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New Year Lesson from Coach Woody Hayes

By DS Dennis W. Miller.

As we begin 2017, America is polarized, with ever-hardening positions held by people less and less willing to listen to one another. The 2016 election exposed an America of deep divides over race, ethnicity, and culture. Yet, one thing that unites many Ohioans this holiday weekend is college football. Ohio State University will play Clemson Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. For long-time Buckeyes fans, the thought of playing the Tigers evokes memories of the first time these two teams met on the gridiron. It was in the 1978 Gator Bowl. What has been called the “shot heard around the world,” OSU Coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson’s nose guard Charlie Bauman who had just intercepted a pass to clinch the Tigers’ 17-15 win. Although this single infamous action ended Woody Hayes’ coaching career, it should not define him.

I choose to remember another incident from Coach Hayes’ life that took place following a bowl game sixty-seven years ago. The story is found in a book by Steve Greenberg and Dale Ratermann entitled, I Remember Woody: Recollections of the Man They Called Coach Hayes. Before coaching at Ohio State University, Woody Hayes coached at Miami University of Ohio, where his 1950 team defeated Arizona State University in “The Salad Bowl” held in old Montgomery Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona. (The stadium was located only 17 miles from Glendale, where Ohio State will play Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl this Saturday night). On their return flight home, the football team had to make an unscheduled stop in Nashville, Tennessee because of inclement weather. This was before the Civil Rights movement in the segregated south. The airport had a restaurant so Coach Hayes took his team there. But the manager pointed to Boxcar Bailey, the only African-American player on the team, and said, “That guy isn’t going to eat here. We don’t serve his kind.” Coach Hayes said, “If that guy doesn’t eat here, then none of us will eat here.” The manager backed down a little and said that Boxcar could eat upstairs. Coach Hayes said, “Fine. Then we’ll all eat upstairs.” The manager said that upstairs wasn’t big enough to hold all the players, so Coach Hayes said, “Then Boxcar and I will eat upstairs together, and the rest of the team will eat downstairs.” One of the players on the Miami team was Bo Schembechler, who later became an assistant coach for Coach Hayes at Ohio State University and then the head coach at the University of Michigan. Mr. Schembechler said of Coach Hayes, “He charmed us all that day.”

True racial healing in America begins with each of us. We must undergo a conversion of the heart - from fear to hope and from distancing to embracing. May God direct our steps in the New Year to possess an agape love for all people. Others are watching to see what we will do. Thank you Coach Hayes for this “Bowl Game” example.

Happy New Year to all and "Go Bucks!"