July 31, 2014

Elyria
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Five state champs, great coach entering county Track and Field Hall of Fame

The fourth induction class for the Lorain County Track and Cross Country Hall of Fame features five state champions and a legendary coach.

They are to be recognized in a 30-minute ceremony today starting at 3:30 p.m. at Midview’s Ed Adelsberg Stadium prior to the start of the Midview Lorain County Invitational.

The 2012 class is: thrower-hurdler Bob Bryant, thrower Mike D’Andrea, high jumper Larry Fortner, sprinter Marnele Jackson, distance runner Ron Rick and coach Dick Elsasser.

Bob Bryant

Bryant

A rare blend of power, agility and quickness, Oberlin’s Bryant was All-Ohio four times for discus and shot put and twice more for hurdles. He’s the only Lorain County athlete to earn the distinction for throws and hurdles.
Bryant was the 1953 Class B state champ for discus (143 feet, 7 inches), one of only three county boys to win discus at the state level. He was the 1952 state runner-up in shot put, third in 1950 and ’53 and fourth in ’51.

He was a four-time state qualifier in both throwing events and was Southwestern Conference champ for both all four years. Among his top shot puts was 49-7½ at the 1950 SWC meet.

Hurdles added to his resume. Bryant was twice All-Ohio, with a third in the 120-yard high (’52) and a fourth in the 180-yard low (’53). He was a two-time sectional/district champ in the 120 hurdles. Bryant was also all-state as a member of the 880-yard relay as a sophomore.

“I always really enjoyed track,” Bryant said. “Football and basketball are team sports. They try to make track a team sport, but I figured I won my events on my merits. It didn’t matter who the school was. I just wish we would have had the training that they have today back then.”

He was drafted for military service and served in the U.S. Army from 1953-55 after graduating from Oberlin. His duties included the military police in the Korean War.

A standout running back for the Oberlin football team, Bryant earned a tryout with the Cleveland Browns in 1956. He performed well in some drills but was cut. They told him he wouldn’t be able to digest the playbook quickly enough after he failed an aptitude test. It wasn’t until 1983 that Bryant’s challenge with reading was diagnosed as dyslexia.

“They said I turned things around, but I wasn’t aware of it,” he said. “In 1983, a doctor in New York City was the only one that had heard of it. No one around here had heard of it. I was always considered lazy when it came to schooling.”

He played two years of college football at Peru State College in Nebraska before returning to Lorain County.

BORN: June 8, 1933, Oberlin

RESIDENCE: Wellington

AGE: 78

Track and field highlights:

  • Oberlin High, class of 1953
  • 7-time All-Ohio Class B state track and field athlete
  • Class B state discus champion, 1953; four-time state qualifier and two-time sectional/district champion
  • Class B All-Ohio for shot put, 2nd in 1952, 3rd in ’50 and ’53, 4th in ’51; four-time state qualifier and four-time sectional/district champion
  • Class B All-Ohio for hurdles, 3rd in 120-yard hurdles (’52), 4th in 180-yard hurdles (’53). Two-time state qualifier for both hurdle events

Other athletic highlights:

  • Rushed for a county-record 4,093 yards; scored 56 touchdowns and finished with a total of 401 points in 27 games as a running back, kicker and linebacker for the Oberlin High football team, 1949-52
  • Earned a tryout with the Cleveland Browns, 1956
  • Running back for Peru State College Bobcats, 1956 and ’57

Mike D’Andrea

D'Andrea

There was no mystery to D’Andrea’s mastery in the throws. His work ethic was rivaled by few.

He won the Division I state shot put in 2001 and ’02 and won discus as a senior. D’Andrea also set county records in both, destroying the previous shot record by more than 9 feet.

The 2002 Avon Lake graduate started the shot put in the sixth grade for St. Joseph. He added the discus his freshman year.

His career took off his sophomore year, when he finished second in the state in the shot put by less than 9 inches to Mentor’s Jason Caldwell, 62-9½ to 62-1¼.

“I threw at track practice, then when my dad (Robert) would come home from work we’d throw in the backyard at home for a couple hours, usually to 8 or 9 at night,” D’Andrea said. “Literally, we threw almost every night during track season.

“The biggest thing I emphasized to younger throwers is about getting the reps. There’s no substitution. That’s what my dad instilled into me at a young age.”

D’Andrea dominated Division I shot put his junior and senior years. He set the county record at the 2002 Amherst regional with a toss of 67-6½ and was the No. 2-ranked prep shot putter in the nation. He brought his discus throwing in line with shot put his senior year. He defeated defending state champ Ryan Franzinger of St. Ignatius by 13 inches with a county-record 190-5 at the state meet.

