COLUMBUS GROVE — Denny Ricker thought he was helping out a friend one Friday night at a Columbus Grove football game.
Now, more than 40 years later, he’s a fixture behind the microphone at Columbus Grove football and basketball games.
Ricker has been the announcer for Columbus Grove football and boys basketball for 38 years. He’s also announced girls basketball games for the last six years.
For this work, and much more around Columbus Grove athletics, Ricker has been named as the winner of the Paul Smith Sports Volunteer of the Year Award. The award is given each year to the person who spends endless hours volunteering time to a high school sports varsity athletic program.
“In this day and age when coaches come and go, Denny has been one of the Columbus Grove mainstays,” former Columbus Grove athletic director and girls basketball coach Jerry Hoersten said. “He has a low-key approach in his announcing and does a very professional job, as well. He is always a very optimistic person.”
Ricker was honored a few years ago by the northwest Ohio football coaches association for his service.
Ricker’s positive, professional announcing style acknowledges the players and top plays for both teams.
“When I first started, I went around and listened to how other guys did it,” Ricker said. “I wanted to be fair to the other team. It’s for the kids, whether they are from LCC or wherever. I want all the kids to have their moment of glory.
“This is for the kids. I don’t want to put on a show. I’m not there to dazzle the crowd.”
It all started when Ricker’s friend was announcing the football games in 1972. He asked Ricker to help spot the players for him that night.
In 1975, his friend left to take a job out of town and asked Ricker to take over the announcing chores.
“I thought it was a one-year stint,” Ricker said. “Then at the end of the year the athletic director asked me to do basketball, too.”
He’s been doing both football and boys basketball since 1975.
“It’s the best seat in the house,” Ricker said.
Ricker also emcees the booster club auction each year.
He also emceed the homecoming for the state championship football team in 2003 and the state runner-up boys basketball team in 2006.
“I must have a big mouth. They ask me to do it,” Ricker said with a laugh.
Ricker has seen plenty of coaches over the years, including football coaches Jerry Cooper, who won the state title, and Mike Fell.
“Michael and Lisa (Fell) came to Grove and everyone fell in love with them,” Ricker said. “Mike started it (the football turnaround) and got them to buy into it. I hated to see him leave.
“And Coop, what a motivator. He and Mike Fell had the knack of putting the right person in the right place. We were lucky to have them both.”
Ricker has had a number of his own children play sports at Grove, including his stepson, Opie Roeder, a standout tailback.
Ricker also coached midget football for 24 years.
That’s where he first saw future Grove football all-state players Blaine Maag and Mike Young.
“I remember when Blaine was our manager when he was 8 and he was playing with trucks in the dirt,” Ricker said. “But once he started to play, I knew he was going to be something special.”
He also coached Kyle Meyer in midgets. Meyer went on to lead Grove to the state basketball tournament and became an All-American at Ohio Northern.
“I coached him (Meyer) in midget football when he was 9,” Ricker said. “He always wore an Ohio State shirt, so I called him Buck. He and I got to be friends through high school and college. He’s an outstanding young guy.”
It would easily take all day to list all of Ricker’s favorite Grove athletes.
In fact, Ricker said, “I’ve never met a bad one here.”
That’s one reason former Columbus Grove athlete Adam Smith nominated Ricker for the award.
Ricker remembered that Smith, a 2001 Columbus Grove grad, made a point of thanking him for his years of service as he walked off the floor after his final basketball game.
“You can easily tell the passion he has for Bulldog sports,” Smith said. “When he announces his last game some day it will be a sad day for Bulldog sports, and I don’t know if anyone will be able to fill his shoes.”
In his easy-going fashion, Ricker said he’s just doing what he likes to do.
“It’s been a neat ride,” Ricker said. “I’ve had a great time. Everyone pulls together. I’m just the guy with the microphone.”