Vince Koza began his broadcast career in Lima in 1980, just one season after I was named the head basketball coach at Lima Central Catholic High School. Who could have predicted that when he walked into the WLIO television offices to interview for the job, Koza would go on to help reshape the landscape of high school sports coverage in west central and northwest Ohio?
For four decades, the Streetsboro native and Ohio University graduate combined his passion for sports and journalistic chops with a tireless work ethic to wedge his way into the hearts of his many viewers and listeners. He also earned the respect of hundreds of coaches in our area who grew to appreciate the positive impact he had on high school athletics.
I first met Vince shortly after his arrival in Lima. It was his jump shot that got my attention. Koza began playing for the WLIO Semi-Stars, a group of employees at the station that played charitable basketball games around the community. I was impressed that the lefty Koza, whose girth was less than delicate, had a soft, feather-like jump shot. When I told him that after the game, he flashed a smile I never forgot. For years afterward, whenever I reminded him of that game, he feigned humility, but I know he loved hearing the story.
Koza knew how to have fun. One of Koza’s media bios mentioned that he loved to golf and to gamble and sometimes did both at the same time. In his early years in town, I actually tried to keep up with him a few times but failed miserably. If a bright, attractive, young announcer at WLIO, Holly Geaman, had not captivated his heart, his career would not have reached the pinnacle he achieved. He told me many times that Holly and his twin daughters, Brittany and Sarah, were the best things that ever happened to him.
Kevin Creamer, general manager WLIO TV, recalled the moment he realized how impactful Koza had become with sports fans in this area’s television market. “Many years ago, my wife and I were eating out at a popular, local restaurant on a Friday night and at 11:20 the place suddenly became quiet and turned toward the TV,” he remembered. “It was Koza’s “Hoops Friday Night” show and the entire place stopped what they were doing to watch him. They turned the sound up on the TV and for 20 minutes everyone was riveted to his show.”
At the peak of his popularity, Koza, who grew up listening to his boyhood idol, Joe Tate, call Cleveland Indians and Cavalier games on the radio, decided to make a career change. After 27 and one-half years (Vince always insisted on the exact timeline), Koza made the decision to leave television to pursue his first love, radio play by play and sports talk radio. It was a gamble, but Vince was always attracted to long odds.
His “Sports Talk with Koza” show, on 93.1, The Fan, quickly rose in popularity. His boss, Matt Childers, credits Koza’s passion for local sports and his ability to quickly establish friendships with those he interviewed as the cornerstones for his success. “He was fanatical about family, friendships, broadcasting and our community,” Childers said.
The guests on his show ranged from numerous local coaches and athletes to the rich and famous at the top of the sporting world. “The amount of contacts in Vince’s Rolodex and numbers in his cell phone was infinity,” Childers said.
Koza was on the call for hundreds of high school basketball and football games through the years, most of them with his cerebral sidekick Matt Metzger. I believe that was when Vince was truly in his element. He was treated like royalty where-ever he worked. At the OHSAA state basketball tournament he was especially proud that he set up shop exactly at mid-court every year, prime real estate at the Schottenstein Center.
Many of us who knew Koza well, understood how sensitive he was about how people felt about him. He could receive 10 compliments and only one critique but it was the dig he carried home. While Koza was working, I don’t think it ever dawned on him how much respect and esteem the public held for him. When his illness sidelined Koza, I’m thankful he had the opportunity, if only for a few months, to witness and feel the public’s caring reaction.
The outpouring of love and support for Koza and his family, upon the revelation of his illness and subsequent passing, has been unprecedented, not only here in Lima but in communities encompassing west central and northwest Ohio.
The magnitude of the response to his passing is a testimony to the love and goodwill Koza inspired in all of us. But it also says something about who we are and what we represent. High school sports were already an important priority to communities stretching across our area when Koza arrived in Lima 40 years ago. He did more than shine a spotlight on the athletics we hold dear. Vince Koza became a vital part of who we are, and he took enormous pride in being a valuable member of our community.
Rest in peace Vince.
Reach Bob Seggerson at email@example.com