Pride of Ohio: St. Henry

By Kyle Rowland on April 26, 2013 at 9:30a
St. Henry Ohio

"Pride of Ohio" is an homage to the small to medium-sized Ohio cities that have helped to shape Ohio State athletics.

Two thousand four hundred twenty-eight. That number can apply to multiple things in St. Henry – the population and the number of townspeople filling the Wally Post Athletic Complex on a Friday night. The number one is also significant, as in the number of police officers and stoplights.

The tiny outpost in the far reaches of western Ohio sits less than 10 miles from the Indiana border. The close proximity to the Hoosier State does not mean basketball is the choice game, though the Redskin hoopsters are plenty successful. Still, St. Henry is Midwestern football to the core.

“Football in this state is embedded in the culture,” said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. “Communities have rallied around that in a great way. They can take pride in the accomplishments of their local football team. For our state, we’ve been blessed primarily because we have some unbelievable high school coaches. That’s a huge part of it, and we’ve always had great athletes in Ohio.”

When football isn’t being played, fields are plowed, hay is baled and silos are filled. When the heartland is discussed, a picture of St. Henry could be distributed for the visual effects. Hard-working families inhabit the town, kids raised on working-class values. 

Once the calendar flips to August, there’s an unmistakable buzz in the air. Whistles can be heard and the clatter of helmets creates an echo that signals a rite of autumn.

“It’s a big discussion. I know if you go up town in early August people are talking about what the football team will be like and who the quarterback will be,” said St. Henry athletic director Dennis Wendel. “Once the season starts, that’s the big topic around town.”

St. Henry, Ohio, the home of winners.

Wendel has had a front-row seat to Redskin athletics for much of his life. He was raised in town and watched the likes of Jeff Hartings and Bobby Hoying matriculate from St. Henry to powerhouse college programs to the NFL.

Wendel himself rose to stardom as a starting defensive end on St. Henry’s 1995 state championship team. He was also part of the 1994 state title, both of which are recognized as you drive into town and happen upon a road sign that honors St. Henry’s 20 state championships, which include the sports of football, boys basketball, baseball and volleyball. The sign rises up amidst fields on either side like an oasis.

“Friday nights under the lights is a pretty big deal in St. Henry,” Wendel said. “Going to the game on Friday is a dream for a young kid. To play in that atmosphere is great. There are a lot of people there, especially that first game. The air starts to cool off and people are pretty excited. There’s just nothing like it.”

It's such a big deal that St. Henry sells between 600 and 650 season tickets each year. And the renewal rate is almost 100 percent. When you’ve won six state titles since 1990 and count a handful of NFL players among your alumni, football is serious business, regardless of the size of the town – which is 1.65 square miles. 

Not only do the townspeople flock to Redskin football games on Friday night, the entire police department is also present – all one of them. But don’t worry, Wendel said there’s never been an incident that he can recall. Football is literally the only show in town during the fall.

“We’re unusual. We live in a little bit of a bubble,” he said. “It’s more than an hour to Lima and Dayton, and there are no major interstates. On Friday nights (football is) the entertainment. People go to football games. It brings a big sense of pride to the community. There are very few things that could bring a community like ours more together than a successful football team. If you’re having a good year, you really feel the support.”

Jim Lachey, one of many former St. Henry grads to reach Ohio StateLachey went on to star for the Washington Redskins

If former St. Henry star Jim Lachey manhandling a hapless defender counts, then there has been roughhousing at football games. Before he was an All-American at Ohio State and a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion with the Washington Redskins, Lachey started to pen his legacy at St. Henry.

Jeff Hartings had the same career arc. Star at St. Henry, All-American at Penn State, Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion in Pittsburgh. Former Ohio State quarterbacks Bobby Hoying and Todd Boeckman also call St. Henry home, as does Bobby’s younger brother, Tom.

“You know when those guys are back in town,” Wendel said. “You can see a lot of smiles on people’s faces when Jim Lachey and Bobby Hoying walk by. Those two are unbelievable representatives of our community – really good people, even more so than their athletic talent.”

Boeckman, like Wendell before him, grew up watching St. Henry teams on Friday nights and envisioning the day when he would finally lead the Redskins. He followed in the footsteps of his boyhood idol, Bobby Hoying. Boeckman is responsible for one of those state titles, though it was on the baseball diamond, where he starred as a hard-throwing pitcher.

As gaga as the town is over St. Henry football, it’s equally as supportive when former players move on to college. The entire town once again watches its own on Saturday, tuning in to whatever game features an ex-Redskin.

“People will go to games just because there are St. Henry grads,” said Wendel, who played at Bowling Green under Urban Meyer. “I was amazed after games when I’d go out to greet my parents and there would always be St. Henry people there because they knew I played and wanted to come up and watch a game.”

When it comes to the Big Ten, though, the party lines are clearly drawn.

