Trustee Michael Banks '92 wrote this blog about the profound effect that Landon and, in particular, Coach Jim Hanker H '16 have had on his life. During Homecoming & Reunions 2016, a reception was held to name Coach Hanker an honorary Landon alumnus in celebration of his service to the school as a football coach for 30 years. During his speech at the reception, Hanker pulled out a touching note written 25 years prior by the mother of one of his players. That player was Michael Banks.
I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Landon. I lost my dad at 4 years old. The Landon community filled gaps and took care of me from day one and still does. I consider Landon my family. I am forever grateful. It serves as a safe, peaceful place for me. I sense it the moment I step on campus. It is the relationships that make it this way.
I received a poignant reminder of that this past Landon Reunions weekend, when I attended the ceremony to celebrate Coach Jim Hanker and name him an honorary Landon alumnus. It was a large turnout. It was surreal to see so many familiar faces from the past and to be able to reconnect.
But the night was special for me in another way: During his speech, Coach Hanker read aloud a note (pictured above) that my mom wrote to him 25 years ago during my senior year of 1991–92. The photo next to it of me with Coach Hanker is from that '91 football season, when we were 7–1–1. I was lucky enough to play three years with Coach Hanker. He truly gave me and my teammates chills every time he spoke to us. It was not uncommon for our toughest linebackers and linemen to have tears coming down their cheeks before we took the field.
The above picture is from Homecoming at St. Albans 25 years ago, a game that truly captures what Coach Hanker meant to me. The pass I threw in the picture was to Billy Magruder '92 but was way off target (due to Jonathan Ogden of St. Albans) and was intercepted early in the first quarter. Coming off the field, Coach Hanker roared at me to pick up my head and smacked me hard on the back. I remember it well. We dominated that game and won 21–0 for my final game in a Landon uniform. Easily my favorite game in my entire 10 years at Landon. Somehow our offensive line (James Cassidy '92, Billy Magruder, Toby Murdock '92, Andy Neviaser '94, Rajan Singh '92, Jeremy Steen '92 and Cole Van Nice '92) managed to contain Ogden — which is truly remarkable. He was, at least, two times larger than anyone on the field. Ogden went on to be one of the best offensive tackles in the history of the game — All-American at UCLA and NFL Hall of Famer with the Ravens.
I will never forget Coach Hanker, just as it is stated in my mom's note. The fact that he pulled out that note and read it to everyone means everything to me. I had no idea she wrote it, and I had no idea he would hold onto it for 25 years. (Watch the video below, which captures this special moment.)
I have since reflected on what my mom's note means. It instills in me the power of giving and expressing gratefulness. No matter how small a gesture, generosity and giving thanks and acknowledgement can have a profound impact. It's a simple act that transcends. It's about being human.
I have also reflected on Coach Hanker as a person and his meaning to Landon. For those who were lucky enough to know him, he offered an underlying strength. He insisted on treating everyone with kindness. He insisted on offering support to one another on both our best and worst days. He insisted that we treat each other as a family... and he wanted us to fight to keep it that way. He insisted on pride. Be proud of who you are. Show pride in all that you do. Help out the other fellow.
Coach Hanker offered the reality that we would not win every competition. But, he also insisted that our competition should expect that we were going to bring it. He wanted our opponent to know and feel that we were going to hit harder than them. Know that we would be knocking them off their feet. Know that we are fighters in the best sense of the word. Know that we would never give up. Know that we will pick them up off the ground and we would see them next time, ready to fight even harder. Coach Hanker brought grit. If you get knocked down, get back up. Find strength and grace in pain. Landon brings grit. For me, Landon is an unaffected, humble community. I hope that never changes. People like Coach Hanker are the reason why.
After a big Friday night reunion with friends and Landon legends, emotion poured out of me as I sat in bed and watched the video of Coach Hanker's speech that I had taken earlier in the night on my phone. My heart pounded, tears came, and I felt more alive than ever.
Thank you, Coach Hanker. You taught me that it is OK to express and share deep emotion.
For the current Landon students — I can only hope you know it is all there for you. Step up and embrace it. Take care of each other. Work hard together. Support one another. Reach out to the world beyond and make great things happen. We have amazing resources, teachers, coaches, administration, the most beautiful campus and landscape you could ask for... and it will be getting even more beautiful. Just watch.
God bless Coach Hanker. And, as he was fond of saying, "Over the wall."