By Leslie Montee
When I first heard that Nancy Bauer, co-owner of Painted Barrels, had published a book I was shocked! I did not know she was a writer, an author. I was impressed. I immediately contacted her, eager to hear about her budding new career as a published author. She quickly corrected me, informing me that she was indeed not a writer, she had zero intentions of writing anything else, and this was not even her story. But what would entice an individual who has zero interest in writing to author and publish a book, I wondered? The answer is the same thing that inspires many people in Girard, Crawford County, Southeast Kansas, and beyond, to do some of the things they do. The answer was Craig Crespino.
Not from this area originally, I was not familiar with Coach Crespino. Sure, I have seen the road sign by the school. I have heard mention of the annual memorial golf tournament. I was aware there are scholarships in his name for local students. I had knowledge that he was a legendary high school football coach who passed away suddenly, too young. But it was a passive knowledge. As a lover of a good story, and a supporter of local businesses, I headed online to purchase my copy for pickup at Painted Barrels. When it arrived, I made my way to the store to pick it up and spoke with Nancy. I told her I would really like to put together an article about her and her new book. “A story about the book would be great, but I want to keep the focus on Craig.” She was quick to inform me that this was not about her; it never was. She gave me a brief synopsis on how the book came to be.
From that initial conversation with Nancy in her shop, I knew she was right. From that moment on, my perspective changed. I no longer wanted to create an article about Nancy and Nancy’s book. What I needed was to know the legacy. So, I asked to be taught. “In my opinion, his legacy is in caring for others, being a good friend and neighbor, being a good Christian, and striving to make the world a better place,” said Nancy. “Craig genuinely loved and cared about people. He would do anything he could to help someone in need.” I believe that this is the spirit that inspired Nancy to author this book. A story and legacy like his cannot be forgotten, and Nancy took it into her own hands to ensure that simply did not happen.
“I started writing my memories of the football season that followed Craig’s death very soon after the season ended. There was truly a magic surrounding that 2006 team that we all attributed to Craig. It felt like he was still with us, seeing us through our grief and despair. I wanted to preserve that experience for the community, for posterity, for my children,” she explained. “To be honest I didn’t know what I would do with it at the time, but I knew I didn’t want the memories of that year to be lost forever. I would add to the record occasionally through the years, especially as I would visit with others who were involved. As I heard stories about the fascinating and somewhat unexplainable events that followed Craig’s death, I became more and moreconvinced that these things had to be written down and preserved for our community.” Two years ago, Nancy approached Glenna (Craig’s wife) with an early idea of turning the memories into a book and including the family’s memories as well. “I knew that if they contributed, I would see it through to a published book. Without the Crespino family’s blessing, the project would not have moved forward.”
It goes without saying that the Crespino family agreed. It was important to them that the book was about more than just the accident and the coach’s untimely death. “Our request as a family was that this tribute also included more details about his life and the impact he had on the community,” said his daughter, Erica Harris. The purpose to the family is to keep his legacy alive. “My biggest fear is he will be forgotten,” she said. “Since the book was published, we have heard from so many readers as they’ve shared memories and new stories. It reassures us that he will not be forgotten.”
“It’s hard to really put into words what he’s done for me,” commented Erica. “I spent the better part of my early adulthood running from this town and said many times I was never moving back. I moved to Wichita for college, and I wanted to make a name for myself and not be known as ‘Craig Crespino’s daughter’.” But eventually, Erica returned with her own family. “Since moving back here, our boys have had the opportunity to be coached and influenced by my dad’s past players and students and they get to hear from others about how special their grandpa was. I am eternally grateful for this little town and the support that the community members gave us during the tragedy and for welcoming my family back when we returned.”
In many tragedies like Craig’s accident, survivors often are encouraged to look for something good to come from the situation. In fact, Reverend Bob McElwee who presided over Coach’s funeral said, “There is no way to make sense of the accident that took Craig Crespino’s life. But be sure that God will bring something good from it.” For Erica, finding the good was hard in the early days of her grief, but in the end, it brought their family even closer together. “His death made me appreciate the little things in life, the importance of family and friends, and that Girard is a great place to call home and raise a family.” Now, his legacy is continuing to influence others with the release of this book. “I feel like people often idolize people once they die,” said Erica. “But he truly was something special.”
I think Erica sums it up best when asked how we can continue to carry on the legacy of Coach Craig Crespino. “He was beaming with pride for the town of Girard and the school system. I would encourage you to follow in his footsteps and support your local businesses, cheer on the Trojans and the students of our district, help your neighbor, love your family and friends, and encourage those around to see the positive in life. In doing so, we as members of this community can carry out his legacy while keeping this small town alive.” Though his time on this earth was cut short, he lived out his legacy to his last day. Sixteen years later, Coach’s legacy is still living.
The book, “For Coach, An Inspiring True Story of Tragedy and Triumph” is available for purchase at Painted Barrels, online at www.forcoachthebook.com, Amazon, and Scribd (as an eBook). The Girard Public Library also has copies for checkout.