“It’s definitely an Ohio State community, bar none,” Wendel said. “A lot of the college graduates here attended Ohio State. But when Jeff Hartings was playing at Penn State, you saw a lot of Penn State clothes.”

Whether it's Scarlet and Gray or Blue and White, one thing is constant – a St. Henry connection. And no town turns its back on its own.


Comments Show All Comments

USMC11917's picture

Awesome piece! Hope to read about many of the other towns that contribute to our football heritage.

CCatanzaro's picture

Great read; you had me until Boeckman.

Dairy-fed intellect and pure, unhinged sass.


USMC11917's picture

I honestly think Beockman could have developed into a pretty good quarterback if we were more devoted to him than TP and he had more time behind a competent line. I don't want to habitually and instinctively point the finger at "The Walrus" every time we talk about our offensive woes but I think had he more time to deliver the ball and gather some confidence, he would have become a little more polished. It wasn't like he was Justin Zwick.

CCatanzaro's picture

Todd had the unfortunate, albeit necessary, role of entering the game only in high stress situations (TP hurt) or in irrelevant situations against sub par talent (Indiana).  Hard to develop that way for sure.

Dairy-fed intellect and pure, unhinged sass.


omahabeef1337's picture

Do people forget that he was a starter for a team that only lost one regular season game and went to the BCS title game? He wasn't just TP back-up.
1. He had time to develop. He was a starter for more than a season. He just couldn't handle the blitz.
2. He was still a good QB that won lots of games for OSU. I enjoyed watching him play.

Hovenaut's picture

Boeckman was All-Big Ten in 2007, and an O'Brien award semi-finalist after turning in solid numbers that year. Hard to say what he might have done elsewhere, or if he had an opportunity with different circumstances at tOSU.

I thought he handled being benched in favor of Pryor (the USC game, ugh) with class. His touchdown pass to Pryor in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas was great....I wish Bollman and Tressel could have found more ways to utilize them both more.

Jack Fu's picture

You can draw a pretty clear dividing line in Boeckman's career, between the first nine games of 2007, and the rest of his career, starting with the home loss to Illinois. His stats look like he was two different quarterbacks. It was like that Illinois game broke him and he was never the same.

Michael Citro's picture

That Illinois game certainly exposed Boeckman as someone who would make bad decisions (and throws) when pressured. Once other teams saw that he was flappable (the opposite of unflappable), they pinned their ears back. Also, I hate that Illinois game with the white-hot intensity of a million suns because the play that set up the Illini's first touchdown should have been a turnover (Dufrene fumble).

omahabeef1337's picture

Still can't believe they blew that call. I remember watching it from 32B and thinking there was no way they wouldn't overturn the call.

USMC11917's picture

I agree. That ranks up there with that non reviewed fumble that was called with Braxton laying on the football on the ground and then had it removed by a man 100 pounds heavier.

Buckeyefan17's picture

Terrelle Pryor was the QB who made bad decisions and screwed up under pressure. Pryor never took Ohio State to a NT. All that he did was embarrass himself and the whole university. A lot of Ohio State fans have a false view of Pryor. They don't remember him as the egotistical, selfish, overrated, brat that he is/was. For some reason Tressel thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He was planning to start Terrelle the minute he walked onto campus. Tressel would have started Pryor even if Todd would have completed 100% of his passes and won every game (including the NT). 
I think it's really sad that 5 years have gone by since Todd Boeckman played at Ohio State and people can't give it a rest. He handled a very tough situation with class. I am proud to say that I  was a fan through all his years at Ohio State. He will always be one of my favorite athletes. He deserves to be recognized and get some credit. 

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Tressel would have started Pryor even if Todd would have completed 100% of his passes and won every game (including the NT). 

So what part of your butt did you pull this out of?

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Buckeyefan17's picture

Boeckman was benched after the Ohio State vs. USC game in 08. You honestly think that it was all his fault? The score was 35-3. That might not have been Todd's best game but the defense didn't step up in that game either.  
Think about it. Why wasn't Pryor benched when Ohio State lost to Penn State in 2008? *Or USC in 2009? Or maybe when Ohio State lost to an unranked Purdue? Or when Ohio State lost to Wisconsin in 2010? 

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Stop acting as if that USC game was Boeckman's first bad game.

Who were they going to replace Pryor with in '09? Bauserman? You expect a player to make the mistakes Pryor did during his freshmen and sophomore years. You don't expect it from a guy that's in his 4th and 5th year.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Buckeyefan17's picture

He should have been treated the same way Boeckman was. It's not like Pryor was the best QB in college football. You're forgetting that Todd hadn't really played until 2007. So 08 was basically like his sophomore year. You expected Pryor to lose to unranked Purdue? 

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Again, who was JT going to replace Pryor with? There wasn't anyone on the team close to being his equal. So what? It was his 5th year at Ohio State.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Buckeyefan17's picture

It's not like Pryor was the best quarterback in Ohio State history. Everyone has a false view of him. He never even accomplished anything at Ohio State. 