A three-peat in the Ohio high school state boys shot hasn’t happened since the early 1940s, but D’Andrea has come the closest.

He won the 2002 title by nearly 4 feet with a toss of 65-5½. He won as a junior by 21 inches with 61-10¼.
He went on to play football as a true freshman on Ohio State’s national championship team and by his junior year he was the starting middle linebacker.

BORN: Feb. 7, 1984 in Elyria

RESIDENCE: Avon Lake

AGE: 28

Track and field highlights:

  • Avon Lake High graduate, 2002
  • Two-time Division I state shot put champ, 2001-02; state runner-up (2000)
  • Division I state discus champ, 2002; 4th in 2001
  • Lorain County record-holder: shot put (67-6½), discus (190-5)
  • Ranked No. 2 nationally for shot put and top 10 for discus, 2002
  • AAU national record-holder for ages 15-16, shot put (62-9)
  • Threw the indoor shot put his freshman year for Ohio State; broke the 60-foot barrier with the 16-pound collegiate shot

Other athletic highlights:

  • Three-time Division I All-Ohio football, 1999-2001
  • Parade All-American first-team football, 2002
  • Linebacker for Ohio State football team, 2002-05; starter in 2004
  • Member of NCAA Division I national championship team, 2002-03

Dick Elsasser

Elsasser

Dick Elsasser is still humbled by his success as a longtime coach for Elyria Catholic and Amherst high schools, as well as for Baldwin-Wallace College. His teams won often and achieved high levels of success.

He is best remembered for leading Elyria Catholic cross country to Class AA state championships in 1973, ’74 and ’78. The Panthers were also state runner-up in 1972, ’79 and ’83, plus third in ’75.

Elsasser coached for EC from 1967-75 and then again from 1978-85. He coached at B-W from 1985-90, then returned to Lorain County to coach Amherst from 1990-2005.

“It was just one of those drives you formed in your early life and it just continued,” Elsasser said. “I was fortunate to be at some great places with some great kids. I got here (into the hall of fame) because of the kids I coached and the assistants I worked with. Those are the people that make you a hall of fame coach. They were the successes that breed success. That’s really a philosophy of life. As you get older, you get a different perspective.”

His EC cross country teams had nine individual sectional winners. For track, he coached Brad House (1978, 880 yards) and Ron Rick (1981, 1,600 and 3,200) to state titles.

“I always get kind of embarrassed by awards,” said Elsasser. “The difference was really the guys (assistants) that were out there every day. At EC, I had Tom Mahl, Bob McCulloch, Mike Scheck, Chuck Lynch and all those guys I worked with there. At B-W I was working with Bill Taraschke.

“Sure, I was out there, but it was Darline (Elsasser) working with athletes like Greg Norman and Alan Roark working with Dominic Pellitieri at Amherst, plus all those other great kids. I was fortunate to have those people around me to do that. We’ve always had great people that believe in each other. I always regarded my assistant as the head coach for that event.”

After he guided the B-W women to four Ohio Athletic Conference cross country titles between 1985 and ’90, Elsasser went to Amherst. His boys track teams won seven Southwestern Conference titles and the girls three. The girls had 25 district and 11 regional winners and the boys had 16 district and two regional champs. The boys team was the 2000 Division I state runner-up.

Elsasser won two Class A state titles in the mile (1960-61) under Max Ross at Marion Catholic and was a four-year letterman for Bowling Green State University.

Elsasser coached the Amherst boys cross country team from 1990-95, leading it to a fifth-place state finish in Division I in ’95.

BORN: Aug. 1, 1943, Marion

RESIDENCE: Lakeside

AGE: 68

Track and field highlights:

  • Two-time Class A mile champ for Marion Catholic, 1960-61
  • Class A cross country state qualifier, 1960
  • Four-year letterman in track and cross country for Bowling Green State University, 1961-65

Coaching highlights:

  • Class AA boys state cross country champions — Elyria Catholic, 1973, ’74 and ’78
  • State runner-up for boys cross country — EC, 1972, ’79 and ’83
  • State track champions at Elyria Catholic: Brad House (1978), 880; Ron Rick (1981), 1,600- and 3,200-meter run
  • State runner-up for Division I boys track — Amherst, 2000
  • 5th place at state for Amherst boys cross country, 1995

Other honors:

  • Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame, 1999
  • Elyria Sports Hall of Fame, 1985

Larry Fortner

Fortner

Larry Fortner was Lorain County’s first track athlete to win multiple state titles for a field event, taking back-to-back Class A state high jump titles in 1974 (6-7) and ’75 (6-5). He finished second in 1973 (6-5) and ’74 (6-6½).

