Sue Sommer has seen a string of remarkable moments occur over the last month since her husband, Jeff, passed away at the state track and field championships in Jacksonville.
First, it was a grieving Estero community that came together, hundreds of current and former athletes, parents, teachers, friends.
Then came prayers and donations and scholarships in his name.
These things alone weren’t surprising.
But coupled together, these moments crystallized into something larger, stronger. They shaped a man whose impact extended far beyond the school he coached at, to the corners of the state where his words held significance.
In over a month since his passing, more than $31,000 has been raised in his name in various ways, through T-shirt sales, fundraisers and private donations.
On Wednesday, a small recognition hoped to extend his legacy further on the local high school sports scene.
During the fifth annual News-Press All-Area Banquet at Hammond Stadium, he was recognized as the event’s first-ever Coach of the Year.
In future years the award, named in Sommer’s honor, looks to recognize an individual with a special talent for inspiring a team and a community.
“When I think back over the years with all the kids he had a special impact on, and when you have three decades of that, you really kind of see that in perspective with how many kids lives were changed because of him,” Sue Sommer said.
Sommer’s son, Adam, a graduate of Estero, accepted a $500 check on behalf of The Run Shoppe of Cape Coral and The News-Press.
“I’m very honored and blessed to receive this award in honor of my dad today,” Adam Sommer said. “I know he was loved by many of you out there tonight and I want to thank everybody again for coming out.”
The money will add to a scholarship fund the Sommer family said they will have a part in shaping.
“When it’s established, we will be a part of it,” Sue Sommer said. “We want to make sure that we try and refuel that every year so it doesn’t stop.”
Sommer’s entire family, including daughters Jennie and Ashley, were also on hand Wednesday. So was his assistant coach Ben Pignatone, family friends and current athletes from Estero.
Jennie West hoped the award would continue on and serve as a legacy to her father, who made an impression on hundreds of athletes.
“You never know what time will tell, but that’s our hope,” she said.
They said Sommer was a coach who often took athletes in when they were having family problems. He would buy players shoes, pay for meals and give rides home after practice.
“When I ran for him it would take us hours to get home because we were dropping everyone off,” West said.
But those years were also built around the idea that every athlete mattered. Everyone made a difference, West said.
In the end, Sommer was fighting for every student and every athlete, regardless of skill or ability.
“He was always for the underdog,” Sue Sommer said.