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What BHS graduate has contributed more to athletics?

By Bill Herr

What graduate in Bluffton High School (BHS) history has contributed more to athletics before and after his graduation than any other? My choice is Jim (Spike) Berry. This is his story. Today Spike lives with his wife Joyce in Bluffton. They have two children, Julie and Jay, and four grandchildren. Spike graduated from BHS in 1956. He was a good athlete in three sports: football, basketball and baseball.

Ron Lora played football and basketball with Spike and shared these reflections: "Spike and I were classmates in high school. We even roomed together at Bluffton University in Lincoln Hall. He was always upbeat, outgoing, and friendly–popular with all of our classmates and teammates. Spike understood the fundamentals of the sports he did. I asked him which sport he liked best. He said that whatever sport was in season, he liked that sport the best."

In high school Spike was a team leader. He played in memorable games. Bellefontaine was ranked either 1 or 2 in the state in basketball. There were two divisions then, A and B. They were in A and BHS in B. Bluffton defeated them. Willshire was undefeated and won the State tournament, but their closest game was with Bluffton, which was ahead 16 points at halftime. Willshire's 6 foot 11 inch center dominated in the second half and they won. Spike scored in double figures in both games.

Spike was the quarterback in football. He was fast and elusive. I was a year behind Spike in school and on the team. At practice I tried but I could never tackle him. Many years later I told some of his friends I never could touch him and Berry said, "You could now" (he has had issues with his knees). Spike has a great sense of humor.

After graduating from Bluffton University, Spike was hired as head football coach at Cory-Rawson High School (CR) where he coached 31 years. His teams won 11 Blanchard Valley Conference championships. Spike coached 6 undefeated teams. His 1968 team was not scored upon and the UPI acclaimed them State Champions (there were no playoffs then). That year Spike was honored as Coach of the Year in the State of Ohio. Ohio has the largest State Coaches Association in the country. Spike was the president of that association on three different occasions. One year he was the director of "The Big 33." This was a game between the chosen 33 best football players in Ohio against the top 33 players in Pennsylvania. In his career as coach he had 32 All-State players and 4 High School All-Americans.

I asked Spike questions about his career. Following are the questions (Q) and his answers (A):

Q. A favorite memory of athletics at BHS? 
A. My favorite memory of athletics at BHS is about the great teammates I was with every day. We were always playing some kind of ball and I was among my great friends.

Q. Favorite memory at Bluffton University (then Bluffton College)? 
A. Bluffton College was a great experience. We never lost a league game in football (Spike was the quarterback). We were 20-0. I was lucky to play football, basketball and baseball. I knew that I wanted to become a coach.

Q. An accomplishment you treasure from high school and college? 
A. Accomplishments in athletics at BHS and BC were not individual. They were all team oriented. Success comes with having successful people around you. Those people are friends for life.

Q. When did you first think about going into education and coaching? 
A. When I was 14 years old. I was just excited about all the little and big things connected with athletic programs. I really loved the players, coaching staffs and fans.

Q. What did you love about coaching? 
A. I loved everything about coaching. Friday Night Lights is at the top of the list. Most of all, I enjoyed being around people. Coaching staffs that worked great with young people, watching young men grow into adulthood and have their own success.

Q. What did you teach at C-R and how many years were you the principal?
A. I taught six years (Biology, Drivers Ed., Health and Physical Ed.) and was principal 24 years.

After retirement, Spike had three years off from coaching and then some area coaches asked him to be an assistant coach. Coach Bill Goodwin from Allen East was the first to ask and Spike assisted him for 5 years. Then Dennis Lee from Bluffton called and Spike was an assistant for him for 9 years. The last was Coach Andy Shafer from Columbus Grove. Spike told him he would do it, if it would be for just one year.

Next is some sharing from people that know Spike well. His daughter Julie said, "Dad has a gift of gab. He could talk to anyone about anything.”

Former coach Dennis Lee said, "He is such a good guy. It was an honor to compete against him. It was great when he ‘saw the light of day' and came back to BHS to help me coach. He had great knowledge of football and was great in player relationships. His teams were always well-coached." 

Jerry Cupples played for Spike as a defensive end and free safety. He said, "He would make the least talented player on the team feel important. He always said, ‘Whatever you do in life, be the best you can be.’”

Barb Marquart was Spike's secretary for seven years when he was a principal. She said, "You couldn't have asked for a nicer person to work for. The kids respected him. He never raised his voice. If they were in trouble, he didn't just punish them. He would talk to them. After my bad accident and I was a resident at Mennonite Memorial Home, he came soon after to visit me and he prayed with me."

Gary Anderson played guard for Spike. He was first team All-State in Ohio and a first team High School All-American (that is in all categories). He played football at Bowling Green State University. His coach there told Spike he thought Gary might have been drafted into the NFL, but Gary chose to team up with his brother Randy to take over their father's business, Anderson Tractor Supply. Gary said of Spike, "He knew how to get the best out of every player. Before each game, he would give a face-to-face pep talk to 5 or 6 of the starters.