The county had four state high jump champs before Fortner, but no one earned All-Ohio (top eight) more than once. Fortner was all-state four times.

High jump was evolving in the 1970s, from the old standard of sawdust pits to a much softer landing surface. Most schools didn’t yet have the soft, single-piece landing pits of today. They were makeshift ones consisting of old automobile tires on the bottom with pieces of rubber foam netted together as the top layer.

“I was 6-foot-4, 200 pounds in high school and blessed, I guess,” Fortner said. “My coach, Wayne Ross, was also my neighbor. He would meet with me up at the high school on weekends to work on technique. He bought film and we would study how the Soviets were jumping. It wasn’t something I could do on my own. It took a lot of time and work from him.”

Except for one dual meet in sixth grade for Durling Elementary, Fortner never high jumped until freshman year. He finished second in the state in 1973 to Lorain Catholic’s Bob Francis. Both cleared 6-5, but Francis won on fewer misses.

Olympic 1968 gold medalist Dick Fosbury of the United States revolutionized the high jump with the “Fosbury Flop.” Fortner stuck with the Western Roll approach even though 70 percent of the high jumpers in his era were doing the Fosbury.

“I couldn’t Fosbury if I wanted to. I tried it but couldn’t do it,” Fortner said. “It was so ugly. I think I just did for a joke. I couldn’t get up in the air. It didn’t make any sense going over backwards. The Western Roll was like doing a right-handed layup for basketball. It’s the same principle. It just made sense. It felt good.”

Fortner set the Lorain County record at 6-9 in 1973 at George Daniel Field in a city meet with other Lorain high schools. His mark lasted until 1985 when Elyria’s Mark Cannon broke it.

“My football and basketball conditioning helped with the high jump,” Fortner said. “I didn’t have to train for one particular thing. It was being a part of all those sports. One fed off the other.”

Clearview won the 1973 state title after taking second in ’72. The Clippers were 10th at state in 1974 and eighth in ’75.

“It was the same group of guys in track that we had for football and basketball,” Fortner said. “It was a handful of us, guys like Larry Harris, Otis Jenkins and Don Hitchens. It was a lot of really great athletes and I was just part of them.

“Once you start winning and get a taste of it, it’s really fun. You might as well win if you put all the time and effort into it. It’s something we got used to doing and we liked it. One sport just carried over to the next.”

“You should never compare athletes, or at least I never try to,” said Ross, who later served as high school principal and city school superintendent. “We had some great athletes, but Larry certainly has to be one of the best that ever came out there in all three. The fact he was so good in all three was amazing. I suspect if he had been a pitcher he would have been a great pitcher. He had those kinds of skills. He was that good in everything.”

BORN: Dec. 24, 1955, Huntington, W.Va.

RESIDENCE: Amherst

AGE: 56

Track and field highlights:

  • Clearview High School graduate, 1975
  • Two-time Class A state high jump champ, 1974-75
  • Two-time Class A state high jump runner-up, 1972-73
  • Broke or tied Class A state high jump mark three times: 1972 (6-5), ’73 (6-6½) and ’74 (6-7)
  • Member of the 1973 state championship track team and ’72 state runner-up team

Other athletic highlights:

  • Class A high school boys basketball Player of the Year, 1974-75
  • Member of the Class A state championship basketball team, 1973-74
  • Starting quarterback for the Class A state runner-up football team, 1972
  • Quarterback for Miami of Ohio for three years (1976-78); led team to 1977 Mid-American Conference title
  • Drafted in the 12th round by the Miami Dolphins, 1979

Other honors:

  • Lorain Sports Hall of Fame, 1994

Marnele Jackson

Jackson

Jackson won four Class AA state titles between her sophomore and junior years. She won three as a junior at Oberlin in 1985 after winning the 400-meter relay with Elyria West in 1984.

They were the most state track titles by a Lorain County girl at the time and remain No. 3 on the all-time list behind Elyria’s Tianna Madison (nine, 2001-03) and Clearview’s Francene Woods (five, 1986-89).

But it wasn’t easy, especially because of her personal challenges.

“I went through a lot at both schools,” Jackson said. “My family doesn’t even know all the things I went through. My coaches, my dad and my stepmother kept me making it where I didn’t take my life. There were a lot of things that happened between both schools.

“My coaches were like angels to me. My father was a guard. He didn’t let me go out and do the things that I wanted to. If it weren’t for my dad and Coach Harris, I probably would have been out on the streets. Without God, I wouldn’t be at where I’m at right now if it weren’t for Him.”

Jackson won the Class AA 100- (12.39) and 200-meter (25.24) dashes for Oberlin and was a member of the winning 400-meter relay (50.00).

