Heart of a champion
MAC commissioner reflects on Marion’s state run, conference’s 2017-18 success
By Colin Foster
Midwest Athletic Conference Commissioner Don Kemper coached Marion Local’s Tyler Mescher in Pony League baseball.
Kemper knew back then that Mescher would never blow away anyone with his athletic ability. But as Kemper continued to watch Mescher develop throughout high school, he realized that the kid he had once coached had the heart of a champion.
Mescher — who became Marion Local’s second all-time leading scorer last weekend — proved that one last time on Saturday, rattling home the game-winning free throws with 2.6 seconds left to send the Flyers past Cornerstone Christian, 52-51, in double overtime for the Division IV state basketball championship.
«He’s second all-time in scoring at Marion Local behind (current New Bremen Athletic Director) Gary Jones, who was one of the better athletes of the 1970s and early 80s, and he’s done it without a lot of athleticism,» said the commish during a Tuesday phone interview. «I told his mom after the game on Saturday that he has more heart and more will to win than any kid I’ve ever been around.»
The MAC has had 127 teams that have displayed the heart of a champion during its history.
Marion’s dramatic win over the favored Patriots gave the conference its 127th state championship. The memories created on March 24 in Columbus won’t soon be forgotten: The big shots by Mescher, Nathan Bruns and Tyler Prenger; the fight displayed by Marion Local when its back was repeatedly against the wall; and the «on fleek» dance moves by the «Gold Guys» on the bench that set the internet ablaze.
«The team played a tremendous game,» Kemper said. «I thought coach (Kurt) Goettemoeller and his staff did a great job of just doing the right things at the right time. You talked to Cornerstone’s best player, Michael Bothwell (Division IV State Player of the Year), and he mentioned how Marion Local made them uncomfortable. I think that’s kind of it. They played great defense. There were some big kids on the other team. No. 55 (Ja’Shawn Robinson) was a big kid and I don’t think he had a point or a rebound. That’s a testament to the kids who were on the floor for Marion Local. They did a tremendous job of competing more than anything else.»
Kemper said Saturday’s game was reminiscent of the 1999 Division IV state championship game featuring another MAC team, Fort Recovery, which lost to Worthington Christian, 95-90, in triple overtime.
This school year, the MAC hasn’t lost on the state stage much — except when teams have played each other.
On Nov. 4, the Minster girls’ cross country repeated as Division III state champions with the most dominating run in OHSAA history. Emma Watcke — just a sophomore — won the individual state title with a time of 18:38.4 seconds, the gap between her and second place was 14 seconds. Watcke had also won the 1,600 state title at last year’s Division III state track and field meet. Minster had five All-Ohioans in Hebron and posted the lowest total in D-III meet history (34 points) as it claimed its 11th title in program history.
Versailles (11th place) and St. Henry (13th also sent teams to state in Division III. Marion Local’s Kelsey Broering (30th place) and Fort Recovery’s Chloe Will (117th) also competed. St. Henry (16th place) and Minster (18th) took part in the boys race. St. Henry’s Devin Huelskamp was an All-Ohioan with a 22nd-place finish. Parkway duo Kyle Roth (64th) and Matt Gaerke (111th) also had strong showings. Versailles’ Joe Spitzer placed fifth in the Division II race.
A week later at the Nutter Center in Fairborn, three MAC programs competed for state volleyball titles. Led by Division IV Player of the Year Paige Jones, New Bremen swept Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas in the title game to capture the school’s first-ever championship. Versailles and Coldwater took the court for the Division III title, with the Tigers edging the Cavaliers in five sets.
In early December, the Minster football team routed Cuyahoga Heights 32-7 to win the Division VII state title — claiming its second crown in four years. It was also the third consecutive sports season in which the Wildcats won a state title (they had also won the Division IV baseball championship last spring).
The morning after Minster had defeated Cuyahoga Heights, Marion Local won its 10th football trophy with a 34-11 romp of Kirtland at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
Oh, and Fort Recovery running back Will Homan also earned Division VI’s Offensive Player of the Year after having rushed for 2,200 yards on the campaign.
In the winter season, the Fort Recovery girls sent swimmers to state for the first time as Cassy Martin, Sophie Timmerman, Alexis and Ava Bubp and Paige Fortkamp qualified in three relay events. Martin also qualified in the 50 free and New Bremen’s Vivian Niekamp earned a berth in diving.
A few weeks later, two MAC girls’ basketball programs, Minster and Versailles, reached the state finals in their respective divisions. The Wildcats defeated Ottoville 63-48 for the program’s first title since 2004. The Tigers lost to Africentric 53-47 in the Division III game.
The Marion Local boys basketball team dethroned Division III State Player of the Year Justin Ahrens and the two-time defending MAC champion Versailles Tigers for the crown before embarking on their long tournament run.
«It’s probably a worn-out statement, but the kids in this conference just compete. They don’t care about the competition they’re up against or what the level is,» Kemper said. «It’s also really incredible the amount of athletes that are playing different sports at this point in history and just doing a tremendous job.»
Don’t expect the success to stop for the MAC this spring, either.
The Minster baseball team opens its Division IV state title defense while a group of area teams hopes to knock them from that pedestal. The Minster girls will try to win a Division III state track and field championship after having had runner-up finishes in back-to-back seasons. And the Parkway softball team seeks its first state berth since 2013 after having had its season cut short in the Sweet 16 last spring.
«With the level of competition within the MAC, in all sports, the student-athletes get used to high-level competition, so when they compete in a OHSAA tournament environment, they are much more prepared for what they encounter,» Kemper said. «Some of the teams/athletes they compete against in tournament, maybe they haven’t been challenged to that level. I feel that gives the MAC student-athletes an advantage.»