I was just two years old in 1956 when Sidney football coach Wayne Gibson departed for his college alma mater, Miami University in Oxford where he remained for the next 62 years. My dad was a good friend of the Gallapolis native and told me in later years that I’d have enjoyed having Wayne as a coach had he stayed in Sidney.
Gibson was a very undersized fullback for coach Sid Gillman at Miami before graduating and serving in the Navy before landing in Sidney in 1948. He stayed a year, got married to Sidney’s Phyllis Bender, departed for two years, and returned to coach five more years. I first met him in 1971 and saw him at various intervals over the years.
In 1981 Sidney’s boys basketball team headed to the Miami campus to play in the district finals against Cincinnati Western Hills, the same opponent as in Gibson’s Sidney football coaching debut in 1948. I was to broadcast that game and Wayne, by then a longtime Miami administrator, was the tournament manager so I secured him as my halftime guest from Millett Hall. He vividly recalled the game from 33 years earlier including the role of Western Hills quarterback (and future baseball legend) Don Zimmer in securing the win by throwing a tipped touchdown pass to himself.
In 2006 I’d become the football public address announcer at the University of Dayton and went to Miami’s home opener to see how my counterpart operated. On the way into the stadium I saw “Gibby” and we visited, revealing that he was still a regular at Miami football practices. I offered to join him for a session and do dinner afterward as we established a tradition that ran about ten years.
Those treks to Oxford were enjoyable and meaningful as I perpetuated one of my late father’s friendships. We had long exchanges in his garage as he’d recall coaching in Sidney and under legends John Pont and Bo Schembechler at Miami. The Western Hills game remained alive and he also liked to discuss specific players like Bob Zimpfer, a great lineman for him in Sidney (SHS 1956) whom he had to coach against as an All-American on some fine Bowling Green teams. “Bob was a dominant player. Too bad we couldn’t get him to come to Miami,” he recalled.
At practice we sometimes sat with Pont who spent his retirement in Oxford. As we sat in the stadium one day I asked if either knew anything about Fred Yager, for whom Yager Stadium is named. Double negative. I revealed that like me, he was from Sidney (SHS 1910). That prompted Pont to ask if I was in touch with Mike Flanagan (SHS 1971) who played for him at Indiana. “Sure am,” I replied. “He was my teammate and we remain friends.”
When it came to dinner there were two basic choices. He enjoyed spaghetti at LaRosa’s and liked about anything at Bob Evans due to an ongoing loyalty from his hometown. Wayne Gibson and Bob Evans himself were longtime friends and Evans had made many trips to Oxford wearing his signature cowboy hat.
My last contact with Wayne was an e-mail two years ago. His final words to me were, “I’m now 95 years old and still remember the Western Hills game like it was yesterday.”
I recently did a program for the 70th class reunion of SHS 1949. They were seniors when Gibson arrived in Sidney. That’s where I found out that Wayne had died in late December. Somehow I missed that which is disappointing but I’m left with some fine memories.
Along the way my dad’s friend had become my friend.
Next week: A visit with new Reds broadcaster Tommy Thrall.
Sports Extra is a regular Friday feature. Dave Ross authored a book on the first century of Sidney High School football and his columns have earned awards in Division II in the Ohio Associated Press Media Editor’s competition the last two years, including first place this year.