If you ever question the value of those who coach, who teach, and who help run your schools…the feet on the ground…come to a state tournament and just observe. You’ll see what I mean.
Columbus – I’m reminded every time I come to a state tournament.
I remember when I meet people like Jerry Close (girls coach at Waterford), Dave Schlabach (girls coach at Berlin Hiland), and Jeff Reese, (coach and principal at Jackson Center)…just what makes these people so special, and their value to their respective schools, communities, and most of all, to their communities.
Close, in particular, is a fellow you just like to meet. A hulk of a man with a heart the size to match, he’s pure coach as well as a pure ‘dad’ figure to the girls he coaches. He understands kids, it’s evident. He gets it that they’ll occasionally go their own way, in the hallways, I’m sure, as well as on the court. They won Thursday, over Jackson Center, because one of his seniors, Hayley Duff, took it upon herself to “finish things” in regulation. “I didn’t want overtime,” said Duff afterwards, talking about her game-winning shot just one second before the clock struck 0:00.
And then there’s Reese, the principal at Jackson Center, who watched stoically as his team’s fourth quarter comeback from a ten-point deficit came to naught as Duff’s self-fulfilling prophecy negated what would surely have been another magical moment in the basketball legacy of the Jackson Center community.
Just moments before, another senior, Jackson’s Cassie Meyer, had hit a three-pointer to tie the score and set the stage for history, in front of her dad Tony, a member of the ’85 boys team that won their own state title.
But Reese is special for other reasons, as well. A towering figure who himself played for Scott Elchert not so very long ago, he’s highly competitive, of course, but oh-so-composed with it. The officiating in Thursday’s game was hard to explain, at best. A very rough, physical game, the three ‘stripes’ simply put the whistles in their pockets and watched the bodies fly. A well-worn cliche’ in tournament basketball by now, they let the players dictate the outcome of the game, a game that could have been dictated, as well, by a foul called here or there – and points from free throws.
Reese never complained. He never changed composure. He never let on to his girls that they might have had a better shake. No, he just coached.
“I won’t make any excuses because of the officiating,” he said afterwards to the press, who asked. “Games like this are tough. You have to be tough, too. Give credit to Waterford (and Hayley Duff). They made a play that won the game.”
Wow! To have your kids grow up with that kind of character, perspective, and grace. Eh?
And to have your kids grow up with the example of responsibility and patience evident when you meet and watch Jeff Reese. For you see, he has a son with special needs, confined to a wheel chair, who never leaves his side – even during the most important game of his dad’s life. Landon Reese sat right beside Jeff on the bench Thursday, as engaged as any of the 15 players, coaches, managers, who endured the moment.
And oh-so-impressively, in the abject disappointment of that moment, after Duff’s shot had ended the comeback – the dream – Reese’s first response was to take care of Landon, summoning his chair and seeing that he got situated before going through the hand-shake line.
Wow, Jeff Reese, you brought tears to my eyes…and joy to my heart.
You go to any given community in Ohio, where coaches coach, teach, administer to and mentor kids…and you’ll find an example like the men and women coaching at this tournament.
They make a pretty big deal through the OHSAA of preaching the message of respecting the game and all the ancillary contingencies that people don’t see, or understand, from the stands.
They stress perspective, and the importance of leadership and example to future generations, while others question the value of sports, the expense, and the priorities of coaches whom we assume put their own legacy above all else.
If you’re one of those, check yourself. Trust it, you want people like this – they’re worth your money and the investment at Berlin, Waterford, and Jackson Center.
You want them walking the halls of your school.
You want…a Jeff Reese!