When Chris Hardman begins his 35th season as Ottawa Hills High School’s baseball coach next spring, the field where the Green Bears play their games will carry his name.
With many of his former players — and dozens of other well-wishers — on hand Saturday prior to an alumni baseball game, a surprise ceremony was held to honor the longtime teacher and multi-sport coach who is a fixture in this community.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view more photos
“I’m honored,” Hardman said afterward. “I understand why we’re here today. It’s all about these guys [former players] out here. Heck, we should’ve been good. We’ve had some really good players out here.
“People came in from California and Florida and all over [for the ceremony], and I appreciate it. But whatever honors a coach has comes from having good kids and good parents. I just happen to be the recipient.”
Where it may be unusual for a field to be named after an active coach, it is not so unusual for Hardman, 62, who this year retired from his teaching duties after 37 years, and stepped down as the Green Bears’ head football coach.
He grew up in southwest Ohio playing baseball on another Hardman Field in Piqua, the diamond named after his father, who coached Chris at Central High School.
The late Jim Hardman was on the honoree’s mind as he spoke Saturday. So too were a couple of Hardman’s former Ottawa Hills players who have passed.
One was Jeff Ray, an accomplished guitar player who was a member of the Jersey Boys band in Las Vegas. Ray died in January when he was struck by a high-speed train near Seattle. It was Ray who delivered the game-winning hit in the 11th inning that gave Hardman’s Green Bears an 8-7 victory over Sidney Lehman in the 1986 Class A state championship game.
That was the first of Ottawa Hills’ seven appearances in the state final four under Hardman (554-448). The Bears were Division IV state runners-up in 1992, 1996 and 2001. Hardman’s teams have also won 20 league titles and 14 district championships.
Hardman’s four daughters penned and read a poem entitled, “Labor of Love,” which also is an apt way to describe how Hardman has meticulously groomed this baseball field for decades. Fittingly, the coach was busy raking the area in front of the mound just minutes before he was honored.
“People made fun of me that my own lawn didn’t look as good as this field,” Hardman said. “But we don’t play baseball in our yard. As my daughters said, it’s been a labor of love. I wanted to have a nice field for our kids to play on. I grew up playing on Hardman Field in Piqua. Why was it Hardman Field? Because my dad did what I do.”
Hardman said he will continue coaching baseball, and has no timeframe for when that journey might end.
“I tend to look ahead,” he said. “I want the next group of kids coming through to get this. I want them to get these people. I want them to get their passion, and what they gave to Ottawa Hills baseball. That’s the kind of legacy that we want to continue. I want that next group to enjoy that and carry it on.”