Thursday, May 5th, 2011
Black's presence was missed when Parkway won state baseball in 1987
Last Curtain Call
By Robb Hemmelgarn
As the gate in the Trautman Field outfield fence swung open and Mike Schumm marched his Parkway baseball team through the grass toward an overwhelming sea of fans in the bleachers, his nerves were working in overdrive.
It was his second season in charge of the Panthers, and they were moments away from the opening pitch of the 1987 Class A state championship game.
Although Schumm's uneasiness was understandable, he also harbored a feeling that something was missing. The veteran coach brushed it aside though, and settled himself into the dugout just as Mark Heitkamp dug into the batter's box and drew a walk off of Newark Catholic's Bill Franks.
It was official - Parkway's final hurrah of what had been a spectacular 22-3 campaign to that point, was underway. Kirk Stephenson sacrificed Heitkamp to second before Neil Schaffner pushed him to third with a base hit.
Within moments Schaffner swiped second base, while Heitkamp scored his team's first run on a sacrifice by Dan Schaffner. Greg Steinecker smacked a single to plate Neil Schaffner, and he soon stole second base before moving to third on a Newark throwing error. Up by two runs, Mike Werst calmly slammed an RBI double to right-centerfield before soon advancing to third on a passed ball and then scoring on a wild pitch. Hughes drew a walk and later scored on another pair of Green Wave throwing errors.
With a 5-0 cushion, Schumm's nervousness simmered some, but something was still a little out-of-sorts.
"It seemed like once we got to the plate, our only focus was to win that game and there was going to be nothing to stop us," the veteran head coach, who also had stints at Fort Recovery and Mendon-Union, recalled. "We had a purpose to being there and it really wasn't just to be there - these kids had worked hard for a state championship their whole careers and that was what we wanted."
The Panthers were back up in the top of the second frame and Tony Osborn hit the gas with a base hit, and advanced to second after a poor attempt to throw him out at first base. The troubles for the Green Wave continued to pile up, as Osborn raced to third on a wild pitch before stealing home and scoring a few minutes later.
Later on, Neil Schaffner singled, stole his way to third base, and soon crossed home plate after another throwing error. When the bottom of the third inning rolled around, the Panthers had constructed a 7-0 lead, and Schumm was starting to feel symptoms of relief.
"It takes a lot of pressure off when you take a lead like that, but you still need to work hard at protecting it and building upon it," he explained matter-of-factly. "We scored early and often in that game and I think it really gave us the confidence that we needed in showing that we can play with anyone."
Just then, Newark Catholic took advantage of a temporary lapse of control on the mound by Steinecker and batted through their lineup, while scoring three times.
From there, the defenses flexed their muscle, as Steinecker settled down and didn't allow another Newark run the remainder of the way.
Although the Panthers' offense cooled off as well, their damage was already inflicted, and the battle concluded with the school's first-ever state championship in their grasp.
"I have been around baseball my whole life since then, and I have always used that team as a measuring stick as to how a group should be," commented Neil Schaffner, who went 3-for-3 in the title game with three stolen bases. "Our chemistry and the way we communicated as a group really helped to carry us to where we went that year. We were all very close and still are, and our baseball careers are something that each of us still cherish. One of the things I will also always remember about that season and that day in particular was how the entire town came and rallied around us. To be able to be so successful on the baseball diamond and play in front of your home community is something that is truly a privilege."
As the team, coaching staff, and fans congregated near the playing field, Schumm gave a tearful glance toward Gloria Black, the wife of his former head coach and dear friend Don Black, who coached Parkway baseball from 1962 through 1985.
In the fall of 1985, Black was tragically killed in an automobile-pedestrian accident while hunting. Although the motivation was unspoken through the ranks of the team all season, it was obvious to Schumm what was missing that particular afternoon.
"It wasn't something we really touched on out in the open that season, but he was definitely on all of our minds and in all of our hearts that whole year," Schumm explained, emotionally probing for the precise words. "Not only was Don Black an icon of a coach, but he served countless roles to many people in our program and in the community. He was one of those one-in-a-million people and as a coach, you can only hope to hold a candle to what he accomplished - Don was Parkway baseball."
Although everyone wearing the Black and Gold may have sensed the same absence as Schumm that afternoon, there is a pretty darn good chance Coach Black was right there all along.