Roland “Ort” Ortmayer. Just saying his nationally known nickname to one of the many athletes he has coached, students he has instructed, or fellow La Verne community members with whom he has associated brings about a sudden flood of emotions, respect and appreciation that washes over their faces.
Many recognize the name Ortmayer because it is the name of the University’s football stadium. But there is more to plaque and a named field in this case. The name Ort has come to symbolize a life philosophy. The way he coached is one of the reasons the University of La Verne has an excellent sports reputation. The way he lived his life is why so many people cannot say enough good things about him or, in some cases, get so choked up that they are incapable of articulating their thanks.
Ort changed lives and taught people to look at life from a different angle.
“His preferred title was simply Ort,” said Don Morel, former University of La Verne head football coach and one of Ortmayer’s former football players. “To use it meant coach, teacher, mentor, counselor, guide.”
Sure, Ort coached football—and basketball, baseball, and track and field. He was the ULV athletic director. And he taught 10 physical education classes a year. Corlan Harrison, his daughter, described how one could see students repelling down the side of La Fetra and Mainiero halls for his climbing class, or zip lining from the third story roof of Mainiero Hall to center of the adjacent football field.
The emphasis was always on fun.
“In dad’s throwing class, I learned how to throw throwing knives,” his daughter, a former ULV student, said.
A throwing class involving knives probably would not be offered at most schools. But Ort transcended being politically correct in sports. He wanted to share the love of the sport—and always emphasized having fun—nothing else. He would tell house visitors how taking out the trash cans should be made into a fun game.
“Everything should involve an element of fun. If you find a career that stops being fun, you should find a new career,” Harrison said, describing her father’s mentality.
Of course, for his external audience, football is the reason why he is legendary. He turned his Division III games into a nationally known experience. The Los Angeles Times reported on his unorthodox coaching style. ABC news came to campus and covered him. And then there was the feature length story in Sports Illustrated that shared La Verne’s most loved unconventional coach with the world.
Football was a family affair and way of life. Wife Corni and daughters Susie and Corlan all were stage hands in the production. Ort and family would do everything from line the field, hand scrub the uniforms and clean the locker room. Corni would sew up torn jerseys, tend to injured players’ pride and could usually be seen organizing fund raising activities on home game Saturdays through the sale of drinks, hot dogs and home cooked food. The concession stand “Corni’s Corner” on Ortmayer field is named for her and brings her loving spirit forward to new generations of student athletes.
“They were a great team,” daughter Harrison said. “Ort had the vanilla kind of life; Corni added the spice. She was the zest. They would figure out how to walk on water for each other.”
And that is one of the things that sets Ort apart from other coaches, from other human beings. He wasn’t afraid to do anything and everything that needed to be done.
“He thought that nothing is below you,” Harrison said. “That’s part of the pride. To think a job is below you means you don’t really own your job.”
Ort believed only in the goodness of the individual. He stressed teamwork. “We are all a team, and as a team we can get through anything” was the way he thought, said Harrison.
Richard Keeler, director of Grant and Contract Services at Riverside City College, ran track and field for Ort.
“He listened to people and really heard them,” said Keeler.
And Ort cared deeply about his student athletes.
Ort told the story of being approached by acclaimed Professor of History Herbert Hogan, who said that he had a football player who was failing history. He asked what Ort he was going to do about it. Ort looked at the professor and corrected him.
“You have a history student who is failing history who plays football. What are we going do about it?”
Through the many stories told, it is easy to gather that Ort had a great respect for everything on this planet. He was the man who would not cut across lawns. He would always use the sidewalk, because he did not want to tramp down on the grass. He was the man who left his keys in his unlocked van, everyday. And when the dark side would cross him and theft happened, he would remark, “Maybe they needed it more than I did.”
Ort was the one who respected the University of La Verne campus as if it were his own front room. When one walked across campus with him, he invariably would go out of his way to pick up trash.
Harrison, looked at her father who, though critically ill with complications of pneumonia in the Hillcrest Homes Woods facility, was ignoring his pain and smiling up at her. She pondered aloud why a building or stadium on a campus is named after someone.
“Who was this person? What did they do? I only wish students today could step on campus and feel that Ortmayer experience—what he offered,” Harrison said.
“In a lifetime, we all dream of being part of a legend,” Morel said. “We all want to witness to a Lincoln speech, be a fan at a Babe Ruth game. As time goes by, those of us who knew and spent time with Ort will come to grips that in our lives, we were in the presence of a legend.”
“He’s just a gentleman,” Harrison said. “I wonder, does it take more effort to be upstanding? Is it intelligence, or just the willingness to be a great guy? Because when you’re like that, that’s when your friends buy you a stadium, buy you a car or come visit you at your bedside when you’re 911.”
The stories were swapped back and forth, as visitors filtered into Ort’s Hillcrest medical care room, and my pen could not move quick enough to catch them all. Throughout it all, I began to see why people marvel at Ort’s high character, and I thought that we need more guys like Ort in this world.
“I think the greatest gift anyone has ever given him,” Harrison explained, “is paying it forward—taking what they learned from him and sharing it, telling other people. That’s the way you honor him—to be what he is to you to someone else. If this article would inspire people to do one thing, it would be to bring fun to education, and to know that we all have the ability to go above and beyond.”
Richard Keeler looked over at Ort and then to me and said, “I’m glad I experienced it.”
Alex Senyo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.