Thanks largely to Jackson’s efforts, Oberlin finished tied with Cincinnati Roger Bacon for second with 30 points, one behind Ravenna Southeast.

Jackson transferred from Elyria West to Oberlin because her parents divorced and she wanted to live with her father.

“It’s hard to believe that I was able to accomplish something like that back then,” she said. “It was beautiful. I didn’t feel I was worth anything back then. I just ran because I loved to run. Now, I’m seeing, wow, it made a difference.”

Jackson said her faith helped keep her on a straight path.

“I went to church only because I had to back then,” she said. “Now, I know the need.

“I lost a son (Bryant) who took right after me. He was 13 and he did exactly the same thing I did in the 400-meter relay. He fell, got back up and still won the race. I’ll never forget it. He would have taken after me. He died in 2002 from bacterial meningitis.”

Jackson won districts again in the 100 and 200 at Olmsted Falls her senior year, but didn’t have the same results in Columbus. She only managed sixth in the 200 even though she ran the same time as a year earlier.

BORN: Oct. 31, 1966, Lakewood

RESIDENCE: Tampa, Florida

AGE: 45

Track and field highlights:

  • Oberlin High School graduate, 1986
  • 5-time All-Ohio Class AA track athlete
  • Class AA 100- and 200-meter state track champ at Oberlin High, 1985
  • Class AA 400-meter relay state track champ at Oberlin High, 1985
  • Class AA 400-meter relay state champ at Elyria West High, 1984
  • Class AA 200-meter state 6th place finisher at Oberlin High, 1986
  • Two-time Olmsted Falls District champion: 100 and 200 meters (1985-86)
  • Four-time Lakeland Conference champion: 100 meters (1985), 200 meters (1985) and 400-meter relay (1985-86)
  • Led Oberlin girls to 2nd place Class AA team finish at state in 1985

Ron Rick

Rick

It’s a double rarely contemplated, especially at the state level. The 1,600-3,200 is daunting.

It didn’t intimidate Elyria Catholic’s Ron Rick and he made it his mission in 1981. As a result, he’s the only Lorain County athlete to achieve the double.

He won the Class AA 1,600-meter run as a senior by an estimated 23 meters (3.41 seconds) in a meet-record 4:14.04. Thirty-five minutes later, he won the 3,200 in 9:22.02.

With the cross country injuries of his junior and senior years, it was sweet redemption.

Rick broke the second toe on his right foot his junior year of cross country, returning a couple of weeks before the postseason. With Rick not quite up to top form, Elyria Catholic was denied a three-peat as it finished second at the 1979 state meet.

He broke his tibia on a training run the day after winning the sectional cross country meet his senior year. The Panthers finished 13th at state.

Another motivation was his junior year loss in the 3,200 state final to Navarre Fairless senior Joe Marchand, 9:13.4 to 9:14.2.

“I was feeling great coming into my senior year. I was averaging 100 miles to 110 and 120 miles a week,” Rick said. “I was running 55 minutes for 10 miles. I was in phenomenal shape.”

The idea for the double came from Elsasser, a two-time state mile champ.

“Dick said we could make it happen. We just had to design the training,” Rick said.

It was more than just about training. Rick had to beat the weather and all the mind games associated with it.

“The day of the state meet it was 105 degrees on track,” he said. “As soon I finished the 1,600 we had the awards and then I went immediately under the stands at Ohio Stadium to stay cool. I really tightened between races. Chuck Lynch put a white towel soaked in ice-cold water on my shoulders. When I stood up I almost passed out. My brother, Adam, said that I looked like I was in a daze for the first five laps (of the 3,200).”

Rick pulled off the back end of the double by defeating Firelands senior Darrin Benedict (9:29.15).

BORN: Sept. 26, 1962, Elyria

RESIDENCE: Charlotte, N.C.

AGE: 49

Track and cross country highlights:

  • Elyria Catholic graduate, 1981
  • Six-time All-Ohio Class AA track and cross country athlete
  • Class AA 1,600 meter and 3,200 meter state track champ, 1981
  • Class AA 3,200 meters, 2nd place state finisher, 1980
  • Class AA two mile 3rd-place state finisher, 1979
  • State cross country meet, 4th in 1978 and 17th in 1979
  • Member of 1977 and ’78 state championship and ’79 state runner-up teams
  • Wake Forest University graduate, 1986
  • Four-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference, the only Wake Forest cross country athlete to earn this distinction.

Other honors:

  • Elyria Sports Hall of Fame, 2004

Today

  • What: Fourth annual Lorain County Track and Cross Country Hall of Fame enshrinement
  • Where: Ed Adelsberg Stadium, Midview
  • Time: 3:30 p.m.

Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.