Groll, Lynn COLOR

A few weeks ago, I was texting with Napoleon head football coach Tory Strock one evening about a new job opportunity.

Outside of my family, he was one of the first people I wanted to bounce the idea of leaving The Crescent-News to start a football magazine for this area. Strock is one of my most-trusted coaches I’ve formed a relationship with since starting at the C-N in 2002. One thing he told me that night was: “It’s all about relationships.”

There’s not a truer statement, in my opinion. It seems to ring truer as I get older, and especially when I think back on my time with the C-N that started nearly 17 years ago.

Like Strock said, “It’s all about relationships.”

From colleagues, to coaches, to players, fans and community members, working in the C-N sports department has afforded me relationships that I will cherish for the rest of my days.

I recall a Jerry Buti quote: “You win with people.” In life you win with great relationships and I cannot be more appreciative of the people I’ve met through this journey.

I haven’t gotten rich over my tenure here, but I did get rich on relationships. I wouldn’t trade those relationships for a million dollars because I’ve been blessed as an employee at The Crescent-News. In 30 years I’m not going to remember some paycheck, but I will remember the friendships I’ve formed over the years here.

It was kind of appropriate that on Thursday night I witnessed what true relationships are all about. Last week new Defiance College football coach Manny Matsakis told me about a gathering of the 1969 undefeated DC football team, that went 9-0. Each year former all-American tackle Paul Yon plays host to the team along with others. Thanks to an invite to the event, I witnessed first hand what the group is all about: a brotherhood.

The group has gotten together for over 30 years, growing from a few people in the initial years to close to 40 on Thursday night. From Wednesday to Saturday each year, the group golfs and tells a lot of stories from that 1969 campaign. The event reinforced what life is all about, it’s relationships.

It’s special that approaching 50 years, a group of guys can still get together for the camaraderie.

Since I made the decision it was time to move on to something new a few weeks ago, my mind’s been flooded with memories covering this area. I was lucky enough to cover Brock Mealer leading the Michigan football team onto the field at Michigan Stadium after being told he’d never walk again, listening to Ohio State and NBA great Jerry Lucas talk about his journey, covering high school baseball teammate Chad Reineke pitch for the Cincinnati Reds, covering big high school and college games along with hearing stories from legendary area coaches.

While my time at The Crescent-News ended today, the relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to form will continue on.

Last week I started to jot down a list of people that I wanted to thank in this column for helping me along the way. I got to the end of the first page on the notepad and started to realize I wasn’t anywhere near through the list of people I wanted to mention.

For the sake of time, I do want to mention a few that have paved the way to where I’m at today. The first is former C-N sports editor Bruce Hefflinger, because without him I would’ve never had this opportunity.

He gave me a chance in August of 2002, which changed my career path from wanting to be a history teacher, to being a sports writer.

Along with assistant sports editor Tim McDonough and fellow sports writer Chuck Martinez at the time, wow, did we have some fun times. They taught me the ropes along with former Crescent-News general manager Steve VanDemark.

I’ve laughed and cried even more the last few days about the wonderful memories from my time at the paper.

Bruce, Tim, Chuck and I could spend hours and days telling stories of our times together, which makes the tears and laughter flow.

Tim came back to the sports department on Wednesday morning and asked if I’ve gotten nostalgic recently. Of course, I told him.

Tim is infamous for the tales he can tell. He has a few dozen accounts from his time as a sports writer. I’ve heard these stories so many times that I can repeat them word for word.

My favorite ones are of former Wauseon football coach Mark Emans. Tim covered the Indians during their glory days in football, basketball and baseball, led by standout athlete Cory Griggs and several other greats in the early 90s.

Emans once called Tim from the dugout of a baseball game while Tim was sitting in the press box. Another time, Emans joked with the folks at the NWOAL media night that Tim was promoted to sports editor of the Farmland News. Tim has told those stories about Emans probably a hundred times but every time we bust our guts laughing.

Emans was just one of the colorful characters that I was fortunate enough to cover. Former Liberty Center football coach Rex Lingruen was another that those in journalism, call a “quote machine.” I loved listening to Lingruen tell stories of his time in charge of the Tigers.

Archbold football legend John Downey was another of my favorite interviews. He and Lingruen are old-school type mentors and their stories are gold. They coached during the glory days of the NWOAL, which played better football than any league in the state during a time in the late 80s through the 90s.

My most loyal follower through my years at The Crescent was a name known to most in Defiance, Phyllis Snyder, who passed away in the fall of 2017. When I took over the Defiance College sports beat, Phyllis became an instant friend because she was DC’s biggest fan along with husband, Vernon (better known as Pickle), who passed in 2006.

Whenever I had an article in the paper, Phyllis called or mailed a letter to tell me how wonderful the story was. Even if the story wasn’t all that interesting, Phyllis still made me feel like I was some award-winning journalist.

She didn’t have children but called me her grandson. That will be the highest compliment I will ever receive in my life, without a doubt, because I cannot respect a person any more than Phyllis. She defined how everyone should be. I’ve never met a kinder, gentler and wonderful soul than Phyllis.

Her passing was one of the hard times during my time covering the area. The loss of Thane Wooley, and area basketball legend and umpiring guru Ralph Ruffer left legacies that will never be forgotten.

Whenever people ask me what the most enjoyable part of working at The Crescent is, I have always said it’s the people here, along with with coaches, players and those in the Defiance and surrounding communities.

