So, the new artificial playing surface at Green Memorial Stadium has been installed.
Good for Green High School and its athletes and coaches. Good for the school system. Good for the community.
All the people in the school district who were involved in this huge undertaking, from Superintendent Jeff Miller to Director of Operations Wendall Jackson to Erich Muzi, the director of athletics at the high school, deserve a round of applause for a job well-done. That’s the way you do it. Indeed, they hit the trifecta of completion, timeliness and cost. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Well, yes, it does, actually.
By giving the field a name.
I’m not talking about the name of the facility. The moniker Green Memorial Stadium, which recognizes the ultimate sacrifices made by members of the community in service to their country, has been in existence since the former Green High School, now Green Intermediate School, was opened 60 years ago.
Rather, I’m talking about the name of the field.
Just like the stadium itself, that name has to stand out, and stand for something special.
Or, in this case, someone special - even iconic, in fact, in the history not just of the high school’s athletic program, but of the high school itself.
How does "Dan Drake Field at Green Memorial Stadium" sound?
It’s appropriate. It’s fitting. It’s deserved.
And it’s long overdue.
Ohio is a football-crazy state. It is the biggest sport at the vast majority of high schools here, and that’s certainly true at Green.
Let me be clear about this in emphasizing that I’m not saying Green High School is without other big sports that are popular and have done well through the years because of the efforts of countless talented players and coaches.
It’s just that football is the one sport that has the deepest and longest tradition of success at Green. It existed – and was winning championships – long before a good number of the other sports now being played at the school even existed.
When you think of the Green Bulldogs, you think of football. They are indelibly linked.
And the person most responsible for that is Drake, a 2015 inductee into the Green High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
He put Green football on the map. He’s the greatest football coach the school has ever had, and also the greatest in the history of the Suburban League.
A selfless man who checked his ego at the door and always stressed the team above individuality, Drake would argue that point – vehemently, but in a professional, articulate, soft-spoken tone, because that’s who he is.
It is true, though. The numbers clearly indicate so.
Drake, who was an outstanding quarterback at Mogadore High School in the middle to late 1950s, came to Green in 1962 and worked on the staff of Jim Collum through 1970. When Collum passed away suddenly just as the Bulldogs were preparing for the 1971 season, Drake was promoted to head coach against his wishes. He fought hard against that, saying that the school should instead hire a triumvirate of head coaches made up of him and two other veteran assistants, Francis Kelly, who had arrived at Green in 1965, and Elden McVicker (1967).
But school officials said no, standing firm that there had to be only one head coach, and he was the one they wanted. So Drake reluctantly took the job – then created a situation where he relied heavily on Kelly and McVicker in … well, that triumvirate. It was a recipe for success. The men worked together on the sideline as well as the team did on the field.
Green had won the Suburbanite League championship in each of Collum’s final three seasons after having captured just two crowns the previous 20 years since entering the league as a charter member in 1949. But the chaos created by his death knocked the Bulldogs back to a 3-7-1 record in 1971.
Drake and the guys figured it out quickly, though. The Bulldogs rebounded strongly in 1972, going 6-2-2 and finishing second to Norton in a tight race.
The upward progression continued as the Bulldogs claimed five straight titles from 1973-77, posting records, in order, of 8-2, 9-1, 10-0, 8-2 and 6-4 (the last one coming after starting 0-3). It’s a league record. No other school has ever won more than four championships in a row.
The Bulldogs were almost invincible during that time, as evidenced by the program’s nickname of "The Green Machine." And Green was indeed a machine with a powerful, relentless running attack that wore teams down and a defense that thwarted, confounded and stymied opposing offenses.
The Bulldogs employed a stunting 6-2 alignment that Drake conceived in the early 1960s. Blitzers came from all different angles in all different ways, shooting in out and out of holes prior to the snap to totally confuse blocking assignments.
The Bulldogs didn’t always have the biggest players, but they always had some of the toughest, smartest and most determined. Guys like Ray Kent Jr., who was short and just 140 pounds soaking wet, used their quickness to guess the snap count and get into the backfield to destroy plays before they could even get started.
Running the ball well will always win you games, and the Bulldogs sure won their share, going 41-9 (.820) in that five-year title stretch. Included in that was a streak of 25 consecutive league wins, also a Suburban League record.
Green finished in second place in three of the next four years, shared the league crown with Revere in 1982 with a 9-1 record, then finished second three straight times before winning championships in Drake’s final two years of 1986 and ’87 with consecutive 9-1 marks.
He ended his 17-year career with a 120-44-6 record (.724), winning eight league titles and finishing second on seven other occasions. As such, then, there were just two seasons in which Green was not the league champion or the runner-up. The road to the league title ran through Green year-in and year-out, and everybody knew it. In a league as tough and competitive as the Suburban, that’s incredible.
It was an extended period of success that the Suburban League had never seen, and likely never will again.
To commemorate that, Dan Drake, the man who orchestrated it all as the best coach in the biggest sport, is certainly deserving of a lasting – and prominent – mention on that new field, and the ones that will follow it over the decades to come.
That would be the best news of all in this story.