The chapel was filled. People coming to pay their respects lined the pews. The sermon was short and sweet, just like he would have wanted. He was a man that always let his actions speak for himself, whether as a teacher, a soldier or, perhaps how he is best remembered, as an athlete.
Irvin Daniel Crane, better known as “Danny” to friends and loved ones, passed away on Nov. 24 at the age of 86. He left behind family members and friends who knew Danny is where he belongs, with the angels.
“He was a fine, Christian man,” said Jack Fincham, a friend of Crane’s.
“Danny’s religion was at the center of his life,” Reverand Charles McGathy began the service. “His life shows us that.”
Crane’s life was one that was born out of hardship. His father was killed when Crane was less than a year old and his mother would remarry when he was four years old. Crane was raised by his grandparents in Culpeper.
From the time he was little, Crane was an athlete. A. T. Howard, the football coach for Culpeper County High School in the 1940s and early 1950s noticed Crane in a physical education class and convinced him to come out for the high school football team. It was a decision that would change his life forever.
Football fit Crane like a glove. He would go on to be the captain of the Blue Devils’ football team during his senior season, 1950. He set multiple records at the running back position but set all the records on the track, where he was the star of the team. He participated in the 100- and 220-yard dashes, anchored the 880-yard relay team, high jumped, pole vaulted and threw both the discus and the shot. When he graduated he held every single track and field record for Culpeper County High School.
After high school, Crane decided to attend Concord University on a football scholarship. He turned down offers from UVA, Maryland and VMI in favor of the smaller Concord because he knew he would be on the field instead of on the bench.
At Concord University, Crane set more records. He was the first All-American football player selected from Concord University. His No. 28 jersey hangs in the rafters at Concord. He also set school records by helping start a track team, and leading it to two top-three finishes in its first two seasons as a team.
With an athlete as gifted as Crane, professional football offers poured in. One offer, from the Pittsburg Steelers, interested Crane but he decided to turn it down. Instead, he joined the Army, representing his country overseas in Germany. Still, football never left Crane.
During that time, Army bases would put together football teams. Naturally, Crane joined the team and became a star. Track was never far away for him either. During his time in Germany, Crane participated in the All-European track meet. After qualifying for the Championship 100-meter race he lost to Ira Murchinson, a man who would go on to be a part of the United States’ gold-medal winning relay team in the 1956 Olympics.
Crane returned to the states and begin a career of teaching and coaching. He eventually found his way back to Culpeper, where he taught at the high school that had been the springboard for his career. During his time at Culpeper County High School, Crane would teach biology and help coach football and track.
“The players absolutely loved him as a coach,” Fincham said.
People who knew Crane both as a teacher and a coach offered their condolences online, through dignitymemorial.com.
“I was blessed to be coached in both football and track by Coach Crane. His integrity and dedication helped shape my life,” Mel Meadows commented on the site. “He was always positive and approachable ... always an example of an authentic humanity.”
“Mr. Crane coached me in football and taught me science in the classroom,” Neal Deane wrote. “Coach always showed everyone respect and served as a mentor and positive role model to us.”
“Coach Crane was a great man and always had that passionate smile that filled the room,” Kevin Surber remembered. “He allowed me to start coaching and judging track meets back when I first started coaching some thirty years ago. I never forgot his kind words and the example he set.”
After his retirement, Crane became involved with the Culpeper Baptist Church. He eventually became deacon of the church. Still sports were always a part of Crane’s life. In his later years, golf was his sport of choice.
“He was either on the golf course or on the road to the golf course,” Fincham said.
Fincham played golf with Crane at least a couple times a week, and if there is one thing everyone knew about Crane, it is that he wanted to be No. 1 in everything he did. He was a competitor.
“There was one time we were on the second hole on the golf course, Danny hit the pin off of the drive but it wasn’t able to fall into the hole. He didn’t get a hole-in-one,” Fincham said. “I heard that he went back the next day, back to the second hole on the golf course, and he got himself a hole-in-one.”
With a life that could have gone so many ways, Crane always believed it went the right way. He didn’t have any regrets about joining the Army instead of the Steelers. He wasn’t the type of person to think about how something could have been differently, because, according to friends, Crane always said,“The Lord was very good to me.”