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Charles Futrell, 92, journeyed from Laurel High coach to champion triathlete

Charles Futrell, Laurel High's head varsity football coach in the 1940s and 1950s, was once in a contest in which he was the only Spartan casualty.

"At one of the games he was only injury since he bit a hole in his tongue and could not stop the bleeding after he had been stomping his foot so hard on the sidelines," recalled his son, Bob Futrell.

It was after that game that Charles Futrell told his wife, Peggy: "I have to get out of this."

He did just that, becoming a long-time middle school social studies teacher in Montgomery County, where one of his students was an energetic eighth-grader named Sylvester Stallone, a future movie star. Futrell eventually reached his own level of fame as a national and world triathlon champion at the master level.

Futrell, who led Laurel High to an unbeaten football season in 1955, died Aug. 19 at his home in the Villages, a community north of Orlando. He was 92.

His wife, Peggy, died in 2009. He is survived by his son, Bob Futrell, who lives in Georgetown, Texas; and a daughter, Allison Futrell Clair, of Brandenburg, Ky. A service is planned on Sept. 1 at 1 p.m. at New Covenant United Methodist Church in the Villages.

Remembered by players

Jack Murphy, a 1951 Laurel High graduate, played football, baseball and basketball under Futrell in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"He spent a lot of time with us. He just taught us how to be gracious winners and good losers," said Murphy, who still lives in Laurel. "He was patient with us. I don't think coaches got paid any extra money back then. Some of the players lived in Bowie and he would take them home after practice."

Murphy attended the ceremony when Futrell, who grew up in Greenvlle, N.C., was inducted into what is now the East Carolina University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993. A story on the ECU athletic website says that Futrell played football and baseball at ECU from 1938-41 and hit .404 and was a team captain in baseball.

After college he was an Air Force physical training instructor during World War II, according to the site.

"Following his retirement (from teaching) in 1976, Futrell continued his love for athletics, becoming a world class triathlete," according to ECU.

In 1991, at 72 years old, he was the U.S. male champion in the 70-and-over category in the Gatorade Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. He concluded the 140.6 mile swim-bike- run event in a time of 15 hours, 35 minutes and 22 seconds, a new American record.

Chuck Hickes, another notable Laurel High football coach, led the Spartans to their first and only state title in football in 1987. Even though Laurel was unbeaten in 1955, the state did not begin playoffs until the 1970s, Hickes said.

Hickes said he once attended an event at Laurel Lakes in honor of Futrell as he prepared for an Ironman Triathlon. Hickes said several former Laurel High students, and not just athletes, attended that event.

"He obviously had an effect on a lot of people," said Hickes, who now lives in Pennsylvania.

Life-long Laurel resident Phil Geis, who also played three sports at Laurel for Futrell, said "he was a good coach and a good man. He kept us in some kind of shape. He was fanatical about it."

Another of Futrell's former players was Joe Robison, who would become Laurel's mayor in 1990.

"He was a real nice man. He talked me into not smoking since it was bad for you," said Robison, a 1951 Laurel High grad who played football, baseball and basketball under Futrell.

Futrell return to Laurel for several Laurel High reunions long after he left the school. One of them was in 2006, when he took part in the 50th reunion for the class of 1956.

"There were 12 teachers on faculty" in 1956, Futrell told the Laurel Leader in 2006. Laurel "has changed so much. It's great to come back to a small town that has grown big," he said.

'He loved kids'

Futrell was something of a town celebrity, partly due to the 1955 Laurel team that was 10-0 and ranked No. 7 in the region by The Washington Post, according to Bob Futrell.

"I started football in Laurel in 1949," Charles Futrell told the Leader in 2006.

Futrell became part of the community, and helped dedicate the Laurel Shopping Center, which opened in 1956.

"He really cared for the kids," said Futrell. "I heard a lot of stories about him getting involved with kids who had rough family lives. He would take them home after school."

"He told me about starting soccer at Laurel and he didn't have a clue about soccer," Futrell added. "So he went to the National Mall on a Sunday to watch the U.S. ambassadors and their kids play soccer. That is how he figured it out."

While going through his father's memorabilia last week, Futrell came across a proclamation from July 13, 1996 when then-Laurel Mayor Frank Casula deemed that day as Charles Futrell Day in Laurel to mark Futrell's competition in a world triathlon event.

"He was into sports and he loved kids," said his son. "He never wanted to be a paper pusher."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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