Ashland said goodbye to Dave Kitchell Sunday at the high school football stadium where he molded so many lives.
Current and former students, parents, family members and friends filled the stands to honor the man who encouraged his players to love and care for each other.
Many wore the red-and-white Ashland High School letter jackets they earned under Kitchell's tutelage.
Kitchell died Nov. 18 at 51 after a long battle with cancer.
He had been a teacher and coach in Ashland schools since 1984.
His wooden casket, adorned with red and white roses, was placed along the same sidelines he walked as a coach for more than 20 years, a stint that included three state championships.
"Thousands of people have been touched by a humble, quiet man who chose to live a life of service," said the Rev. Sean Weeks, Kitchell's priest at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in Ashland.
Kitchell's colleagues remembered his devotion to coaching, his personal intensity and his commitment to his players and students.
"No job was too big for Coach Kitchell," said Charlie Hall, Ashland's head football coach, "and no job was too small. He was the consummate player's coach," Hall said, recalling that Kitchell often shared stories with players about his experiences growing up around Chicago.
"He was always challenging players, pushing them," Hall said.
Jim Nagel, Ashland's former head coach, recalled that Kitchell provided the energy that transformed the Ashland locker room into hallowed ground for football players. It was Kitchell's idea to nail a victory sword into the locker room ceiling after each football win.
"When Dave got an idea, it was best to get out of the way," said Nagel, who worked with Kitchell for 19 years.
Karl Kemper, Ashland's athletic director, recalled that "Coach K" chose to remain an assistant coach "because he didn't want to put up with all the junk head coaches had to put up with.
"He was never about getting credit (for himself)," Kemper said. "He just wanted to work with kids."
Tim Palmesano, a neighbor, said Kitchell's easy way with strangers made people want to be around him.
"The greatest gift Dave had was his ability to make us all feel we were part of his extended family," Palmesano said.
Kitchell's son, Brian, said he's received "amazing" letters of condolence from people all over the country telling how his father changed their lives.
"He always said, 'Attitude is everything,' " the son said, reading from one of the letters.
"Thank you all for coming," he said, ending the memorial. "This is awesome. I love you all."
As the pallbearers carried Kitchell's casket to the hearse, the mourners stood and quietly applauded.
People in the crowd remembered Kitchell for his ability to make them feel like they mattered.
"He made you feel part of a group," said Christine Norton-Cotts, who accompanied the Ashland team when it traveled to Japan to play.
"I'm just a mom," she said, "but he made you feel important,"
Jason Stranberg, a member of Ashland's 1991 state championship team, said he came to pay his respects to the man who helped him and so many other boys become men.
"We're all better men today because of him," Stranberg said, "better husbands and fathers."
Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:email@example.com