Football has been a way of life for Sheila Schrack for as long as she can remember.
In fact, everyone in her family has grown up around the sport. Her father coached at the high school level, her uncle at the college level and now her cousins at the professional level.
Schrack, an Archbishop Hoban athletic trainer, and her family left Mogadore on Friday for New Orleans, where they’ll meet up with some 50 other members of the Harbaugh clan to watch Schrack’s cousins, brothers John and Jim Harbaugh, coach against each other in the Super Bowl. John is the coach of the Baltimore Ravens and Jim is the coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
“The Thanksgiving before this last one, their teams played each other for the first time,” said Schrack, 45. “So we all went to the game, then went to my cousin John’s house afterwards. We thought that was pretty cool then and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is the top.’ But now — the Super Bowl — we’re really at the top.”
When people find out about Schrack’s famous family ties, she’s often asked if she can score her cousins’ autographs.
“It’s kind of weird when you’ve known someone your whole life, someone you’ve grown up with and you’re like, ‘Could you sign this for so and so?’ ” Schrack said. “I just don’t look at them that way. I mean I’m proud of them, very proud of them. But they’re my cousins!”
Schrack’s father, Jerry Harbaugh, was a longtime coach in Ohio high school football. Growing up, she tagged along to practices and games.
“She was taping ankles all the way back in high school for the football and basketball teams,” said Schrack’s husband, Chad. “Before that, her dad would bring her to practice and she was the team’s water girl. So she’s been around the football field her whole life.”
Sheila Schrack joked that she’s not sure her husband of 24 years really knew what he was getting into when he married into the Harbaugh family.
Chad’s future father-in-law was his football coach at Crestline High School in Crawford County. The other Harbaughs were well into their respective football careers, as well, with Jim Harbaugh playing quarterback at Michigan, John Harbaugh having graduated from Miami and Sheila’s uncle Jack Harbaugh coaching at Western Michigan.
“One of the first dates we actually went on was we went to watch Western Michigan play at Toledo,” he said. “I was a sophomore in high school and Jack was coaching, this was back in 1984.”
To Sheila Schrack, growing up with the game such a big part of her life just seemed normal.
“I thought that’s how every family must live,” she said. “Vacations were based on what bowl game John and Jim’s dad, my uncle Jack Harbaugh, was coaching in because he was at Michigan for a long time.
“On weekends, we’d travel to watch Michigan play. When my cousin John played [defensive back] at Miami of Ohio, we’d go to his games. It’s just kind of how I grew up and had a big impact on what I wanted to do for a living.”
Initially, Sheila Schrack thought she would become a nurse, but she just couldn’t shake the desire to remain around football and other sports so she compromised by going into the athletic training field.
She has been the head trainer at Hoban for three years (she is actually employed by Akron Children’s Hospital), which makes football season about as busy for her as it is her cousins.
“So I get to see John and his Baltimore games a little more frequently, simply because they’re on the East Coast. But with communication the way it is, with texting and so forth, you can keep in touch with people like Jim so much easier.”
When the 49ers have back-to-back East Coast road games on their schedule, Schrack said Jim stays in Youngstown for the week in between.
“That’s nice because then as a family we go up and have dinner with them and watch practice,” she said.
With Schrack raising her kids around football, it’s no surprise that son Adam, 20, “has the coaching bug as well.”
“He keeps in touch with Jim and John a lot about football things,” Sheila Schrack said. “He’ll call them or text them and say, ‘what do you think about this play or this move’ to try to get some guidance. They’re always great about getting back to him and helping with their knowledge. It’s a great resource for Adam to have for sure.”
Although the Harbaugh brothers weren’t able to come watch Adam play in high school, the Schracks would send them video.
“I had to wait just two weeks until I made it to the sideline for my first football game — a high school game at Crestline,” said Adam, a middle childhood education major at Kent State who also works as a student assistant for the Golden Flashes football team. “Most people complain about having to go to practice, but I never did because that’s what I’ve done my entire life.”
In grade school, Adam would spend two weeks late in the summer at his grandfather’s house during high school football two-a-day practices.
“My mom would buy me like six Lunchables and I would go to every two-a-day when my grandfather coached at Wynford [High School],” he said. “They were really good back then, and I couldn’t get enough. I always wanted to be out there with him.”
Adam, who plans to become a football coach, is not the least bit awestruck heading into the Super Bowl. For starters, he’d already been around town for a Super Bowl (XXXVII in San Diego) when he was 10 years old and Jim Harbaugh was the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders.
“It’s definitely a real cool thing to be related to them, but they’ve always just been Jim and John to me,” said Adam, who played quarterback for Mogadore High School as a senior. “When I tell people about them, a lot of times they don’t believe me. But it doesn’t matter. I text back and forth with them all the time, especially during football season. They would text me after our wins and I text them after theirs. It’s not as much about how their season is though, it’s about yours. That’s the kind of people they are.”
More than ball
For as much as football runs in the family bloodline, any sport at any level is cause for a Harbaugh gathering.
“A few years ago in the summer, my daughter [Liddy] was playing in a softball game just outside of Ashland and every Harbaugh was in attendance — Jim, John, Jack — rooting her on,” Sheila said. “So it doesn’t really matter what the sporting event and it doesn’t have to be something as big as the NFL. Sports at any level are just something our family rallies around. It’s just what we do, we love competition.”
But what happens when that competition pits the Harbaughs against each other? Well, for Schrack and her family, it makes for some tough apparel choices Sunday.
“I’m probably going to wear a Niners shirt and a Ravens hat or the other way around,” Chad said. “When we went to the Thanksgiving game last year, a good friend made us Team Harbaugh T-shirts. That might be the best way to go this weekend.”
As for Adam, he plans to stay firmly in the middle and just represent KSU.
“I’m gonna wear a Kent State football shirt,” he said. “I’m an offensive guy, so I’m going to cheer for all scores and just hope they score a lot of points. That way it means both teams are playing well.”
Still, there’s an air of excitement for a football family that has reached the pinnacle of the sport.
“Last year, John and Jim’s teams both made it to their conference championship game, so we kind of thought about it happening last year,” Chad said. “Then this year as they got into the playoffs, we were like, ‘No way! No, this couldn’t happen!’ It’s all still pretty unbelievable, all pretty amazing. We’re all just so excited for them and proud of them.”