OTTOVILLE — For 44 years nothing got in the way of Paul Boecker’s winter routine of watching every Ottoville boys basketball game home and away.
Not work. Not wedding receptions. Not Christmas parties. Not snowy roads. Nothing.
O.K, almost nothing. There was that one Friday night in 2004 when he was in the hospital being checked to see if he’d had a heart attack.
Boecker, a 1973 Ottoville graduate, saw every game the Big Green’s boys basketball teams played except one from a November 30, 1976 match-up against Columbus Grove, the third game of that season, until his hospital stay made him miss a Feb. 13, 2004 game against Continental. He was back eight days later for a game against Leipsic and did not miss another game through the end of last season.
But, like it did for many sports fans, the pandemic changed everything this year.
COVID-19 restrictions reduced crowd sizes and he has been able to get tickets for only one road game this season.
Before missing this season’s opener at Cory-Rawson, which broke a streak of 371 consecutive games, he had watched 985 of the last 986 boys basketball games Ottoville had played.
He was there in the great seasons, like 1978 when the Big Green got to the state semifinals. He was there in the 22-win season in 1980 and the 21-win season in 2006. He was there every game when Ottoville was 1-20 in 1996.
Boecker has been able to get tickets for home games this year because he has a granddaughter, Hannah Brinkman, who is a cheerleader. But Ottoville’s win over Toledo Rogers in Ottawa-Glandorf’s Winter Classic is the only Big Green game he has seen outside the L.W. Heckman Gymnasium this season.
He calls not being able to watch the full schedule “very discouraging,” but has compensated by watching other basketball games. On the nights he can’t see Ottoville, he goes to Holgate games to watch his grandson Dylan Boecker play on the JV team as a freshman.
“That helped take the sting away a little that I didn’t get to go to our games,” Boecker said.
One element in Boecker being able to follow his passion for Ottoville basketball is an understanding wife. Another was having a job with a strong benefits package.
“We left early from Christmas parties and wedding receptions and things like that. After so many years she (his wife Laurie) got used to it and didn’t let it bother her,” Boecker said.
As a longtime employee at General Motors in Defiance, he was able to use personal days and vacation time when he needed them to get to games before retiring in 1999.
It also took some ingenuity. Boecker says there one night in the early 1980s when a road game was a a sellout and he didn’t have a ticket but he got in by arriving early and walking in with the team while carrying a gym bag that belonged to one of the players who was his nephew.
On the nights he goes to see his grandson play, he watches television replays of the Ottoville games if they are available. And a friend, Denny Schnipke, watches live streams of games and sends him updates during games.
Even if the pandemic is under control and limits on crowds at high school athletic events are not as strict next season, Boecker might be seen less frequently at Ottoville games in the future.
“The last couple years I’ve been telling my grandsons, ‘When you guys start varsity, that’s when grandpa starts coming to your games instead of Ottoville games.’ I’m not looking forward to missing our games but I’m looking forward to seeing theirs.
“Family means everything to me. Ottoville basketball means a ton but my family means more,” he said.