One time when we were watching film, I ran a halfback down from behind that was running for a touchdown. I was big and not supposed to be fast. Coach said, 'The halfback was running for a touchdown and Anderson was running for his life." In Gary's senior year the team was only scored on twice. 

Spike treated me to a breakfast at Lulu’s and I found out a few more things. His team's record in those 24 years was 213 wins, 79 defeats, and 6 ties. Spike has been inducted into the Hancock County Hall of Fame, the Bluffton University Hall of Fame, and the Ohio High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In 1974 in his first year as President of the Association, he introduced Woody Hayes as the speaker at an OSU clinic with 1,500 in attendance. Spike told the gathering that before they combined, Mt. Cory and Rawson were small, separate schools. He said that in 1936, a young coach named Woody Hayes applied for the coaching job in football at Rawson, and was turned down. When Woody came to the podium, his first words were, "Spike Berry lies. It was 1935."

I asked Spike what was the toughest obstacle he faced in coaching. He said two things: the first was to restore football to be successful at C-R (the team lost all their games the year before); the second was to surround myself with successful people–from the head coach to the custodian. He said, "It's not me, it's we. It's much more fun with success whenever everybody feels a part of it."

He told me that in 1970 CR had 106 kids out for varsity in grades 9-12. For most years, they had 70 to 85. I asked if it was hard to make cuts. He said, "We never cut a player. We had a rule that all the players that dressed for junior high, freshmen, and junior varsity all got to play in the games. I asked Spike what coach he most admired. He said he always admired Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, because he always did things right. Today he admires Tim Goodwin, coach of the Marion Local high school team. They have won several state championships in their division. He said the player he coached and most admired was Mike Von Stein. He was a linebacker and quarterback. He was first team All-State and got a full ride to Bowling Green State University. After graduation he became Vice-President of one of the largest insurance companies in the nation. Spike said, "He is a fantastic man, a great ambassador for Cory-Rawson High School." 

The player he most admired that he played with in high school was Jack Fields. Fields was all Northwest Conference in football and basketball. Spike said, "Jack and I were buddies for 80 years." Jack recently passed away. 

In college he played with and admired Elbert Dubenion, the great running back for BC that went on to become an All-Star back and wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills when they were in the AFL professional league. He is in the Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame. 

I asked Spike about whether his parents influenced him. "A great deal," he said. His father, Gerald (Spike) Berry died when Spike was in the 8th grade. His father was a guard on the 1928-29 BHS basketball team that was State-Runnerup in the tournament, their only loss in the season being in the championship game. Spike said if he had a hero, it was his dad. Having three jobs, he was a worker. But he always made time to play pitch and catch, and taught his son to hunt and trap. It was hard on his mother, Melba, after his dad died. She had to go to work. He said, "She never missed a game when I played and when I coached. My parents were good people." 

I asked Spike if he admired any kid that didn't have as much talent but worked hard. He said he had a lot of kids like that. He hated to bring up one name. "Some coaches too soon write kids off. A coach's job is to keep that kid interested as long as he can–different kids mature at different times. I had a kid that didn't like to hit. It was his junior year and his dad didn't think he would make it. We kept him, and in his senior year he was the leading tackler on the team."

I asked Spike if he could remember some funny things that happened.

"We had a kid on the scout team. The team we were to play always hit the kicker. At practice I asked one of my players to hit our kicker. Just before the play was run, he came to the sideline and asked me, 'Do you want me to hit him before or after he kicks?"'

"One year we had a foreign exchange student from Spain. He spoke Spanish but didn't understand English very well. He had played soccer and wanted to become our kicker. At practice he wasn't missing any field goals but they were barely making it over the crossbar. I asked him to kick the ball higher so it wouldn't be blocked. He didn't understand what I said. I had a player that could speak Spanish so I explained the situation to him and asked him to tell the kicker what I wanted. He went to the kicker and said to him in English, 'Coach wants you to kick the ball higher."

And now a personal note. My dad wouldn't let me play football until I was a junior because we had a large dairy herd and I was needed for work at home. During my junior year I never got to play in a single play in any game. But I didn't care. I loved practice. I was skinny but my farm hands and arms were strong and I loved to tackle. Since I was not playing in games, I figured my dad would probably ask me to forgo my senior year of football to stay home and work.

Then one day at practice after I made a tackle, Spike saw it and exclaimed in a loud voice, "I don't see why they don't play Bill Herr, he is a good tackler." That was the first time anyone said I was good at anything in football. That motivated me to convince my dad to let me play my senior year. On the first day of practice the next year, my coach, Mr. Pete Schmidt, walked with me to Harmon Field and said to me, "Bill, we're going to play you at linebacker this year." Our team went 7-1-1. I had many memorable experiences as linebacker. At the season end banquet, coach Schmidt said, "Bill was one of the best tacklers in the conference." Thanks Spike! I tell this story to show that Spike was motivating players while yet in high school.

I believe that most everyone in Bluffton knows Spike Berry. Barber Craig Stone said, "I never saw anybody come in that Spike didn't know.” 

Coach Jim (Spike) Berry is a great person and is a great coach. And now you know why I think he is a graduate of Bluffton High School that contributed more to athletics than any other person in the history of Bluffton High School.