The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 16, 2013

A Don McCormack column: A message of warmth from Coldwater

Taken along for the ride...

By DON McCORMACK - donmac@suite224.net
Sports Editor

— It truly is a small world, after all. Six weeks, or so, ago I stumbled across a movie while flipping through the channels.

Seeing some football action in the flick, it caught my interest.

Upon realizing the team depicted in the flick, “Touchback,” was based on an actual Ohio high school, Coldwater, located in Mercer County, the channel didn’t get changed. A rarity, these days.



At the movies

First, a bit of background.

The movie is 2012 film written and directed by Don Handfield and stars Brian Presley and Kurt Russell.

By the time the 120-minute movie ended, I had tears streaming down my face.

It kicks off with Scott Murphy (Presley), your typical high school football hero, much like that played by Russell, who does a terrific job as Coach Hand, during another gridiron classic, “The Best of Times,” in 1986.

Anyway, injury he received during a state championship game played in Ohio ended Murphy’s career on the football field, which was slated to continue as a full-scholarship player at Ohio State (yet another hook).

 Two decades after that fateful game was played, Murphy still resides with his family in the quiet town of Coldwater, referred as “Backwater” more often than not in the film as a reference to its rural nature.

I won’t spoil the rest of the movie for you, but if you have yet to see it, I certainly recommend it.

As is usually the case, sports are a wonderful metaphor for life and “Touchback” certainly answers the bell.



Prologue

In Week 10 of the 2013 high school football season, I ran my column about what makes high school transcendent across lines such as race, gender, income, even ability.

http://www.starbeacon.com/localsports/x252042557/A-Don-McCormack-column-High-school-football-it-s-all-about-heart

That column has received as much, if not more feedback than any of recent vintage for yours truly. While most definitely appreciative of all the wonderful sentiments expressed by those who felt inclined to offer them, I figured it was like any other in that reactions would cool and an “on-to-the-next” scenario would play out.

Turns out, though, I was incorrect. Nothing that unusual, I realize, but boy, am I pleased that I was.

A few weeks ago, my inbox lit up with a message from a name I did not recognize.

It read:



Don,



My name is Chip Otten, football coach at Coldwater High School.

What a great article about football you wrote. It's all about heart. We have what we call a Captains Meeting each Thursday night to talk about the upcoming game and all kinds of things related to football, each other and life in general.

I am always looking for new things or ways to keep the meeting relevant to them and interesting.

Well, you just wrote this week’s Captains Meeting theme for me! Thank you!

We will read it together and get thoughts about what stood out in the article for individuals and how it relates to us a team in preparing for Saturday night’s  game.

Awesome.



Thank you,

Chip and the Cavs from Coldwater



Well, as you might expect, I had to write Coach Otten back and thank him for his kind words. I also asked him how he stumbled across the column, which was posted on our website, www.starbeacon.com.

Otten said his defensive coordinator, Mark Bruns, had it sent to him by a former colleague, now in Cincinnati, and it had been sent to him.

Coach Otten replied:



Don,



The article got to me from Mark Bruns, our D coordinator here at CW. During playoffs, we are always looking for info on opponents, especially with teams that we don't know much about.

It's great to see that people value the learning experience in sports and particularly football. The last couple of paragraphs (you wrote) are my favorite:



It’s the ability of the five guys, usually squeezed into uncomfortable-fitting uniforms that weigh 10 pounds more by the end of the game than they did in the beginning, on both lines to figuratively bloody the nose of the guy six inches across the line of scrimmage from him. That, in itself, is tantamount to a super power to any winning program. And coming out on the short ends of the majority of those mano-a-mano matchups is kryptonite to the lesser squads, the teams that are most remembered for being opponents.

A football huddle is an absolute perfect epoch for what makes this life so blessed.

It’s 11 guys of different sizes, different colors, different demeanors, different faiths, taking just a few seconds to gather, to come up with a plan to formulate a successful result, one that benefits the many, not the few, and certainly, not the one.

If that isn’t life... if that isn’t special, what is?




The huddle of whatever group of people working together for a good cause.

One of our core values in our program that Coach Reed  brought 20 years ago is that, "if you truly want to be successful, help someone else be successful.”

That has stuck and has been a huge part of our program. Thanks for you response. I will let you know what the players’ thoughts were on the article.

Go Cavs!

Thanks, Don



From the players

True to his word, Coach Otten did indeed follow up as his Coach Bruns, his defensive coordinator. After the Cavaliers finished 8-2 in the regular season and ranked fifth in the final Division V, Region 16 computer ratings, they whipped visiting Eastwood in a regional quarterfinal, 42-16.

Coach Otten wrote:



Don,



We played well, for the most part and got off to a great start.

The Captains Meeting went well. One of our former coaches came in to speak and talked about the ingredients for a championship. He focused on caring for each other and maintaining an intense effort, enthusiasm and focus through out the entire playoff run.

There are no “do-overs” or “next weeks” in the playoffs, he said.

We read your article, with each senior reading a paragraph or two. Afterward, I asked for responses from players and coaches.

The two things that came up that stood out were that are kids feel very fortunate to come from supportive, positive families and friends. The second were the last paragraphs about the huddle.

We talked about success and how the huddle could be your family, group of friends, community, your work environment and when that huddle is clicking, success follows.



Thanks,

Chip



Epilogue

Having been caught completely off-guard by the fact not only did what I figured “was a little column about high school football” reach far and wide, but was received so favorably, I decided to not bother Coach Otten again and not have him waste valuable time during the most important part of the season for him, his staff, his players and his community.

In the meantime, I recommended the movie, “Touchback,” to many, including our own Vince Peluso, for whom I purchased a copy.

And Coldwater, led by Coach Otten and Coach Brun, kept rolling.

The No. 5 seed dispatched Chippewa, 49-21, in a regional semifinal, then annihilated Huron in the regional-championship clash, 60-13, to reach the Final Four.

In the semifinals, the Cavaliers blasted West Jefferson, 35-10, to reach the Division V state championship game.

There, the Cavaliers defeated Columbus Bishop Hartley for the second time this season, 24-7, on Dec. 7.

The fact my words were connected, albeit very, very remotely, to go along for the ride is something that won’t be forgotten.

It’s proof every once in a while, life does bless us by providing some storybook endings, for which we should all be thankful.

It is indeed a small word, after all.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at donmac@suite224.net.