When longtime West Hancock football and track coach Bob Sanger was asked how long he’d continue coaching, he often said one year after his death.
But for those who knew him, it’ll be much longer, his son Kevin said Monday morning during his father’s funeral service.
“Your coaching and teaching is going to impact people a lot longer than one year after you're gone,” he said. “It's going to be with us forever.
"The commitment, dedication, loyalty, passion, work ethic, competitive spirit is going to live on in so many people's lives that you've touched."
More than 500 mourners, including family, friends, colleagues, students and athletes, attended Sanger’s ecumenical funeral service at the West Hancock High School gymnasium in Britt to celebrate his legacy.
A legacy appreciated and acknowledged by many from near and far with more than two dozen floral arrangements lining the stage on the north side of the gym and three, 10-foot tables filled with hundreds of photographs, news clippings, memorabilia and accolades representing his life on the south side.
Sanger, 74, died Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the Hancock County Health System in Britt, less than two years after he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia.
“A lot of people based on his incredible record might think that his whole life was about football and track,” said the Rev. Bob Dodge, pastor at Britt United Methodist Church. “That's not the way I perceive it. Football and track were a great means at getting at what his life really stood for.
“His life was fighting the good fight.”
Sanger, the son of the late Franklin and Florence Sanger, was born on Oct. 11, 1945, in Monona, and it was there, in high school, he fell in love with sports, like football and track.
After graduating high school in 1963, he attended Upper Iowa University in Fayette, where success in college football and track provided a foundation for his own coaching achievements.
Sanger was hired by Britt Community Schools in 1968.
After his first season as head football coach at Britt High School, he married his wife, Linda. The couple met in high school and attended college together at Upper Iowa University. They lived in the city of Britt their entire married life and raised four sons, Jeff, Rick, Kevin and Mark.
But their family extended far beyond their sons as they, together, dedicated decades to the students and athletes at West Hancock.
“Aren't we blessed that Bob and Linda Sanger came to Britt-West Hancock and spent 50 years here?” Dodge said. “What a great, great difference they have made in this community.”
Sanger became the football coach at Britt High School in 1968 at 22 years old and retained the title until his death. He compiled a legendary resume, with over 350 career wins, seven state championship appearances and three state titles, in 1973, 1996 and 2019.
This past season, Sanger took a step back to focus on his health and handed over head coaching duties to his son and assistant coach Mark.
It was a decision that he described as “devastating,” after more than 50 years on the West Hancock sidelines, but he remained a crucial part of the team's culture as the Eagles went 13-0 and won the 2019 state title — a victory he witnessed from a sky box overlooking the end zone.
Including the 2019 season, Sanger’s career head coaching record was 358-160.
This fall, Sanger received the Walt Fiegel Coaching for Character Award from the Iowa Football Coaches Association during the state tournament. The association also named him the 2019 Class A Coach of the Year, an honor he shared with Mark.
The mood in the gymnasium during Sanger’s funeral on Monday stood in stark contrast to November, when he took center court during a welcome home rally after the Eagles secured a state championship title.
His cherry red casket was draped with a funeral cloth on the basketball court near the stage, while the Rev. Jim Dubert, priest at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Britt, Dodge and others led the nearly two-hour Mass of Christian burial.
More than 200 seats were reserved — and filled — by Sanger’s family as well as current and past football and track athletes from his half-century of coaching.
Sanger’s championship team wore its red football jerseys, and many others in attendance wore the school’s colors.
His pall bearers and fellow football and track coaches — Kevin Eisenman, Travis Hagen, Paul Francis, Matt Welp, Stacey Goepel, Seth Goepel, Ryan Johnson and Brady Wilson — wore red and white West Hancock polos.
His honorary pall bearers were Gene Perkins, Sanger’s longtime friend and former West Hancock defensive coordinator, and Paul Hauge, also a longtime friend of the Sangers.
Songs, like “Like an Eagle,” “Amazing Grace” and “On Eagle’s Wings” were sang during the service.
In October, Sanger said the best part of his 52 years at West Hancock wasn’t the wins or state titles. It was the kids. As he put it, every one of them he coached and taught was special to him.
“Dad didn't care about your background, ability level, how smart you were or who your parents were, but if you worked hard, he was going to try to make you feel as important part of the team as he could,” Kevin said. “As he said, ‘It takes a village.’”
Dodge said Sanger wanted his students and his athletes to do good things, be good people and give it their all, and those were things he was able to teach on and off the field as an educator and a coach.
Sanger planned to return to his football and track coaching duties after his cancer treatment, and while some may find it sad he wasn’t able to, Kevin said it was that positive spirit that inspired him, and others, throughout his father’s diagnosis.
Within the past year, Sanger was able to attend his son Jeff’s and son Mark’s weddings, celebrate the holidays with his family and witness the West Hancock Eagles football team win its third state title.
He said since his father’s cancer diagnosis, he, and his family, have been grateful and humbled by the love, support, thoughts and prayers from the community.
“It makes one realize the impact that they've had on people,” Kevin said.
In addition to Sanger’s funeral Monday, hundreds more attended his visitation Sunday evening, where some waited nearly two hours to give their condolences to the family.
Sunday evening after the visitation, the lights at Sanger Field in Britt shined bright to honor the legendary coach and treasured community member.
“With all the garbage going on in our world, there's a lot of good things going on in this community,” Kevin said. “The love, the support and working together are great examples.”
Sanger was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Britt.
Photos: Funeral of Coach Bob Sanger at West Hancock High School in Britt
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Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.
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