Norman K. Decker, a high school football coach who made sure students had what they needed to succeed, on and off the playing field, died Wednesday at his home in Bowling Green. He was 82.
He had many health problems over the last several years, including heart failure and complications of leukemia, his son, Kyle Decker said.
Mr. Decker devoted his life to teaching and coaching football.
He coached and taught physical education at Celina High School in Mercer County in the late 1950s, Liberty Center High School in Henry County in the 1960s, and Whitmer High School in Toledo from 1967 to 1974.
At all three of the schools, he amassed a winning coaching record of 112-46-7, according to Blade archives.
He played competitive teams, adding the well-known Massillon Tigers to Whitmer’s schedule in 1969 to upgrade the program.
“If we’re going to lose, we want to lose to the best,” he told The Blade before the game. “Of course no one likes to lose, especially me.”
Kyle Decker said a milestone for his father was to improve Liberty Center’s team.
“He went to Liberty Center, where they weren’t doing too well and he took over and in the time that he spent there, he turned them straight into winners,” he said. “He came in and built a program and it was successful and from there, he was noticed.”
After his third year at Whitmer — and 11th year as a head coach — he had a winning record of 76-25-5, according to Blade archives.
It was at Whitmer that he took on the school board in a battle that his son vividly remembers.
“...They said there wasn’t money for helmets. He wasn’t going to send them out there with inferior helmets,” his son said.
The coach also was committed to making sure students had opportunities off the field.
His son recalled a football player who couldn’t afford to go to a school dance, but his father wanted to help.
“Dad pulled him aside and set him up with a tuxedo,” he said.
Mr. Decker also used to “keep an eye out in the lunch line,” and would give students a dollar if he saw they didn’t have any lunch money, his son said.
Mr. Decker received eight “Coach of the Year” awards and was inducted into three athletic halls of fame.
Although he won 113 football games during his entire coaching career, he remained humble, his son said: “A prime example of a great father.” Mr. Decker resigned from Whitmer in 1974.
John Miller, who was one of Mr. Decker’s players at Whitmer, said he fondly remembers his coach.
“He was an awesome man. He was a mentor. He was passionate about everything he did...just a great motivator,” Mr. Miller said.
He said he remained friends with his coach, even after he graduated in 1971.
“He always had time for people. He would always have a smile and a nice thing to say,” he said.
Mr. Decker was born Feb. 7, 1931, to Veddie D. and Matie Z. Decker. He was a graduate of Harborcreek High School in Harbor Creek, Pa., and graduated from Bowling Green State University with a bachelor’s degree in 1957 and a master’s degree in 1962.
Mr. Decker was a Korean War veteran and received a Bronze Star.
Surviving are his wife, Martha whom he married June 9, 1956; sons, Doak and Kyle; and two grandchildren.
In lieu of visitation and services, his son said his father wanted family and friends to join together for a cookout later in the summer. He said this was something his father decided with his mother, who is terminally ill.
“They decided at the end, he was going to wait for her and they were going to have a party that way. If there’s anything, he loved his wife and he loved his family,” his son said.
Contact Kelly McLendon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6522 or on Twitter @KMcBlade.
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