Sometimes you’re not ready for the answer to a question you ask.
A week ago my wife, Mary Beth, and I took a get-away weekend to Salt Fork State Park in Southeast Ohio. It’s always been a special place for us as it is located just outside of Cambridge, the town where we met. I was the local newspaper’s sports editor at the time and she worked in the business office.
That weekend we headed into town on a Saturday night to check out the old haunts. With the exception of the newspaper employee’s favorite watering hole turning into a gaudy Mexican restaurant, everything was pretty much as remembered, although naturally a little time worn from the early 1980s.
We did find a great restaurant, sat on the patio and enjoyed a wonderful meal. When the waitress came with our check, I asked her if she knew whether a former high school basketball coach, Gene Ford, still lived in town. She froze for a second and then painfully and carefully began choosing her words.
She told us her sister married Gene’s youngest son, then paused and said, “There’s no easy way to tell you this, but Gene Ford passed away Friday morning.”
What a gut shot.
There are many outstanding coaches in high school sports. Then there is a level above in which only a few belong … the Bob Arnzens and Bob Seggersons of the world. Gene Ford was on that level in Southeast Ohio.
I had the privilege of covering him during his first two years at Cambridge. Right away he turned around a program that was not only coming off losing seasons, but had become stagnant. He did so by implementing what would become the Ford trademark: His teams always played better than they actually were. They had fire in their belly, played with intensity and had fun on the court — just like their coach.
Gene went on to coach 25 years at Cambridge, compiling a 400-183 record, including 11 seasons where they won 19 or more games. His teams went to state five times, finishing as runner-up in 1995.
But it was much more than those victories that endeared him to the public. He was the guy who always had an extended hand or a pat on the back when he saw you. He loved meeting people and could make someone feels special with just a short conversation.
Gene always had something to say and knew when to say it.
He was in the church the day I was married. As I stood in the front of the church waiting for my bride to walk down the aisle, I nervously scanned the crowd. Who did my eyes meet with but Gene. As the music began to play, he mouthed to me, “You have one more timeout.” Any nervousness I had was washed away by a moment of levity.
That was vintage Gene Ford. Always coaching, whether it be on a basketball court or in a church.
He died on June 28 at age 66, just several weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.
I wish I could call that last timeout for just one more conversation with him. Rest in peace, my friend.
ROSES AND THORNS: We know where to turn when the garden needs a cleaning.
Rose: To all those workers who helped clean Faurot Park following Thursday’s Star Spangled Spectacular. By Friday afternoon, it was hard to tell thousands had gathered the day before for fireworks and fun.
Rose: To Betty and Miles Hefner, of Lima, who are celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary today.
Rose: To Reece Blair, who has a thing for Lima golf courses. The University of Northwestern Ohio golfer won the Lima City Men’s Golf Championship this year, the first time he played in it. Two years ago he got married by the ninth fairway at Hidden Creek Golf Club.
Rose: To the battle of sisters that took place in the Lima Area Tennis Association championship. Mackenzie Willis, of Ada, defeated her younger sister, Miranda. It was the first time a pair of sisters faced each other in the finals.
Thorn: Two people who each work for the benefit of the community are involved in a lawsuit as Jermaine Harper, executive director of Urban Impact Ohio, is suing Lima council member Jon Neeper for slander.
PARTING SHOT: Just because nobody complains doesn’t mean all parachutes are perfect.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.