OTTOVILLE — Ottoville is already a pretty tight-knit village. But when one of its basketball teams makes a run to the state tournament, the community gets even closer.
Ottoville’s girls basketball team will play in the Division IV state tournament this weekend and it is evident, driving through town, that it is a community that staunchly supports their girls.
“Ottoville Big Green” banners hung from several light poles in town. Homemade signs were everywhere, from the dentist’s office (“Pull Out A Victory”), to Turtle’s Tavern (“Cook Up A Win, Lady Green”), to the telephone company (“Ring in a Victory, Lady Green”), and more. The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church displayed the team’s motto, “Achieve the Dream,” on its marquee. A large wooden sign, “Achieve the Dream, Lady Green,” was attached to the bottom of the State Route 66/224/189 road markers.
Basketball was the topic of discussion at Turtle’s Tavern early Wednesday morning, and the patrons were more than willing to talk about their team.
“This has the town excited,” Dave Galyk said. “This team plays together. No one is selfish.”
Dan Honigford, the village’s fire chief added, “These girls show good sportsmanship. That’s missing from sports today, it’s all about winning. But not these girls.”
Ottoville Hardware owner, Bob Bendele, said he was going to Columbus, “Both days, I hope,” he grinned.
He motioned around the restaurant, and said, “We are following the tradition of Ottoville girls’ basketball. It’s definitely a winning tradition. Not only is this the biggest conversation in our community, our fans always back the Lady Green with the largest crowds ever, even during the regular season.”
Bendele, however, had an ulterior motive for wanting to make the trip to Columbus, “This saved me a lot of money. My wife wanted to go to Florida for three weeks. Tournament tickets are a lot less expensive than a trip to Florida.”
Galyk said the VFW men’s auxiliary is furnishing a bus Friday to take fans to the Schott in style.
Last Friday, Diane “Turtle” Eickholt, the tavern’s owner, reopened the establishment formerly known as the Dew Drop Inn. “Saturday night after the game, this place was packed. Someone said we picked a bad time to open, and I told them, ‘No, we picked a good time to open.’ Basketball has been good for business.”
At Ottoville High School, a steady stream of fans lined up to buy tickets. Secretary Ruth Wannemacher said, “We are close to being sold out. Many past graduates are coming back to watch the team.” She has noticed the students’ school spirit has been tremendous. Classes have been cancelled Friday, so students and staff can support the team. Wannemacher estimated that based on ticket sales, three-fourths of the town and school will be at the game.
As in many small towns, everyone has a connection, somehow, to everyone else. Several of the tavern’s customers will attend Friday’s contest because they are friends with the player’s families. Janet Hemker babysat for Abby Siefker when she was a little girl. In turn, Abby has baby-sat for Hemker’s grandchildren. Marilyn Kaufman, a retired Ottoville teacher, taught many of the players’ parents. Others have followed the girls’ team for many years, and have gotten to know the players.
At the corner of Canal and Main Streets, at Dr. Thomas Siefker’s dental office, patients and staff alike were talking basketball. Siefker is Abby Siefker’s father; his wife, Cheryl, Abby’s mother, also works at the office.
Cheryl, who was sporting gold fingernails tipped in green with her daughter’s number, 43, emblazoned on her index fingers, spoke of the support the fans have given the team. Last night, several of the player’s parents gathered to put together care packages for their daughters’ trip to Columbus. Many of the items in the packages were donated by area businesses, such as shampoo, drinks, gum, and apples.
“We’ve always had a good following from our town,” she said. “In a small town, it’s (going to state) a big deal. Basketball is a big deal, especially with no football. We’re pretty proud of them.”