ANNA — Randy Locker was like a lot of longtime coaches when he first started out. He coached whatever and whenever his school needed him.
But when he attended Anna High School, his sport was track, and he always wanted to see what it was like “on the other side” of the sport, namely as the coach.
He got that chance in 1981, and stayed with it an amazing 35 years before recently announcing that he was retiring.
He talked recently about the changes over the years, the success his teams had, and of course, some of the athletes that he’ll never forget.
“I’ll miss the competition, and seeing the kids do well,” Locker said. “Seeing their reaction when they realize that all the training and all the hard work has paid off. And I’ll miss going to the state-level competition, the district, regional and state. Getting there is what it’s all about.
“I’ve had people ask me if I’ll stay in track at some level, like officiating,” he added. “But I’m pastoring two churches now so I have enough to keep me busy. I think it’s time for somebody else to take over.”
He could talk for hours about the things he saw over the years, but he thought back to just a favorite few.
He recalled watching a competitor years ago win the shot put and the 100-meter dash at the Minster Invitational one year. “That combination of speed and strength is pretty special, and so was this kid,” Locker said.
That “kid” was Jim Lachey of St. Henry, who went on to be an All-American lineman at Ohio State and an All-Pro with the Washington Redskins.
He also recalled when Houston won the state runner-up trophy, with only the talented Stacey Ritter competing. And along those same lines, he was there when Trotwood’s Lavonna Martin won three events and was second in another to single-handedly win her school the state championship.
“But my all-time favorite was watching Sunni Olding (Minster) go head-to-head with Sarah Schulze (Anna) in an 800-meter race when Sarah was a freshman,” he recalled. “Sunni didn’t usually run the 800 but she knew no one at the meet would give her a good race except Sarah. That was two months into Sarah’s freshman season, so Sunni had heard of her. There were five in the race who had run at the state meet, but Sunni and Sarah quickly left the rest of the field behind and battled for two laps. Sarah won by a couple hundredths of a second. It’s still the most exciting race I’ve ever seen.”
He went on to say later that Schulze was probably the best girl he ever coached “because she could do so many things. At one time, after she graduated, she held the school record in the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200. Basketball was her true love, but had she really focused on track, I think she could have gone on and been a great heptathlete.
“But I’ve had others in individual events,” he added. “Like Laura Gehret (two-time state champ). I don’t know that I’ll ever see another high jumper like her.”
Locker’s success came immediately. His first two teams won County titles at a time when Fort Loramie was the dominant team. He wound up with seven league titles, six runner-up finishes in the County, one district title, four district runner-up finishes and one regional championship.
He had four state champions in all. In addition to Gehret winning the high jump twice, Schulze was a state champ in the 800 and Leslie Reiss a champion in the 100 hurdles.
“That hurdles race was one of the most exciting races I can recall,” Locker said. “That was back when the meet was held at Ohio Stadium. It was a photo finish, and her mom yelled so loud you could hear it all over the stadium.”
He said the biggest difference from when he started to now is, of course, the facilities.
“When I started, we had a cinder track with maybe four lanes and it was on a slope where the football field is now,” he said. “The gullies would wash out every year and we’d have to truck in loads of new cinder to fill it back in. The high jump landing area had nets filled with foam rubber, but even that was a step up. When I competed, it was sawdust. The equipment is so much better now, but it’s costly.”
Locker also served as an assistant coach to Dean Stewart in cross country for 20 years, and the two obviously made a good combination.
“Dean and I have been fortunate because our numbers have been tremendous, even with all the other sports,” he said. “We have to take two buses when we go to meets now. And we have assistant coaches that do so much more in-depth work with the kids.”
Coaches always want to step aside when they’re on top, and that’s what is happening here. Locker is walking away from a coaching career filled with success and overflowing with great memories.
The writer is the sports editor of the Sidney Daily News. He can be reached at 937-538-4818.