Those who know longtime Vermilion athletic director and football coach Ralph Mayer probably believe he was the perfect candidate for retirement.
Those who watched him run around trying to keep everything under control for the Sailors sports programs probably are wondering what he’s going to do with all that free time.
“I’m not going to get bored … I promise you that,” Mayer said.
Mayer called it a career May 30, although he’s already hinting he could return in some capacity after a year of recharging his batteries, and he said the decision wasn’t as tough as some might believe.
“The incentive at 35 years to retire is quite high,” he said. “My kids have all grown up and my wife has been alone at the home for the past few years.
“I owe her some time I think.”
Mayer graduated from Vermilion in 1967 and from Dana College in Nebraska — “a tiny NAIA school where I played football,” he said — in December 1972. He began teaching health and physical education at Amherst High School in 1973, also taking the assistant football and head boys tennis coaching positions.
Mayer made his return to Vermilion in 1979 as an assistant football and junior varsity basketball coach. He became the Sailors’ head football coach in 1982 and steered the program to a 107-74 record and four Division II playoff appearances — in 1986, ’90, ’92 and ’97 – in two stints (1982-97 and 2002-04).
“Those were four of the more obvious memorable moments of my coaching career,” Mayer said. “Two other big games that happened during the regular season were a 9-7 win in the pouring rain over Admiral King in 1986 when we kicked a field goal in triple overtime, and a 10-9 win over Sandusky in 1992 because it was the only time we’d been able to beat them.”
Mayer also found time to coach the Sailors boys tennis team between 1983-95, teach health and business until 1996 and then serve as the school’s AD and assistant principal. He also officiated local high school basketball games off and on over the past 25 years — something he plans to keep doing.
But he never stopped to take a breath, mainly because working for the Sailors provided the extra energy he needed.
“Being at Vermilion was like living a dream,” Mayer said. “When you’re a kid in high school, that’s the kind of thing you think about. You want to come back some day and give back to your school.”
That kind of thinking must have flowed through him and into the kids he coached. Kurt Habermehl was on Mayer’s football teams from 1988-91 and has served as the Sailors basketball coach for the past nine seasons.
“He is the only AD I’ve ever known,” Habermehl said. “He demanded a lot from his players and he’s told me, ‘It’s all about the kids, it’s never about you as the coach.’ He’s been a great AD, but an even better friend.”
Mayer has also scored some huge victories as an administrator. The Vermilion sports facilities are lauded as some of the best in the county, and he skippered the Sailors’ escape from the horrors of being an independent by helping create the West Shore Conference — Vermilion’s current home.
“That kind of got our community back into Vermilion sports,” Habermehl said. “When we were an independent and for the few years we were in the Ohio Heartland Conference, we were traveling to a lot of places that people couldn’t go to watch us.”
“The facilities we have at Vermilion are just incredible,” said Jeff Keck, one of Mayer’s assistant football coaches in the mid-’90s and the Sailors baseball coach since 2002. “We have some of the best facilities in the state and Ralph was a big part of that.
“It was obvious that (the AD position) wasn’t just a job to him, it meant something.”
Now Mayer and his wife will put their energies into enjoying themselves. He said they will probably start by just relaxing over the next few months.
“In 35 years, I’ve never had a summer,” Mayer said. “By the end of June I was already getting ready for the next football season or getting camps started up at the high school.”
They also plan on doing some traveling — including a driving trip to the East Coast and a boating excursion to Georgia Bay on his 31-foot Formula cruiser. Then after a year off, he said he could return to coaching, working at a small college, or even administration.
But before the extended vacation could begin, Mayer had one last job to do before he could walk away. He had to make sure everything he built at Vermilion would be placed in capable hands.
“The board has already hired my replacement,” Mayer said of Matt Spellman, who has served as the AD at Chardon and was a teacher at Perry High in Ashtabula. “I helped with the interviews and helped make the choice. He’s going to be an excellent replacement. He’ll do a super job for us.”
It sounds as if he may have to do several.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.