People like Tim Whetstone, Jeff Erb, Dave Blue, Andy Brigle, Mike Bumb, Toby Carrigan, Joe Frank, Jim Funderburg, Brian Gerber, Rob Giesige, Adam Gubernath, Tony Haynes, Rob Held, Rod Huber, Bill Inselmann, Dave Kleck, Mike Leonard, Manny Matsakis, Craig McCord, Joe Meyer, Scoop Miller, Bill Ondrus, Barry Parsons, Kerry Prather, Greg Pscodna, Chris Ragsdale, Brian Riblet, Craig Rutter, Jerry Stevens, Tyson Veidt, Paul Wayne, Derek Woodley and brothers Norm and Ryan Zeiter have made huge impacts on me over the years. All are salt of the earth people that would do anything for me.

Huber coached the Mount St. Joseph football team and was always the interview I looked forward to the most. If anyone remembers the old Micro-Machines pitch guy of the 1980’s commercials, that was Huber. He could spit out words like a jet engine. When I got done with an interview with him, I felt like I had just ran a marathon. He left you exhausted trying to comprehend what he just said.

Every time I talked to him, he’d always said, “You’re not working for ESPN or Sports Illustrated yet?”

Those that are still here and have been on The Crescent-News staff don’t stick around for decades for no reason. We love what we do and we love this area.

Writing never was a thought in my mind, in fact I wanted to be a history teacher. That changed one day when a friend, Brad Wolfrum, told me at college The Crescent-News sports department needed a part timer. Knowing Wolfrum and another friend, Kirk Jones, worked here at the time, I thought it would be fun to go to sporting events and spend time with them both in the office.

I remember the first story I was assigned was on local horseshoe pitching legend Alan Francis, who went on to become a national celebrity.

The first sporting event I covered was a Napoleon at Wauseon football game. Even though Hefflinger, McDonough and Martinez had given me some tips on writing game stories, that story was awful. I remember getting back to the office after the game and being here until nearly 4 a.m. writing the story, nearly six hours after I started (it takes me an hour maximum to write a story now). It was three times longer than it needed to be and included a bunch of fluff that made no sense.

Bruce was probably wishing he hadn’t hired me while editing that one.

But he sent me back out the next Friday night. Bob Olwin’s Fairview squad was playing at Archbold’s old Spengler Field, where Downey’s Streaks won by a couple touchdowns.

It was the scene of the one and only post-game interview out of thousands with a coach that didn’t go so well for me. I don’t recall Olwin’s exact words but he was rather perturbed that I didn’t ask enough questions after the loss and he screamed, “Great coverage from The Crescent-News tonight,” as I walked away.

Bruce asked me how everything went that night and I told him Olwin was ready to rip me limb from limb.

Bruce wasn’t happy.

In fact, he called Olwin first thing Monday morning, and stood up for me, which made me feel really good that my boss had my back.

A few weeks later I was back on the Fairview beat for a big GMC game against Tinora. The Rams rolled to an easy victory, and I of course was dreading another interview with Olwin. It became even more dreadful when our eyes met and he started shaking his head. It crossed my mind that he was going to plant me five feet under the 50-yard line that night.

Surprisingly, I lived.

I was back at Fairview for the season finale a couple weeks later when playoff-bound Antwerp visited. Olwin’s crew romped to an easy win and that’s when a relationship with Olwin formed. After my interview with him finished, he gave me a hug and said, “We’ve come a long way.”

We just laughed and still laugh to this day.

I still grin about those interactions with Olwin, who is perceived as tough to get along with. He treated me with respect after that first incident at Archbold.

In fact, he was part of one of my favorite memories from my time here. I met Olwin and former Ayersville mentor Craig McCord last fall for breakfast for a story on them joining forces on Doug Rakes’ staff at Fairview.

Even though Olwin had been out of this area for a number of years, and we hadn’t talked in a number of years, he hadn’t changed. It was his M.O. to rib me about something and he wasted no time that morning.

Since I was a couple minutes late, Olwin lit into me right away about not being on time and having a lot of gray hair since he had last seen me. I fired back about him having even less hair than when he was coaching at Fairview.

The three of us talked for nearly two hours that morning about the battles between their teams and a bunch of off the record stuff as well. It was one of those moments I felt blessed to be doing what I’m doing while listening to stories by two of the greatest football coaching legends in this area.

My relationship with McCord is another that I cherish. I have known him since I was a kid since my brother played for him at Ayersville in the 80s. We met for coffee plenty of times in recent years for a story or just to talk about Ayersville, and usually about our families and life.

Defiance High School has been blessed with wonderful people. I promise you Jerry Buti is the hardest working athletic director in the world. The guy never stops and I feel sorry for who succeeds him when he retires.

Defiance baseball coach Tom Held and basketball coach Kirk Lehman are stellar mentors and people.

Several Defiance College coaches and players mean the world to me. From basketball coaches Jon Miller, Kyle Brumett, Tom Heil and Scott Cutter to new football coach Manny Matsakis, I respect them all.

Late Wednesday nights covering DC basketball games included writing stories until around midnight and returning to the office at 4 a.m. or earlier to put together the next day’s paper.

Those nights were absolutely awful and it was always a struggle staying awake the next day.

Basketball twinbills at the Weaner Center meant 12-plus hour days on Saturdays in the winter.

The DC basketball beat was a challenge from November from March each year but I loved it. It was what I enjoyed covering the most. I formed great friendships with all four DC basketball coaches and opposing coaches that I covered during my time and also formed life-long friendships with players, including one (Mike Floyd) that was in my wedding.

Thanks to my family for supporting me all these years, especially my wife, Sarah, who has put up with me working crazy hours and the majority of weekends. I appreciated the hot homemade pizzas waiting for me when I got home late Saturday nights from work.

God Bless and thanks to all that have followed me over the years, I am honored and grateful for you allowing my articles into your homes.

Please stay in touch, because it’s all about relationships.

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