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

You didn't answer my question. 

-Big Ten Freshman of the Year 
-Rose Bowl Champion 
-Rose Bowl MVP 
-Sugar Bowl Champion
-Sugar Bowl MVP
-3 BigTen Championships
On top of that he has the most total yards of any Ohio State QB in a season. He was also 3-0 against M*chigan, and helped end Ohio State's 9(bowl) game losing streak to the SEC. But you're right, Pryor didn't accomplish anything at Ohio State.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Denster's picture

Michigan St. game that year, specifically the second half. Almost blew it when they started really blitzing him. He was ass the rest of the season really.

"It's a double-barreled pistol that fires hard work and victory..."

German Buckeye's picture

Sorry, any kid who is even remotely able to make the team for a school like Ohio State is 1,000% better than you or I.  I think we forget to easily how great an athlete it takes to make the roster let alone start at a program like ours or really, any Div I program (Ohio, Toledo, etc). 

Buck4Life's picture

Pretty cool write up. I'm from Anna who plays against St. Henry in the MAC so it's pretty cool to see s small town getting some love. 

kwaz50's picture

Ya i agree i'm from Minster and he's exactly right about the atmosphere.  Nothing like a Friday night in small town Ohio.

Bigbutterbuckeye's picture

Ha this is like a little MAC reunion here, I am from Coldwater, although I am currently exiled to the frozen tundra of WBL land.

ESPN starting the SEC channel to concentrate on the SEC is like Baskin-Robbins starting a new store to concentrate on selling ice cream.

ArTbkward's picture

I've always known that Mercer County area to center around football, drinking and Catholics.  It's fascinating that so much athletic prowess can come out of one small town.

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...

(Also, I'm not a dude)

BIGjuxe's picture

Fantastic article!  You could write very similar pieces on such towns in Mercer and Auglaize Counties.  The MAC is an amazing conference for football. 


3 Fast 3 Furious's picture

I went to Parkway which is in the MAC too.  We aren't quite football, but we have a few state championships in baseball and volleyball.  Our softball teams are always good too.
Coldwater, St. John's, St. Henry and Versailles all used to pound us in football though.  
It's quite impressive the list of state championships in all sports from one small farm country conference.

Dayton Buckeye's picture

Didn't the MAC win 3 state titles in one year. Division 3,4 & 5?  They play great football obviously. I need to get up to Mercer County to catch a game. 

kwaz50's picture

We usually don't have teams in division 3, the highest schools like Coldwater and Versailles get is division 4.  A MAC school has won a state football title every year but one since 1989.

toad1204's picture

I believe Anna is D3 now...  Albeit they haven't went past the second round.

Nothing like dancing on the field in 02... 

Buck4Life's picture

Not sure where you got your information. I am from Anna and we are in Division 5. I don't think the MAC has ever had a D3 team anyway, Coldwater was D4 for awhile but normally the MAC is Divisions 5 and 6. You may be getting confused with other sports, where there are only 4 divisions and Anna is D3.
Sorry for commenting on this so late. Just some late night scrolling fun through some old forums.

Bigbutterbuckeye's picture

You know I could have sworn that Coldwater, Marion Local and Delphos won 4, 5 and 6 in 2005, but the champions lists don't read like that. 

ESPN starting the SEC channel to concentrate on the SEC is like Baskin-Robbins starting a new store to concentrate on selling ice cream.

timhbomb's picture

great article.  I come from the Hoying bloodlines, my mother is Hoying.  Attending tOSU while my cousin was QB was incredibly surreal...something I will always cherish.  Later on, 2 of my other cousins (the Homans) played at tOSU...bringing the family tally to 4. 
You should see Bob's kid throw the ball....oh boy.

TMac511's picture

I grew up about a half hour away from all of the MAC schools, in a town similar to St. Henry, so I played them a lot in sports. They're obviously incredible in football, but they are just as good in baseball, and as of late, the basketball programs are getting up there, especially St. Henry. I remember when we play St. Henry or Coldwater in baseball we always talked about who the big football recruit was, and the coaches in baseball and football are legends already. It's just amazing.

bergy22's picture

Proud to say I'm from Coldwater and the MAC is a just a wonderful representation of team football. Not a ton of stars or supreme talent just good fundamental football.

jmw's picture

I stayed in St Henry, OH a couple nights when a group of us were going to Country Concert.  Through the group I was with, I got to meet and hang out with a bunch of people from St Henry.  They were very nice and welcoming since I was the newbie in the group.
Not sure if the article mentioned it, but Penn State's Jeff Hartings is from St Henry also.  


Colonel Quaritch's picture

Fantastic write up on small town football. I live in northwest Ohio around those parts and football is absolutely huge here. Any ideas what some of the other towns are going to be?

"The question isn't who's going to let me, it's who's going to stop me."