From the time little boys first learn about the wonders of a pocket knife and find a tree, there is a thought that grows, to take that blade and carve their initials into the bark. And, while my mother’s admonition, were she here today, would have been the same as it was back when I was a boy, that fool’s initials and fool’s faces are always seen in public places, to deter me from such vandalism, the fact of the matter is that most of us want to make our mark. In short we want to be remembered.
Just before Christmas, my old friend and teaching colleague Bob Priddy had his name carved on a tree by others in the St. Marys School System, to which he dedicated his teaching and coaching talents until cancer took him at age 52 during the first week of school in late August of 1999.
At halftime of the St. Marys-Shawnee basketball game, Bob was accorded the honor of having the school’s weight room named for him.
How appropriate it is that his name be given to the weight room, as a partner to the St. Marys football stadium, which is already named for one of our area’s true coaching legends, Eugene “Skip” Baughman. After all, Bob saw most of Baughman’s 281 Roughrider wins, including those Division II state titles in 1990, ’92 and ’93. For a quarter of a century, it was Priddy who stood right at the elbow of his head coach as defensive coordinator, crafting defenses that heavily contributed to 14 Western Buckeye League titles.
Bob was a pioneer of sorts for area schools in developing a high school weight-training program. As a science teacher, he knew more than a little about kinesiology, the study of the principles of mechanics and movement related to the human body. In short he knew what exercises were needed to develop specific muscles groups.
During my years with Bob, from 1978 when I arrived at Memorial to teach English, nine years after Bob arrived fresh off his playing for Bo Schembechler at Miami University, until our final year as colleagues, academic year 1998-99, I think what I most admired about him was his dedication in the classroom equaled his dedication on a football field. Unlike some coaches I saw in my 32 years in education, he wasn’t just hanging out in the classroom giving his students busy work while he worked on game plans, waiting for practice to begin after the dismissal bell.
When people would ask Skip during his Hall of Fame coaching career to what he attributed his success, he often pointed to his assistant coaches. Along with Bob, there was Roger Duncan, Denny Long, Denny Vossler and Greg Freewalt, arguably as loyal a core of assistants as this area has ever seen, a staff that totaled well over a century’s worth of coaching experience.
It was fitting that the ceremony and naming of the weight room came at halftime of a game with Shawnee. Not only is Shawnee head coach Mark Triplett a former student of mine at St. Marys but Bob also graduated from Shawnee and played for the two most famous high school head coaches ever in the Lima area, Jim Young and Larry Smith, who would go on to become head college coaches at schools like Purdue, Army, Arizona, Southern Cal and Missouri.
While Bob did succeed Skip as head coach after his retirement following the 1993 state title and coached three years until he was forced off the field by the cancer that would ultimately take him, to me, Bob Priddy will always be remembered as the consummate loyal and talented assistant, as valuable a commodity to a successful head coach as there is.
Despite Bob’s illness, he continued to teach, and in his final year teaching, a year frequently interrupted by rounds of chemotherapy, I remember standing in the hall with him during class change when he told me that the year was the best year of his life, since he didn’t have to worry about game plans and practice and could just concentrate on teaching.
As I walked away, I thought to myself how indefatigable in the face of adversity the truly special ones are. Here he was, barely 50, battling brain cancer, enduring grueling chemo treatments that would take him days to recover, just in time for yet another round, and this was the best year of his life?
Recently, I spoke with Jeff Howison, who was the assistant principal at Memorial and also a former classmate and teammate of Bob’s in the early 1960s at Shawnee about Bob’s posthumous honor.
Recalled Howison, “Bob was mentored by Jim Young, and it was actually Coach Young who introduced weight training in a rather crude way. You see, we didn’t have weights in the early 1960s, so it was Coach Young who poured cement into Maxwell House coffee cans and allowed the cement to set around connecting bars. Those were the first weights we lifted in an outdoor area beside the football field.”
In perpetuity, in a new building just opened in 2012, a building he never saw, there will be a weight room that will always be known as the Bob Priddy Memorial Weight Room.