A Man for All Seasons
For 55 years, Reed's life has been wrapped up in the classrooms, hallways, gymnasiums and athletic fields of the Liberty Union district. He was a youth there, graduating in 1961 and earning both athletic and academic scholarships to The Ohio State University, where he played baseball for four years.
Reed returned to his alma mater to teach social studies and help coach baseball. He says he figured then it was just a convenient beginning to a teaching career for a guy who was something of a hometown boy at heart. "I had no idea I'd be ending my career there, too," he reflects now with a smile.
Reed retired from full-time teaching in 1998, went back parttime the next year and finally retired from the classroom just before the 2007-08 school year. He coached golf for 30 years, baseball for 21 years, basketball for 20 years, football for five years and served as Athletic Director from 1970 to 1980. Reed played in and coached at state and regional championships. He garnered peervoted awards for himself and his team. He was inducted not just into Liberty Union-Thurston's Athletic Department's Hall of Fame, but also into the Mid-State League's Hall of Fame.
He fought for the creation of Liberty Union's golf program and built it from scratch, saying, "It's a sport that attracts a different type of student athlete, and it was an opportunity we needed to supply." It was that final coaching position he gave up last month, partly in order to attend, ironically, other athletic events.
Reed's home doesn't boast the expected wall full of trophies, banners and plaques commemorating his 45 years of coaching. For him, the triumphs and successes aren't necessarily something you can nail on a wall or place on a shelf.
They're the former students who tell him with excitement that they remember something he taught them years ago, that they just took their own children to a historical society museum or to Native American burial mounds or to Flint Ridge. They're young athletes who maybe weren't strong enough to be starters but who tapped into their potential and gave all they had in a game. They're the 85 percent of his golfers this past fall who made the academic honor roll.
Mathews appreciates that Reed made the middle school grandparent's day program more colorful every year by coming in 1920s costume to dramatically recount the history of the town.
"When someone lives that kind of pride in the community, it rubs off on the kids," Mathews said. "He was a teacher and coach, in that order. A school district has to be grateful when a talented teacher transfers that gift to the athletic field, too."
Mathews say Reed's assistant coaches noted that just about any time he took his team out for fast food, the restaurant manager approached him when they left to compliment his team for their manners.
"These kids are taking their ball caps off before they step foot into a McDonalds," Mathews said. "That might not seem like a big thing to some people, but I think it says something about the level of respect and about his (Reed's) expectations."
Reed said he's never met a good coach who wasn't inherently a good teacher. The communication skills required for both are difficult to define, he said. "A college classroom doesn't make a teacher. Just like playing a sport doesn't make a coach."
Athletically, he said, it's all about "narrowing the gap." Players come with varying degrees of natural ability, he explained. The job of a coach is to take that ability and teach them to match it with their performance in a contest or event as closely as possible ... to narrow the gap.
"Seldom is there not a connection between hard work in the classroom and on the field," Reed noted. "My players were expected to be top performers academically, as well. There's more to it than eligibility. It's work ethic."
One of the things Reed is most proud of is the Liberty Union Middle School Ralph Reed Memorial Golf League, a summer club league to introduce students in fourth through eighth grade to the game of golf. The league is named for his father.
All five of Reed's grandchildren have a set of clubs and a bit of instruction from Coach Grandpa under their belts.
Reed and his wife, Portia, will celebrate 50 years of marriage next summer. They have two children. Reed is eager to thank his family for all their patience and support over those 106 seasons. He also acknowledges teachers and coaches throughout his life who instilled in him a love of learning, of history and of coaching that sent him down a path he is still passionate about.
Now, that passion will be cheering in the bleachers.