Friday, October 28th, 2011
Skip was one of a kind at St. Marys
Last Curtain Call
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Eight-year-old Sandy Baughman had her mind made up that she was going to run away from home. When she announced it to her family, her father, Skip, handed Sandy a dollar bill and stood by while she exited the back door only to return a few minutes later, announce it was too dark outside and that she was going to try again the following day.
"I was a young assistant coach at the time with no family of my own, and as I sat in Skip Baughman's basement during this whole ordeal, I didn't know what to think," explained Roger Duncan, the offensive line coach for the St. Marys Roughriders from 1967-1998. "Just as he did with his daughter that evening, Skip had an outstanding way of diffusing a situation with both respect and a touch of humor - it just came natural to him."
Firing off witty one-liners, ingesting absurd amounts of coffee, and the most important - winning high school football games, all top the list among other things that also came natural to Eugene "Skip" Baughman.
When he arrived at St. Marys Memorial High School prior to the kickoff of the 1958 football season, the Roughriders were fresh off of three straight winning seasons under former head coach Tom Vincent.
"Prior to that season, coach Baughman was the head coach at Hardin Northern and was seemingly pretty happy there," recalled long-time booster and founding president of the 'Rider Rooters' organization, Jack Lawler. "Our superintendent at the time - H.H. Cook - went up and met with him, but Skip broke it to him that he just wasn't interested in the job. A few days later, Cook received a knock at his door. After kicking the offer around for a few days, Skip told him it was just too good to turn down."
Baughman's initial decade in St. Marys wasn't foretelling of much future success, as he guided the Roughriders to just four winning seasons and one Western Buckeye League title during that span. Empowered by an offensive philosophy consisting of run, run and run some more, the tide shifted in the 1970s as the Roughriders absolutely owned the WBL. In 10 years, the 'Riders tallied eight or more victories on nine occasions, while bagging seven WBL championships.
"There wasn't a soul in town who didn't respect what he began to build in the 1970s," Lawler pointed out. "Sure there were always a few in the stands who liked to holler at the coaches that they needed to throw more, but they ran well and won games, so what would be the point of changing anything? We were also the first team in the area to two-platoon, and back then that was really taking a risk. Skip had a plan though, which the kids and assistant coaches bought into, and it worked well for a very long time."
With the 1970s in the rearview mirror, the Roughriders plowed through the 1980s with nearly the same success, as they notched 77 wins and three more WBL crowns. With more than 30 years in command at St. Marys, Baughman ignited the 1990s with the school's first-ever state football championship as the Roughriders downed Columbus DeSales 14-3 while capping off an unblemished 14-0 campaign.
"Coach Baughman always pointed out how a lot of those teams we faced in the playoffs that season were physically superior to us," Lawler admitted. "He explained that the difference was that a lot of those teams were playing as individuals, and St. Marys played as a team. He had a unique way of really praising everyone around him and getting them to accomplish their personal bests."
The Roughriders rumbled to 10 more wins in the regular season during 1991 before falling to Marysville in the first round of the playoffs. Unfazed, the Blue and Gold returned to domination in 1992 as they collected their second state championship in three years with a 28-14 triumph over Fostoria. The following season - Baughman's 36th in charge - they again rolled on to the Division II state championship game and dismantled Uniontown Lake, 21-0.
"Uniontown missed a field goal at a crucial time during the game," Lawler explained. "After the game, a reporter asked Skip if he thought that made a difference in the outcome of the game. Coach just looked at him and said, 'It absolutely did. Instead of being 21-0, it would have been 21-3!'"
Unbeknownst to nearly everyone attending the welcome home celebration at the football field, later renamed Skip Baughman Stadium, the title game was the last high school football contest Skip would ever coach. Baughman's legacy was loaded with 272 wins, 15 league titles, three state championships and a place in the Ohio Football Coaches Hall of Fame, as well as countless other accolades through the years. Perhaps his most meaningful accomplishment was the hundreds of young spirits he encouraged, uplifted and celebrated with through nearly four decades of wearing the whistle.
His absence after the 1993 season left an uncomfortable void in the heart of Roughriders' fanatics all over town.
"There was nothing about the high school football program that he didn't love," smiled Duncan. "I remember one summer day another assistant and I were in the weight room talking about how nice it would be to be hanging out with our family or enjoying the day at home, but we were stuck watching a group of high school boys lift weights, sweat and run. Just then, Skip popped in and proclaimed, 'Isn't this great to be in here working with these kids on a beautiful day like this?' "
Duncan continued. "In the final few years he was coaching, Skip had a bad hip and spent a lot of days running practice from a golf cart, which he absolutely hated. One day I caught him day-dreaming, and he looked over at me and remarked how pretty the leaves were. I was a little confused and pointed out that those leaves have looked the same in Ohio for the past 1,000 years. He reassured me how beautiful they looked and commented how he could be out golfing that day if he weren't at practice. He said that for a few years in a row, but we never dreamed it would ever happen."
In August of 2006, while residing near his daughter's home in Hilliard, the 76-year old Baughman passed away unexpectedly.
"You know as football players and coaches we are supposed to be tough guys," Duncan concluded while choking up with emotion. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house at that funeral, though. He had such a huge impact on so many men, and he was so widely respected. Our program may win state championships again in the future, but it will never have what we had as a group for so long. Myself, Dennis Vossler, Bob Priddy, Denny Long, and Greg Freewalt, we were all his assistant coaches for decades, and we knew we were lucky. Our entire town was very lucky and truly spoiled to be led by an incredibly special man."