The death of a lifelong Shelby County resident who spent decades working for universities and high schools came as a shock to many in the area earlier this week — but the praise many have given him and his work in the aftermath isn’t.
Matt Zircher, 48, of Sidney, died of natural causes in his residence on Tuesday. After news of his death was published on social media, a steady flurry of tributes followed from hundreds of people, many of which described him as “a walking sports encyclopedia.”
“It just hasn’t sunk in yet, and I don’t know if it ever will,” Fairlawn athletic director Zack Freeling said. “It will be eerie. He was just always there, and to not have him there and rely on him for information or his opinion will be eerie. He’s just such a smart guy and a great person.”
Zircher, who was a longtime contributing writer to the Sidney Daily News, had worked as the sports information director at University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima for nearly three years. He previously worked in the athletic communications department at Wright State for 24 years.
He began contributing to the newspaper while attending Russia High School and continued until starting at UNOH in 2017. His help to the publication extended far beyond his bylined stories according to former longtime sports editor Ken Barhorst.
“I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t had Matt to turn to whenever I needed help,” Barhorst said. “He was always willing to help. If he was free, he would always do whatever I needed him to do. He was my right-hand man for so many years.
“He was a tireless worker. I couldn’t believe the energy he had. He would go wherever he was needed or wanted.
“… It’s a shame. The athletes in Shelby County were really lucky to have Matt. He did a lot for them.”
Zircher, a University of Dayton graduate, started working at Wright State in 1993 as a graduate intern. He was later hired on a full-time basis by sports information director Bob Noss, who eventually fought for Zircher’s promotion to associate SID.
Whether keeping the university’s vast athletics website up-to-date or doing any number of game operations functions, Noss said Zircher was dependable.
“He just managed things so well,” Noss, who last saw Zircher at Wright State men’s basketball game in December, said. “… He was relentless in getting it done and helping the coaches and student-athletes, making things look good and look right. People took it for granted; they didn’t realize how many things he got done. Half the time it was, ‘What do you mean how did it get done? Matt did it.’”
Zircher worked at the university until 2017, when he was laid off along with many others as a part of massive cuts by the institution.
He found his next position before the layoff ever went into effect. He was hired as UNOH’s sports information director in August of 2017 and worked in that role until his death.
Zircher’s work wasn’t limited to his full-time positions. He created and managed several websites, including mattzircher.com, which he used for 20 years to track boys and girls basketball schedules, scores and standings for area conferences.
Zircher also created the Shelby County Athletic League’s website and Twitter account in 2016 and had managed both since.
“I remember talking to him one May after all (Wright State’s) sports were done and talking about what he did on the weekend,” Noss said. “He was talking about doing all these other sports, all sorts of stuff up in Shelby County around his hometown.
“He said once he went to a softball game and there wasn’t anybody doing (public address announcing). He happened to have PA equipment in his car and took it out of his trunk and did PA. He did (similar things) a lot, from what I’m hearing.”
Zircher was a fixture at SCAL games for decades, including Fairlawn, which was the school district in which he resided.
He helped with game operations — both in official paid roles and as a volunteer — at many other area sporting events. Among other activities, he worked events at Fairlawn as well as high school tournament games at various sites across the area.
“My first year at Fairlawn, for basketball, that was one thing that was always consistent, that Matt was there on his own accord,” Freeling said. “Prompt, punctual. You always saw him there before anyone else got there.
“He was a librarian and top advocate of our league. When we needed someone to run our clock (at games) he volunteered and said we didn’t need to pay him. I didn’t take no for an answer on that and made sure he got paid for his work.”
Zircher also worked for years as an official scorer for the Dayton Dragons and also served in a fill-in role for ScoresBroadcast.com. Jack Kramer, the owner of the sports broadcasting website, said Zircher filled in on 50 to 60 games over the last five years. Kramer also said Zircher provided statistics at some tournament games for the website and other media for far longer.
“Matt and I texted on a regular basis,” Kramer said. “We, in fact, played a ‘sports phone game’ between us: Who could respond to the other faster by text and provide the necessary score, stat, or sports information?
“I never won. Within 15-30 seconds, he would beat me to the punch and consistently respond with an answer I could rarely refute. And when I asked for his source, he usually responded, ‘I just know that’s right.’ And in fun, I often pressed him with, ‘How do you know that’s right?’ Ultimately he added, ‘It was upstairs — in my head.’
“I will miss him a lot. He was a great on-air partner and a super friend. So likeable, dependable and knowledgeable. I extend prayers to Matt’s family. My sincerest condolences. We were all deeply saddened when we heard we lost Matt. I feel part of me is gone with him.”
Noss said while Zircher was a tireless worker, he remained connected to his family.
“He always told me about his niece Kelsey (Zircher) and was always bragging on her and what she was doing,” Noss said. “He would bring her out to games and she would help a little bit now and then when she was younger. He would bring his dad out and he would keep scoreboard at softball games and things like that for us. He always included his family when he could.”
Zircher is survived by parents Bernard and Joy Zircher, three brothers, numerous nieces and nephews and other family and friends. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family has decided to hold a memorial at a later date.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.