Severn School took an hour break from its daily routine yesterday tobid farewell to a teacher, coach, colleague and friend.
More than 400 students, faculty and administrators gathered in the gymnasium to show their support for reservist Rob White, who leaves today to begin Special Forces training in the Maryland Army National Guard.
"I didn't expect anything this full-blown and organized," said White, standing near a tree donning a yellow ribbon. "They've been working hard in putting this together. The kids are great."
Severn athletic director Fred Hewitt, a former Navy aviator and longtime friendof the lacrosse coach, viewed the gesture as one of support rather than gloom.
"This is not an unhappy day for Rob," he said. "Rob's doing something he wants to do. It's a challenge to him. He has the same butterflies in the stomach that he would have before a big lacrosse game.
"I choose to look at the day as not one of sadness but oneof support and one of continuing service to the ideals that made this country and this school and everything that we do great. Rob has got that, and he'll do very well. The kids will miss him because they love him, and we all will. Rob has gone on to a bigger and more challenging game, and he's ready to go."
While White is confident in hisabilities to cope with his call to active duty, he is more concernedabout what he leaves behind -- especially his wife, Kathy, and their three children: Josh, 12; Jessie, 10; and Matt, 8.
"It's going tobe a hard time for my wife because all the burdens fall on her," said White, who does not know if he will be sent to the Middle East. "Wehave three kids and she's a full-time student (at the University of Maryland), so it's going to be tough. Fortunately, we live right on campus, and the people here have just been overwhelming."
With the Admirals scheduled to begin lacrosse practice Tuesday, Hewitt had to find someone to take the helm in White's absence. Last week, he promoted assistant coach Peter Trau to interim coach.
"It's an opportunity for Peter, and I think Peter realizes full well that he's servingfor Rob," Hewitt said. "He has no pretenses that he's taking over a dynasty of lacrosse. He's stepping in and doing a job for Rob White, and I think he's also very happy to do that."
"I think Rob is eager to serve his country, and we'll do what we can on the home front," Trau said.
"I've been with this team for quite a while as offensive coordinator, so it's not like I don't know the kids. They're a good bunch. I think they are going to rise to the occasion.
"Obviously, it's going to have some emotional effect (on the players) because Rob has been around here for a long time and has had a great deal of success with these kids both as a counselor, teacher and coach. I would never hope to try and replace him in those capacities. I have a lot of confidence in my own abilities as a coach, and I feel the kids are ready to step right in. Coach White will be in all of our prayers andthoughts but we have a job to do."
Filling Trau's void as assistant coach will be former Naval Academy assistant Mike Burnett, a graduate of St. Mary's High and the University of North Carolina.
"He brings a good strength of depth to our program and we're delighted to have him," Hewitt said. "Lacrosse-wise, we're going to miss Rob, but the program and the schedule is in place and everything is set. Lacrosse will be to the standards and tradition that Severn is accustomed to."
While Severn's lacrosse team tries to move on without White on the sidelines, he will try to deal with not being around lacrosse.
"I'll miss it because it's been such a part of my life since the ninth grade,"said White, 37. "I've never been through a season without it, so this will be a first."
Senior defenseman Drew Bauer said the team, which announced at the ceremony that it will wear yellow bands on its jerseys and American flags on its helmets, is dedicating the season toWhite.
"It's kind of hard to swallow," Bauer said. "I've been on varsity for three years, and he's a great guy, an excellent coach andan all-around warm person. We're going to rally behind Coach Trau and try to do the best we can do, because this is what Coach White would want us to do."
Addressing the students at the assembly, White challenged them to continue to excel both in the classroom and on the playing fields and thanked them for a banner bearing their signatures and the message, "Rob White: Hurry Back! We Love You!"
"He's a humanitarian, every inch of his body," Hewitt said. . "He does so well with the counseling of young people, and I don't just mean on the lacrosse field. He has an amazing ability of making anybody he talks to feel comfortable. He really has helped a lot of youngsters."
"I think he'll be fine," football coach Doug Williams said. "He's been in the military a while and knows what to expect. He knows the Lord is going to take care of him no matter what he does, so I don't think it bothers him as much as it does everyone else."
White said, "Just knowing all the people behind me and the gestures they have made, those are things that will come to mind when I'm facing tough times. I'llhave those vivid memories to help me through."