Fathers come in all shapes and sizes.
So do father figures.
The Manchester High School football program lost a good one – a real good one – from its history when Thomas Kreakbaum passed away June 2, fittingly so just a little over two weeks before Fathers’ Day, which, of course, is Sunday. He was 78.
Kreakbaum was the trainer for the Panthers "for many years," according to longtime head coach Jim France.
But calling Kreakbaum "just" a trainer is like calling arguably Manchester’s greatest all-time player, Rex Lingruen, "just" a guy on the roster in the 1960s. That is, it doesn’t do Tom justice.
Tom was – and, still is, as evidenced by the tributes paid to him by so many on the Manchester community -- so much more than that. The people who are involved in small-school football programs always are. The players wear only helmets, but the support staffers wear a lot of different hats. They have to. There aren’t many of them.
There was a playoff game between the Panthers and Youngstown Ursuline some years ago. The Fighting Irish had many more trainers/doctors/ on the sideline than Manchester had assistant co aches. An Ursuline player hobbled to the sideline with an injury and he was immediately attended to by so many medical people that it seemed as if he had walked into the emergency room of a big hospital.
Not at Manchester.
When Tom wasn’t serving as a trainer, he was handling one of a wide assortment of other not-so-much-fun but oh-so-necessary duties, such as fixing equipment, chasing errant footballs, maintaining the water trough, running errands – you name it, Tom did it, again and again and again.
You know what they say, the more you can do, the more valuable you are. And Tom was a MVP – every season.
He was a jack of all trades, as it were. He had everything, including answers to questions, especially from the players.
"Mr. Kreakbaum, my ankle hurts. Can you take a look at it?"
"Will you fix my chinstrap?"
"Would you hand me a towel?"
"Would you fill up my water bottle?"
"Do you have a 3/8-inch crescent wrench?"
"What’s the forecast for tonight?"
"Did you see that huge guy on the other team? I think I’m playing over him,"
"Do you know anything about geometry? I’m really struggling in that class."
"Is that my girlfriend sitting with another guy in the stands?"
"Is my tooth chipped?"
"Do I look fat in this jersey?"
"What time does the Ohio State game start tomorrow?" "One-thirty, son. It’s on Channel 5. Now get back out there and play."
That’s what fathers – and father figures – do. They know at least a little – and usually a lot – about everything. They’re ready for whatever comes, even the unpredictable stuff. They have to be. They’re the only guy on their particular job.
"Tom was just a great guy – a great community guy," said Dr. James Robinson, who, before becoming Manchester Schools superintendent a couple years ago, spent four decades as the football team’s defensive coordinator. "He would be out there every day at practice running around with that belt of his on. It had a roll of tape attached to it. There were also scissors and all kinds of tools."
Tools of the trade. It – figuring out how to make things work properly – is exactly what you would expect from a guy who spent 30 years as an engineer at B.F. Goodrich.
But while Tom took great pride in that job, it wasn’t nearly as much fun as the one he had with the Panthers.
"Tom came up to practice one day with a man by the name of Vic Huber and they asked if I needed a trainer," France said.
They were hired on the spot. There is always room for good help on France’s teams. He finds a spot for everyone who wants to lend a hand.
"Mr. Huber, who has also passed away, worked with Mr. Kreakbaum for quite a while," France added. "They were very humble. Neither one of them wanted any publicity for what they were doing. They just wanted to help."
And help they did – a lot, in fact. Moreover, it didn’t take long for that help to be felt – literally and figuratively.
"Before Tom started with us, I used to tape the players’ ankles myself," France said. "They didn’t like me doing it. They thought I taped them too tight. They liked the way Tom taped them. He took his job very seriously."
France is a big fan of former Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, and Tom was a player on the Buckeyes’ 1957 national championship team.
"He would tell me all kinds of stories about Woody," France said.
Tom was also an accomplished artist, and ran a framing gallery in Green.
"I have all kinds of stuff – articles from the newspaper and things like that – that he framed for me," France said.
Indeed, Tom was a man of many talents, one of which – probably his most favorite one, in fact – was that he was serving as a trainer when his grandsons, Zac and Alex Kreakbaum, played for the Panthers.
There was a photo of him with the two boys proudly displayed at the funeral home.
Speaking of that, the funeral was administered by Todd McKenney, who played for Manchester before Tom came on board. But he knows all about the man. Everybody who has ever worn a uniform there, does. Word travels fast in small towns, where loyalties – running both ways – last a lifetime.
Yes, fathers – and father figures – come in all shapes and sizes.