Off-the-cuff conversations, steak, pizza and a lot of laughs.
Sounds like a great evening out in any part of town.
In Ellet, it’s lasted a lot longer than one night.
It’s how the foundation of a high school football coaching staff was put in place for most of Joe Yost’s 35 years as the head coach.
It’s the ignition point of friendships and great stories from the men who have a combined 247 years leading the Orangemen.
Ellet football is Yost. It is John Sarver, Bill Lehman and Gary Yost, who have been there every season with Joe. It is Chuck Shuman, Bob Clark, Brian Geer and Steve Hague, whose tenure at Ellet run between 12 and 33 years. It is the players who treasure their time with these men of Ellet.
“I remember when we would go to Duffy’s after a game and we would have to get an extra booth, and John’s little daughters would be asleep in the booth, and here it is 12:30 in the morning and we are still eating dinner after a ballgame,” Yost, 60, said between two-a-day practices getting ready for another season at Ellet. “I remember that like it was yesterday.”
Sarver’s daughters, Julianne and Kristin, are now 28 and 26, respectively, and both married.
“I am so proud of our staff and their loyalty,” said Yost, who has a 201-143-2 record and won his first City Series championship last season. “I am very fortunate that I have great coaches with me. John Sarver is our baseball coach at Ellet and Chuck Shuman is our softball coach at Ellet. Both of them are great coaches in their sport. It is just amazing that we are all still together. When we think back to that time when we came together, that this was going to be a life-long experience, wow.”
Building the staff
Yost put his “dream coaching staff” together with an arm around a shoulder and a few words in an ear.
“John Sarver [now 59] graduated from high school at Ellet and from college at Austin Peay,” Yost said, reflecting back to a conversation from 35 years ago. “I had heard he was back in Akron and had applied to teach in the Akron Public Schools system. I called him and said ‘John we need to talk.’ As soon as I became head coach, I took him over to a Pizza Hut in Springfield and said ‘Here is what I want you to do.’ He said, ‘I’m in. I’m with you.’ ”
The story is nearly the same with Bill Lehman, 60.
“Him and I were really good friends in high school. I was on some type of night duty at Hyre [Junior High]. We used to walk around the buildings at night so they wouldn’t get vandalized. I asked him to stop by around 9 o’clock tomorrow night and talk to me, and he said sure. We went for a walk. The thing about Bill is that I wanted him on the staff so bad. He is great with kids. ... He can be inside a kid’s hip pocket in 15 minutes.”
Yost praises his brother Gary, 61, for being “dedicated, committed and tough, just like he was when he went to the University of Akron as a walk-on linebacker who later earned a scholarship.”
Both Yosts, Shuman and Clark graduated from UA.
Joe Yost calls Clark, a 1967 Springfield graduate, the “disciplinarian.”
“I am on parking lot duty at Hyre Junior High after I get the job at Ellet [to coach], but wasn’t moved up yet [to teach],” Yost said. “Here a guy gets out of a yellow jalopy, and walks up to me and says ‘Are you Joe Yost?’ I say ‘Yeah.’ He says ‘I’m Bob Clark and I want to coach football for you.’ That is the first time I ever met the man. He impressed me and he had a nice resume. I liked his attitude and I met his family.”
Shuman, 64, lives right across the street from Ellet, and after not getting the head coaching job at East, came to Yost.
“All of a sudden I see Chuck walking over here. ... I say to him ‘You’re Chuck Shuman’ and he says ‘You’re Joe Yost.’ I said ‘We should talk, shouldn’t we’ He said ‘Yes, we should.’ ”
They haven’t stopped talking.
“Like Joe says, if you didn’t coach, you would have to work for a living,” Shuman said. “It is not like a job. We all have fun coaching together and being with the kids. Nothing has really changed. Our look has changed a little bit, but nothing much else has.”
From player to coach
Joe Yost was a 5-foot-8, 142-pound linebacker who earned three letters in football at Ellet. He also wrestled at 138 pounds and lettered once prior to graduating in 1971.
“I guess because I grew up in a house with five boys, I can get very close to people,” Yost said. “I understand what a brotherly relationship is, and that is exactly what I have with all of my coaches. We laugh. The thing brothers can do is that you can be dead honest and yell at each other, and you can be actually right up front with what you want to say, and it doesn’t matter how heated it gets, because the bottom line is we are still brothers. That is exactly how this coaching staff is.”
Yost said he learned from several Ellet coaches, including George Auten, a former longtime assistant on his staff.
“The Ellet football program is Joe Yost,” Shuman said. “He likes to credit his assistants and he does this without any type of ego or self praise. He respects and listens to all suggestions and decisions are never dictated by him, and he is more than willing to let his coaches coach and decisions are mutually made. He leads with compassion for his coaches and his players and diverts any credit to his staff.”
Yost’s communication skills with his players have helped the program produce 19 winning seasons.
“When it comes to coaching, I don’t think anybody else has a better coaching staff than us,” senior wide receiver-linebacker Dakota King said. “They don’t just really teach you how to play football. They also teach you about sportsmanship and how to be a better person as an individual. When you play football at Ellet, you come out a better person overall. Not just a better football player.”
Lehman, a 1971 Ellet graduate, said the transition from being a football player and wrestler to a coach has been smooth since Day One.
“It is fantastic getting to coach with these guys,” Lehman said. “We are all good friends. It is very unique situation. We all get along so well, and have been together for so long.”
Sarver starred in football and baseball and graduated from Ellet in 1973. He played college baseball and then one day got a phone call to meet at Pizza Hut.
“Joe and I had a pretty good connection,” Sarver said. “We used to play a lot of backyard football together. We’d call up the neighborhood people and we’d all show up at Ellet, and we’d play all-out tackle football. No pads or helmets.”
Now as coaches, there will be meetings all around town from Molly Brown’s Country Café at Eastgate Plaza or the Waffle House on Arlington Road, where conversations will lead to laughter.
Words about retirement and life after coaching football pop up, but those conversations don’t last long. The long days on the football field during summer practices can be tough, but the reward is too sweet.
“There are times where you might think that it is going to get old, and I’d say after playing major college baseball and doing so many things, the most exciting moments of my life were on a Friday night playing underneath the lights,” Sarver said. “It is fun to do it as a coach. I love to see the excitement that kids get. That is what motivates us.”
Yost and his staff pride themselves on keeping perspective that family and health come before any wins or losses.
“Yes, they teach us football,” senior offensive lineman-linebacker Hussain Hamdan said. “They also teach us concepts in life. Their biggest thing is that they want us to be better people when we leave the program. They stress that.”
“They have the most experience out of anyone in Ohio probably,” senior quarterback Jake Fisher said. “They teach you why you should do things and not just how you should do things. They teach you to be better human beings.”
Geer, 48, played for these men as an Ellet player before graduating in 1984 and joining their sideline.
“Both of my sons [2011 graduate Nate and senior Matt] played for these guys,” Geer said. “They teach these kids to be good young men. Yes, we want to play football, win and have fun. But these guys teach these kids life skills that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.