Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
Family ties pulling Starkeys to northeast Ohio
By Robb Hemmelgarn
When St. Henry football coach Jeff Starkey stood before his team last Wednesday, he didn't break down an opponent's defense on a white board, go over a game-day itinerary, or carry on any light-hearted conversation about anything football related.
Instead, he announced that he wouldn't be returning for an 11th season as the head of the program that he led to two Division V state championships since his arrival a decade ago.
Beginning next school year, Starkey will be the principal of LaBrae High School in northeast Ohio. When discussing the situation, the normally emotionally-guarded Starkey choked up a little when explaining that it was one of the most difficult decisions he has ever faced.
"First, I want to say that our family absolutely loved the time we have spent here in St. Henry," said Starkey. "I absolutely loved my job here and the staff I worked with, as well as the support I have received from the entire community. I am not leaving for a better opportunity necessarily, just a different one. I will be an administrator and we will be closer to both of our families."
The Starkeys landed in St. Henry in 2003 when Jeff was named the school's fifth head football coach since the early 1970s, taking over for long-time head coach Tim Boeckman. After going 5-5 in his first year, Starkey helped guide the Redskins to their fifth state championship in program history when he finished the year 14-1 in 2004 and duplicated the achievement just two years later when St. Henry captured their second state title in three seasons.
Following the program's first losing season in more than 35 years, the Redskins reversed 3-7 and 1-9 campaigns in 2010 and 2011 by advancing to the regional final and finishing 9-4 overall last autumn. Starkey was 72-44 at St. Henry and his win total ranks seventh all-time in Midwest Athletic Conference football history.
"It was very difficult news to break to my coaching staff and to the school administration," said Starkey, who is also 14-2 all-time in four postseason appearances. "Since the time we arrived, my staff has really been our only family here. We have known nothing else so that makes it even harder."
By definition, Melissa Starkey is a "coach's wife", but if you realistically break it down, it has been Jeff who has been a "coach's husband" for the past decade.
During Melissa's tenure in St. Henry, she has coached girls' junior high volleyball and basketball, served as an assistant varsity volleyball coach, coached junior varsity girls' basketball and has also coached on the jayvee and varsity level on the softball diamond. She has been the varsity head coach for the past three years with a 27-19 overall record.
"I will miss the people first and foremost, including the students and athletes I've had the fortune of working with over the years," she said. "It has been great to be a part of such a wonderful, unique community. Other than in this area, there are no other places we could go to where the people are as friendly and genuine as they are in St. Henry. I know that will be the toughest transition for me. We have built such strong bonds with some of the people here that it feels like we are leaving family behind again."
When Jeff addressed his team last week, he particularly directed his message toward the senior class.
"I haven't had to update my resume for 10 years, much less have a conversation like that with my team. I think some of the kids were surprised, but overall the meeting went well," he remarked. "My final lesson to them was that change is always going to happen in life as you grow. It occurs all of the time, but it doesn't have to be a bad thing. You have to embrace it and work hard to keep things heading in the right direction. We had a successful season last year and I know our seniors can lead the underclassmen and keep things going in a positive way."
While the Starkey's have both immersed themselves in athletics for their entire lives, neither is planning to coach after making the move out of St. Henry.
"We went back to northeast Ohio over Easter and spent a lot of time with both of our families and everyone was very excited," said Jeff. "As we got closer back this way though, and drove past the state championship sign coming into town, it reminded us of what a difficult process this is going to be. As far as coaching football again, I could never see myself in that position. No matter where I work or live, a part of me will always be a Redskin and I can't imagine wearing any other color or being on any other sideline."