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Paul Hartsel recalled as one of area's greatest athletes

Paul Hartsel recalled as one of area's greatest athletes

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Norman Lineburg showed up at William Byrd in 1962 for his first job as a high school football coach.

Lineburg saw plenty of players come and go in five decades that included 37 years at Radford High.

The veteran coach would not have traded Paul Hartsel for any of them.

Hartsel, who played football at the University of Miami and served as an elementary school teacher for 33 years in Roanoke County, died Thursday at age 74.

Lineburg recalled the former William Byrd star with high praise.

“Out of the entire Roanoke area the years that I’ve been here, he’s as outstanding an athlete as any I’ve seen,” Lineburg said. “He was elite. He has to be one of the greatest athletes that the Roanoke sports world has seen.”

Hartsel graduated from Byrd in 1964 and played football for two seasons at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where he was named a first-team NJCAA All-American in 1964 and was inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame in 2005.

He transferred to Miami, where he was a 6-foot-1, 205-pound defensive end playing opposite the legendary Ted “The Mad Stork” Hendricks.

Hartsel’s classmate and fellow Byrd football co-captain, Paul Barnard, was not surprised when his former teammate excelled at the college level.

“That was a long time ago and things are different today, but as far as his toughness and his mental approach to the game, he exceeds or equals any Division I player coming out today,” Barnard said.

William Byrd won the Blue Ridge District title in 1963 when Hartsel was a senior, finishing off an 8-2 season by clinching the championship with a 9-0 road win over a Martinsville team led by quarterback Sonny Wade, who went on to earn three Grey Cup most valuable player awards in the Canadian Football League.

Hartsel played fullback and starred on the defensive line in the shutout.

“If I’m not mistaken, Paul kicked a field goal in that game,” Lineburg said. “That was a huge win for us. I could have used him anywhere. One time our quarterbacks were injured, and he quarterbacked us in a game we beat Cave Spring [42-12].

“He was sensational. No matter what you did, he could play. What a wonderful person and what a wonderful athlete. He was so renowned even then in high school with his classmates, and the faculty and his coaches. He was an amazing, amazing athlete.”

Born on the Fourth of July in 1946, Hartsel taught physical education at several Roanoke County elementary schools, finishing his career at W.E. Cundiff Elementary in Vinton.

“He touched a lot of people,” Barnard said. “He had a big heart. He changed a lot of lives.”

Barnard said he and Hartsel were frequent golf partners until his former teammate’s health began to deteriorate.

“He had been struggling for about 10 years or more,” said Barnard, who has been a basketball coach in the Roanoke Valley for nearly 50 years. “He was walking with a cane. I hadn’t played golf with him in 10 or 12 years. I used to play golf with him once or twice a week.”

A Celebration of Life ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Grace Family Church in Vinton, preceded by visitation from noon-1:30 p.m.

Hartsel’s death has made Barnard pause to reflect.

“We were the same age,” Barnard said. “My mind thinks I’m 50, but when I heard Paul passed I thought, ‘Maybe I am getting old.’

“Paul’s going to missed, especially by our class. Everybody thought he’d live forever.”

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