Late coach will still be a focus at Hall of Fame event
Lesser’s Chesapeake state title teams to be inducted Wednesday
WYE MILLS The late Mercedes Lesser will not be there in person, but she will certainly be on the minds of many at Wednesday night’s Chesapeake College Athletic Hall of Fame induction dinner.
Chesapeake is inducting the 1972 and 1973 women’s volleyball teams along with men’s soccer player G. R. Cannon and baseball player Will Delawter. Lesser coached both of the championship volleyball teams, which provided the college with its first two state titles.
"She talked very proudly of her volleyball players and all the players she coached she called them her ’tigers’," husband Kunz Lesser said of Mercedes Lesser, who also coached tennis, basketball and cheerleading during her three decades at the college. "She was a people person."
"I think the thing that made her so special was that she was just so genuine in everything that she did," said Dr. Ed Baker, a professor of kinesiology at Chesapeake College who worked closely with Lesser for more than 25 years. "People trusted her and respected her and she was just so darned likable."
The Bolivian-born Lesser who was individually inducted into the college’s Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaching category in 2005 taught at Chesapeake College from 1968 to 1999. She was an associate professor in kinetics and wellness as well as a coach, but her players said her impact on their lives went well beyond her formal responsibilities.
"She made you feel like you were part of a family," said Janet Fountain, who played on both state title teams and was captain of the 1973 squad. "Because she made you feel like a family, we worked hard and did our best for each other. She kept us motivated because she wanted us to do our best. She just made things so special for everybody. I know I felt so special being part of her team."
"She believed in every student athlete and always encouraged us to be the best we could be," said Deb Urry, who played for Lesser in 1974 and 1975 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player the same year Lesser went in as a coach. "And her smile was so very powerful she always looked so happy."
Urry said Lesser "inspired us through her positive attitude and she led by example."
"Her criticism was almost always positive and given in a way that made us want to work harder," added Urry.
While part of Lesser’s success was due to her people skills, players said she was a very knowledgeable "Xs and Os" coach.
"She knew the game," said Fountain. "And because she knew it so well, she was able to make sure we knew what we were doing."
"She was very knowledgeable about the game and skills needed for volleyball," said Urry. "My skills increased exponentially with every practice."
Kunz Lesser said his wife, who taught at Cambridge High before moving on to Chesapeake, loved interacting with people of all ages.
Professor Emeritus Mercedes Lesser, right, accepts a plaque from then President Stuart Bounds in 2002 during a ceremony commemorating the naming of the college's Mercedes Lesser Softball Field. The late Lesser, inducted into the Chesapeake College Athletic Hall of Fame as a coach in 2005, will go into the Hall again posthumously on Wednesday with her 1972 and 1973 state championship women's volleyball teams.
"She loved working with young students, senior citizens, all kinds of people," he recalled. "For several years she worked with children from the Benedictine School. They loved her to death and she loved them, too."
Kunz Lesser noted Mercedes’ various teaching awards Outstanding Educator in America in 1973; Faculty Member of the Year for the Association of Community College Trustees Northeast Region in 1986; Who’s Who in American Education in 1993; awarding of professor emeritus status by the Chesapeake College Board of Trustees in 1999 provide evidence that she was just as successful in the classroom as on the courts.
"She took her profession very seriously," said Kunz Lesser.
And she never forgot her students.
"After I transferred to Tarkio College, Mrs. Lesser had all of the girls on the 1976 team sign one of the volleyball programs and she sent it to me," said Urry. "I was so surprised and it made me feel like I would always be one of her ’little tigers.’ "
Notes: The Hall of Fame dinner, which will feature former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick as guest speaker, is sold out with more than 200 people expected.
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