Belvidere boys cross country mourns the loss of their coach

Robert Salley died unexpectedly on Saturday
Published: Nov. 22, 2020 at 11:26 PM CST
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BELVIDERE, Ill. (WIFR) - You never truly know the impact someone has had on your life until they are gone. The Belvidere community mourns the loss of longtime teacher and coach Robert Salley.

“Happened to look at my phone, saw the message and just broke down from there.”

“It’s hitting me right now a lot more, just because we’re all here and he’s not.”

“It wasn’t like he had an illness. It wasn’t like a car accident. He had a freak accident.”

On Friday, Nov. 20, Belvidere boys cross country coach Robert Salley fell and hit his head. There was damage to his brain. He was taken to the ICU, but died Saturday night. On Sunday, the Bucs community and team came together to collect cards and remember their coach.

“He was more of a father figure to all of us,” said sophomore Jacob Koziol. “He spent a lot of his time with us and taking care of us.”

“One thing he told me, I’m not the fastest runner,” explained junior Rob Bland. “But you don’t need to be the fastest to run cross country.”

Salley was a third grade teacher at Perry Elementary and had been part of Belvidere District 100 for more than 25 years. Some of the Belvidere runners had been with him since middle school, and others just got to know him.

“There’s a few of us who will go beyond what we were meant for,” said freshman Caden Streff. “I feel like he was one of those people, who did his best to make everyone around him feel right at home, feel as if they can be whoever they want to be.”

Not only was Salley a good coach, he had a good sense of humor. Whether it was hating on Little Caesar’s Pizza or gloating about his love for donuts, everyone had a story about him.

“He really joked around a lot with us,” said senior Octavio Lares. “With me wearing pants all the time, he joked around that I had no legs. That I had prosthetics. Which was a very fun time.”

“I’ll always remember going down to state with him back in seventh grade,” said Hunter Debruyne. “Us going to Texas Roadhouse. He wore cargo shorts. He filled up every single pocket with peanuts. On the way back, there was nothing but shells on that bus and I will never forget that.”

Just a week ago, the team held their end of season dinner in Salley’s garage. Team captain Owin Hunter recalled the speech he gave that night.

“He didn’t care how we were as a runner. If we were good or bad or if we run in college or anything like that,” explained Hunter. “All he wanted us to get out of this program, was us to go on to be good people that could hold a stable job and provide for our families. That was all he cared about. I think that really showed how he cared for everyone around him.”

Once the cards were collected, the boys took them and dropped them off to the family. One last run for a one of a kind person.

“Salley was Salley. There’s no replacing him.”

A GoFundMe page has been setup to help the Salley family at this time of need. If you would like to donate, click the link here.

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