MILLBURY — Often when a visitor arrives at Lake High School for a tournament games, you’ll overhear them ask how did the school get such great athletic facilities?
Often the answer is an insurance settlement after a tornado struck the previous building in 2010, destroying it.
While there is truth to that, athletic director Dave Shaffer says more lessons came from that experience than just rebuilding the school and athletic facilities.
“First and foremost, the deaths that were the result of the tornado and the loss of our school and people’s homes were a tragedy that will never be forgotten. We faced many challenges with the destruction of our athletic facilities,” Shaffer said.
“We had to get creative to find places for our teams to practice and compete, replacing lost equipment and rebuilding facilities to minimize lost time. It was a tremendous team effort to have the stadium ready on schedule for contests only two months after the tornado.
“There are so many people and businesses to thank for their efforts to accomplish that. We decided to name the stadium Lake Community Stadium as a tribute to the community coming together to rebuild.
“Other venues took longer, and we held basketball practices in one of TPS’s (Toledo Public School’s) elementary schools, varsity volleyball and wrestling contests in the smaller middle school gym, and basketball contests at Owens CC. We were very thankful for everything Owens CC did for us and other agencies.”
Remembering ‘The Stage’
However, Shaffer will never forget the facilities Lake was playing at when he first arrived. While on par with many other districts at the time, they would not cut the standard today.
“Prior to the 1988 addition to the former high school, we played our contests in the auditorium with the stage along one side of the floor which created challenges in itself,” Shaffer said.
“Minimal seating wood bleachers were on one side of the court where the teams sat and the opposite side was auditorium seating. You had to arrive early enough to be fortunate to sit in the bleachers or if you chose the auditorium, before the unobstructed view seats were taken.
“In 1988, the school district built an addition to the school with a new gymnasium that could hold 2,000 people. At that time, it was one of the larger gyms in the area and we began to host tournaments and large events with the great seating we had.
“So, after the tornado, we wanted a gym similar in size but equally distributed seating so students would have their own section.”
‘Keeping up with Joneses’
Like other districts, improvements in facilities since then has been like a “Keeping up with the Joneses” movie.
“Schools in general have made vast improvements to their athletic facilities from where they were a decade or more ago — more practice and competition venues, larger venues, improved surfaces, and additional equipment,” Shaffer said.
“I can recall having limited areas to practice, small competition venues, no weight room, poor field conditions, and lack of equipment.
“I remember the days of kids practicing on rock hard grass fields with no irrigation, coaches pushing a chalker around a cinder track and hoping it didn’t rain before the upcoming track meet, and having only one bench press in a pole barn and kids taking turns to lift.”
Lake athletics has been through countless other transitions over its 30-plus years, including leaving the Northern Lakes League for the Suburban Lakes League, and then becoming a charter member of the Northern Buckeye Conference.
There are more schools from the 1960s NLL that are in the NBC today than there are remaining in the NLL.
Lake Schools were a member of the NLL from 1960-96 where the district was very competitive for many years until growing enrollments at other league schools made it increasingly difficult to compete in the NLL.
As time passed, Lake became the smallest school in the NLL which led to the need to consider another league with similar enrollments.It was a similar story at former NLL members Eastwood, Elmwood, Genoa, Rossford, and Maumee, all now in the NBC except Elmwood.
Lake joined the SLL in 1997 where it found much more success than its final decade in the NLL. In 2011, the SLL disbanded when two schools, Lakota and Gibsonburg, withdrew, eventually resulting in the creation of the NBC.
Lake Schools has had more success since being a member of the NBC with schools similar in size. In whatever manner you look at it, it’s been a long journey for Shaffer and those around him at Lake.
“I was fortunate to work with and build so many relationships with other schools’ athletic directors, and administrators for almost four decades,” Shaffer said.
It’s not just the associations with other schools. It’s his associations with Lake’s coaches, but a handful made their mark on Shaffer.
“Worked with many coaches over the years with many favorites but three that stick out the most were legendary baseball coach and state hall of famer Greg Wilker, girls basketball coach Denny Meyer and football coach Mark Means,” Shaffer said.
“Some memorable performances; the state final four baseball team, and the varsity girls basketball 61-game win streak. Some great three-sport athletes that come to mind — Tricia Askins, Kaysie Brittenham, and Connor Bowen.
“Very proud of all the league championships, sectional and district championships our teams have accomplished over the years.
“The many individual honors our kids have accomplished through their hard work and commitment to an athletic program and the many kids that have gone on to play at the next level and lead successful careers after doing so. We are very proud of you,” Shaffer said.
Still a challenging environment
There have been other challenges to high school athletics, like a decline in numbers in many sports for multiple reasons. Not a good thing for smaller schools, says Shaffer.
“Some challenges in school-based athletics are a decline in participation numbers possibly due to travel sports gaining popularity, kids wanting to work instead of participating, and specializing in just one sport,” Shaffer said.
“Other challenges are an increase in inappropriate spectator behaviors, a decline in officials and the rising costs to operate athletic programs. There are many more opportunities for kids to play at the next level now than there were years ago.”
However, for those athletes who have moved on, there is nothing better than seeing them returning to scene of their playing days years later, Shaffer says.
“It’s been rewarding to see some of our past athletes now as coaches, teachers, administrators, custodians, board members and volunteers within the athletic department and our school district,” Shaffer said.
“In addition, to see them now as parents and their children participating in our athletic programs is very special and makes one feel that we have done well preparing them for life after high school.
“To listen to their recollections of their days in athletics and now how they pass on those experiences to their own kids is one of laughter and joy all in the same.”