E. Roy Lester

A three-sport letterman at WVU, former University of Maryland head football E. Roy Lester will be honored at today's WVU va. Maryland football game.

MORGANTOWN — We've waited five years for this, the renewal of border rivalries.

This year it's West Virginia at Maryland to open the 2021 season today after a five-year hiatus, then at noon in two weeks the Mountaineers welcome Virginia Tech back onto the schedule for the first time in four years and to Morgantown for the first time in 18 years.

Can it really have been that long?

These — along with Pitt, which comes back onto the schedule next year for the first time in a decade — are the heat of what should be the Mountaineers' football schedule no matter which league they wind up in.

Why?

It's regional ... and we're not talking travel time as WVU took a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride to College Park, which matches the flight time to most of the Big 12 home cities. It's not about geography as much as it's about demography, the type of people who live within the area.

Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, southwestern Pennsylvania ... it is the people who give it its life and way of life.

And this brings us to a ceremony that will be held in College Park, a ceremony honoring a person who exemplifies what those who hold this rivalry dear to their hearts mean.

True, he is a former Maryland coach, and one who found himself earning that job at the wrong time, as you will see and as a 7-25 career record shows.

But there's a major crossover here, for E. Roy Lester was not only a graduate of West Virginia University, but a three-sport letterman who may have resided most of his life in Maryland but now and forever resides in the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.

Let us begin with how this came to our attention. As it is with most news these days, it caught our eye on Facebook, a message from Amy Lester Greco. Here is the text of it:

"Hi and I hope everyone is doing well!! These are tough times & I pray for each of you.

On Saturday, September 4th at the WVU/MD game, they are honoring our dad, Coach Roy Lester. Our dad was a proud West Virginian.

However, he moved to Maryland to coach at Allegheny High in 1953. In 1956, he went to the University of Maryland to be the freshman football & basketball coach.

He returned to MD in 1969 as the Head Football Coach— The year before they lost most of their players. Our dad came in & simply felt blessed to be there. He recruited 15 future NFL players including Randy White (a Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer from Maryland.)

He was so pleased to be able to give Coach Ralph Friedgen his 1st job. He was always very proud of all of his players & coaches… including Coach Fred O'Connor & Coach Billy Joe. He went on to so much more happiness & greatness. Coach Lester’s only goal was to make a difference in people’s lives. He certainly succeeded at that. We love and miss you dad.

The boys & I will all be at the game. Roy Jr, Chris, Tom Lester & I look forward to honoring our dad at the game."

Now, let's take look at the man who was Roy Lester. He came out of Spencer High to attend WVU, where he won letters in football, basketball and baseball, a rare feat at any school.

He was a receiver on the 1949 Sun Bowl team coached by the great Dudley DeGroot on which he caught 16 balls for 259 yards and a couple of touchdowns. In basketball, he played in 21 games and scored 27 points.

Baseball was his best sport, lettering from 1947 through 1949, batting .339 for his career.

A political science major, he played a year of semi-professional football in New Jersey for a farm team of the Philadelphia Eagles, then went into coaching, his coaching career began in Walton, West Virginia, before crossing the border to become a high school coach who would win three state championships and compile 260 wins in Montgomery County.

Oh, and in the middle of his college years, he was called on to serve in the Navy during World War II and was stationed at Pearl Harbor.

As the head coach at Maryland, Lester never really had a chance. The team he inherited had won only 2 of its previous 19 games, leading to a revolt among the players and the firing of his predecessor.

The school hired Lester because not only did they think he could coach, but he could bring sanity back within the program.

"My dad was a molder of men," his son, Tom Lester, told the Baltimore Sun. He loved his players — he never cut anybody. He trusted his players and was almost like a father figure to them. He just inspired people to want to go out and win."

At the college level and caught up in a difficult situation, he could only build up the talent for his successor, Jerry Clairborne, who went on to play in seven bowls in the next 10 years at Maryland.

But why would Maryland be honoring an old-timer who had little success in his stint as head football coach and who is not only from West Virginia, but a member of the Mountaineers' Sports Hall of Fame.

That's as modern as thinking of Roy Lester is old-fashioned, for in May 2020, Roy Lester died of complications from COVID-19.

He was 96.

And after he died, his daughter, Amy Lester Grecko, took to Facebook to say this:

“How blessed I am to have been his only daughter. I am not a perfect person but everything good about me came from this beautiful man.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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