picture sitting besides me I was showing my wife as I was clearing my desk I've been bringing things home, it's a picture of him as one of the managers on the sidelines during the early 2000s. He's wearing a jersey that's way too big for him, and of course now he's way too big for our jerseys. He's standing there with his little blond, curly hair, and there's no way thinking he's going to go to Tennessee, a powerhouse college, and then end up in the NFL and doing magic thing. He's worked so hard, he was determined, rock-solid determined.
Shane, I didn't think he had that kind of drive to improve himself to that point. I don't know what clicked over at some point as he tried to find his way in the college world. When he left here, a great athlete, really fast, quick feet, jump out of the gym, but I didn't see the NFL, college-level, record-breaking at Towson. He's probably got the most records of any Delmar person who has left our school and gone to college of any who ever left here, ever. I'm sure the people at Delaware have seen him perform. He's just magic with his hands and what he does naturally. I didn't think he had that drive, but he -- he -- did that on his own. Summertime, off-season work, trying to find his way to get there. I watched him at our school on some of our fields with our kids working out with him, and Alex, what role models for our kids. It was fun to watch him. He didn't do that when he was here, he did what he had to do when he needed to.
But both of them, Alex was working like a quarterback at age 10, and Shane came by it naturally. They both kept working for it, they're great stories, both of them.
So, you've decided to do this retirement, what do you do now?
My mom said I would be bored, 'what are you doing to do with yourself?' She was saying I'd be right back out there, and she might be right, I might be right back out there in the fall. I have grandkids here, one is out in Hawaii with my oldest son who is in the Navy. He's at his last station right now, he almost has his 20 years before he can retire from the Navy. My wife and I are thinking that's a trip worth taking. I've got my grandchildren and children here, so I can catch up on some things I haven't been able to. They're in middle school down to tiny, so I'll get to watch them and play with them a bit more.
What will go into your decision, or someone else's decision, if you have one more football season?
I wanted to get away a few weeks after March 1 and get up when I wanted to get up, although I'm sure I'll get up when the alarm clock would usually go, but I wanted a few weeks to see if I would miss the grind. Football is year-round, like all sports are if you're going to be really successful and try to compete with the rest who are going year-round. Give myself a little time to not start drawing plays and think what we will do with this kid and that kid and start scouting film. When April and May come and the birds come out, I have a feeling I'll miss it. I kind of have a feeling I do. My wife and I have already discussed, and she'll know the signs. As for the school, I don't know their decision-marking process. As far as the school, I don't know their decision-making process. I know the other coaches -- we have a wonderful staff, gosh darn are they good -- many of us have been together for the full 30 years. I want to talk to them a little bit, make sure how they feel, and have them be honest with me. I think we would like one more go-round at least. With the realignment, Delmar has a challenging road ahead to even compete with what's in there, but that will make it fun, too.
One last question, can you explain how you do cartwheels in the hallway?
(laughs) Somebody told a story. I'm not sure I've done one lately, but I'm going to try one [Friday], I don't know if the girls in the office know, but they will be excited. I've done them in the hallway, I've done them in the district office, I used to be a little bit athletic. I might even practice before I go to school because I don't want to fall and hurt myself trying to do it, because that would be a bad ending to have to call the ambulance and have to get me. They're not bad. The Russian judge might give it a 6, but they're not so bad you wouldn't enjoy it and maybe laugh at the same time.