COLUMBUS GROVE — Most fire chiefs want to limit their number of trips downtown in trucks.
Columbus Grove Fire Chief Bob Brubaker can’t wait for his squad’s next one, especially after getting to make a run to the middle of Columbus Grove last weekend to celebrate the Bulldogs advancing to the state boys basketball’s final four.
“I love being part of that celebration,” Brubaker said. “It makes the kids feel good. It brings the communities together. That’s the big thing. I love the big celebration in the square, with people throwing toilet paper all over the place. It lights the people up; it lights the kids up.”
Tossing toilet paper and firetruck escorts are a tradition in Putnam County when a team returns to town after clinching a trip to the state championship or returns from one — win or lose. They’re a lot more fun when you win, of course.
Putnam County has a chance to have two state champions crowned at University of Dayton Arena this weekend. Columbus Grove plays at 2 p.m. Friday against Glenwood in the Division IV semifinals. Ottawa-Glandorf takes the court at 8 p.m. Friday against Cleveland Heights Lutheran East in the Division III semifinals. Both teams sold out their limit allotment of 650 tickets in the era of the pandemic.
In Ottawa, much of the fanfare happens near the railroad tracks along Main Street, near the Car-E-It convenience store and bar. The Titans have been to state before, making this their eighth time overall and fourth since 2000, with three state championships this century. Still, it’s exciting every time, said Susan Kuhlman, an Ottawa-Glandorf graduate, teacher at SS. Peter and Paul School in Ottawa and the mother of one of the Titan players, Caleb Kuhlman.
“It’s definitely exciting, but it’s a little bit surreal,” Kuhlman said. “O-G’s been in this position before, when my brother-in-law’s team went to state and my nephew was at state on a championship team. Every time is exciting. But this one felt a little surreal, being the parent of someone actually on the team.”
It’s especially satisfying for community members since last year’s season was cut short at the regional finals due to COVID-19, said Aaron Siefker, owner of Grove Insurance Services.
“They didn’t get to finish the job last year, and it wasn’t because of anything they did,” said Siefker, a 2008 graduate. “To me, it’s well deserved for them. I’m just happy for them. You can see it on their faces, the culmination of everything.”
Putnam County has had two teams in the state semifinals before. In 1977, Ottawa-Glandorf and Continental both made it. In 1978, it was Ottawa-Glandorf and Ottoville. The most recent time was in 2013, when Ottawa-Glandorf and Leipsic both made it there.
The schools appreciate all the community support, their athletic directors said.
“We have received significant financial support from local businesses and former players to cover the cost of the past weekend’s expenses, which has been a lifesaver for our athletic department budget,” O-G’s Tyson McGlaughlin, who also serves as head coach for the state-bound Titans, wrote via email. “We live in a place where people take care of each other, and that’s why I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Columbus Grove’s Terry Schnipke noted how local businesses help support the Bulldogs too, from a gas station providing donuts to a pizza shop bringing pizza to a local embroidery shop’s rapid reaction on making championship shirts.
It’s been especially positive for Columbus Grove, which suffered the loss of a downtown block in a fire that destroyed a building at the corner of Sycamore and High streets, right where that celebration was last weekend.
“This was one more example of how our community pulled together to support each other, as over $20,000 was raised for these folks who lost their business,” Schnipke wrote via email.
It was all enough to motivate Lisa Langhals, of Bashore Reineck Stoller & Waterman Certified Public Accountants, to paint a “Good Luck Bulldogs” message on the business’s big glass window facing High Street.
“These kids might not ever get to see this again, and I just wanted to share the spirit, get them pumped up, get them excited,” Langhals said.
It’s a feeling shared throughout Putnam County, Kuhlman said. Firefighters will guide the teams back to town, whether they win or lose, showing their support for not just sports but what comes next for the young men.
“I’m a fan of anybody who works hard at something and finds success, whether it’s academics, gymnastics, whatever their forte is,” Kuhlman said. “I appreciate it when I see good character, good effort, good sportsmanship. I can follow that. I can cheer for that.”