FAIR OAKS, Calif. (KTXL) – A coach, a mentor, a friend — that’s who 65-year-old Tom Laythe was to his team.
“He was a huge part of my life for four years. I have pictures with him for every meet,” said Bella Vista High School sophomore student-athlete Logan Marlatt. “He taught me how to break through the running barriers, taught me how to be a better person in general.”
Laythe coached varsity cross country and track at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks.
He was best known for his kindness, positive spirit and sense of humor.
“He was funny and loved to make people laugh and loved to laugh himself. And so, he was always keeping it light and he was super well-read,” said Harold Kuphaldt, who coached with Laythe.
And to his student-athletes, he was more like family.
“He was more than a coach. He was more than a friend. He was one of the best people I’ve ever met and I miss him a lot,” Marlatt said.
It’s why they felt a collective pain when Laythe was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19.
“We were worried. I mean, we hoped this wouldn’t happen,” said Bella Vista High School senior Bruce Marlatt.
Laythe died New Year’s Day.
“Tom is certainly one of those people that can’t be replaced. I mean, of course, we can find another coach but it won’t be Tom,” Kuphaldt said.
For Laythe, it wasn’t about winning or losing. It was about shaping the people beneath the tracksuit, which he made known in his coaching biography.
“I have been blessed to have worked with many outstanding student/athletes who have succeeded in the classroom, on the track, and on the XC course. Our hope is that they can apply some life lessons learned in running to the rest of their lives,” he wrote.
And to those he coached, he did just that.
“Use his inspiration, use his life as inspiration to do something great with ourselves,” Bruce Marlatt told FOX40.
In a message to students, the principal of Bella Vista High School called Laythe a “wonderful man with a kind spirit.”
Counseling services have been made available for students and staff.