The Englewood Public Schools stadium is now officially named Randy Penn Stadium, committing to history the name of a man who left an indelible mark on generations of young athletes and students.
Penn, a longtime athletic coach and teacher who later served as the mayor of Englewood and director of the city's chamber of commerce, passed away at age 71 on Sept. 3.
Englewood's school board unanimously approved the name change on Oct. 20, in a special meeting convened after a groundswell of calls from community members to honor the memory of a man many simply called “Coach.”
“It's absolutely the right thing to do,” said Englewood Schools Superintendent Wendy Rubin. “In all my life I've never met someone so committed to their community and their schools and to lifting up those around them.”
It wasn't the first time the idea of naming the stadium after him came up, Rubin said.
“It's been floated numerous times since he retired,” Rubin said. “But every time someone brought it up, Randy would say, 'absolutely not, no way — that's Pirates Stadium.'”
But after Penn passed, Rubin said the demand from the community was overwhelming.
“Almost immediately, a half-dozen people reached out,” she said. Though the school board's policy mandates a 90-day comment period and the convening of a committee to discuss naming district facilities after individuals, the board opted to waive the policy for what seemed like a no-brainer.
“We had 100% support,” Rubin said. “You don't see things like this happen anymore, where a community comes together to honor an individual like this. Things are so hard right now, and this is the legacy he left us with: to bring people together.”
Penn began teaching in Englewood Schools in 1981 and remained with the district until 2008, where he coached Pirates sports including football, swimming and track. He served as Englewood's mayor from 2011 through 2015 and then moved into leadership of the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce before retiring in spring 2019.
The name change is a profound honor, said Debbie Penn, Randy's widow.
“My family is overwhelmed with joy,” Debbie said.
The weeks since her husband's passing have been tough.
“I miss his laughter,” Debbie said. “I miss him teasing me. I miss his bear hugs.”
The grief has been eased by the outpouring of love and sympathy.
“People I don't even know have reached out to me to share their love,” Debbie said. “I knew Randy touched a lot of lives, but it was almost overwhelming.”
Debbie said district officials have offered to host a memorial to her husband at the stadium once large gatherings are allowed again.
The name makes perfect sense, Debbie said, because Englewood High School meant so much to Penn and the couple's children.
“My kids grew up at Englewood High School,” she said. “My girls learned how to spell Englewood from the cheerleaders spelling it out at games.”
In keeping with her husband's wishes, Debbie said she plans to spread some of his ashes at a favorite spot near Breckenridge, and the rest at the high school.
For the former students Penn coached, naming the stadium after him was a vital way to remember someone who so shaped the way they approach life.
Andy Cornell, who played football for Penn and graduated in 1998, said “Coach” taught him three big life lessons: have pride in everything you do, work hard even when nobody else is watching, and never let your teammates down.
And one more lesson: “We have different names, and we're from different places, but we're one Pirate family,” Cornell said. “Once a Pirate, always a Pirate.”
Adam Devereaux, a 2001 EHS graduate whose family has lived in Englewood since 1955, said Coach and the town are inseparable.
“He brought everyone together and excluded no one,” Devereaux said. “It's impossible to think of Englewood without thinking of Coach Penn.”
In the meantime, Debbie Penn is keeping her husband's memory alive in another way: putting up the elaborate Christmas decorations Randy was known for at their house on Sherman Street.
“It's part of our life, and I'll keep doing it as long as we can.”
It will still be a bit until the district buys the new signs bearing the stadium's new name, said Rubin, the superintendent, but the name change is official immediately.
Debbie said looking forward to the unveiling of the new signs.
“I'm probably going to cry when I see them,” she said. “It'll make me so proud of him and what he did for people. He'll be part of Englewood forever.”
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