Thursday, November 1st, 2018
'The Skip' hosts one final game for Roughriders
By Robb Hemmelgarn
St. Marys' Skip Baughman Stadium will host its final high school football game o. . .
It was an instant classic added to an epic reel of high school football games to unfold on the southeast corner of South and Front Streets in St. Marys over the years.
Although last Friday's two-point, gut-wrenching setback to the Wapakoneta Redskins was excruciating for Roughrider football fans, in the larger scheme of things the evening was more about the journey than the destination.
After more than eight decades of heroic moments, exhilarating victories, and disappointing defeats within its confines, fans last Friday witnessed the final regular season high school football game at Skip Baughman Memorial Stadium.
Certainly hundreds of people are more qualified than I to delve into the emotions associated with the "Skip," but as an enthusiast of local sports history, I empathize for the Roughrider football diehards - a fan base second-to-none in our area - in these final weeks of the 2018 campaign. Bidding farewell to a tradition which means so much to so many isn't easy and after 81 seasons, I am certain those folks - from the ones up on the railroad tracks, to the Cowbell Mafia down below, and everyone in between - have their fond memories of the stadium.
As one of the most historically-rich football programs in this part of Ohio, the Roughriders played their initial home games, beginning in 1912, directly behind Memorial High School on a field which ran east and west. In 1927, head coach Robert Reed took over the program and in 13 seasons, he accumulated 68 victories and six league titles. Perhaps Reed's most notable accomplishment, though, was securing funding from President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration and overseeing the construction of the new Memorial Field on the site it sits today, which was dedicated in 1937 in front of 2,500 spectators. The concrete home stands were eventually moved from the east side of the field to the west following the 1977 season.
In 1958, Eugene "Skip" Baughman took the steering wheel of the program. From that point forward, the memories and victories began manufacturing on what seemed like a weekly basis. Within a couple of years, the Roughriders picked up their first WBL title under Baughman and over the course of the next three-plus decades, he helped guide the team to an astounding 13 league crowns, two co-championships, eight playoff appearances, three state championships and more than 270 victories. Following Baughman's retirement after the 1993 season, "Memorial Field" was appropriately renamed 'Skip Baughman Memorial Stadium'.
Referred to simply as the "Skip" by the St. Marys faithful, the venue has been many things to those regulars over the years, but most notably as a Friday night haven for five or six weeks in the fall - a retreat from real life for a few hours while they root on their hometown Roughriders, a tradition steeped in as much Americana as one can find. The playlist of unforgettable games through the years are too many to list, but they are so plentiful that a few books have been written locally highlighting them. As far as the players, there are those who could also fill volumes of Roughrider football lore - names like Cisco, Dzalamanow, Elston, Hollman, Huwer, Keith, Liette, Vossler and countless others. They were simply high school kids playing a game they adored, but the memories they generated on that field will be entrenched in the minds of those who rooted them on years into the future.
Saturday night when the Pepper Pike Orange Lions make the three-plus hour trip to Auglaize County for the first round of the Division IV playoffs, they will have no clue of what is in store for them. There will not be an open seat in the house. Fans will line the fence, and the iconic railroad tracks overlooking the south end zone will have little elbow room. For the players and coaches, it will be a Week-11 battle in what has already been a remarkable season, but for those outside the playing field, the occasion will signify just as much, if not more.
Today it's difficult to replicate the atmosphere from when Memorial High School rested directly to the north of the stadium, and there is only so much that fresh coats of paint and ever-increasing maintenance can cover up. The stadium itself obviously can't talk, but if those concrete bleachers could speak, I imagine they would simply say, "it's been one helluva ride, but it's time."
Although the stadium will still be fully utilized in the future for St. Marys' youth football games and practices, many still struggle to grasp what it will be like to play anywhere but Skip. For the generations of fans, players and coaches who have never known anywhere else to suit up on Friday nights in St. Marys, I give you the late Dr. Seuss who remarked, "Don't be sad because it is over, smile because it happened."
Saturday night will be a special evening in St. Marys and from all of those fans, I would like to say thank you to Skip for everything you have given this city.