Back in 1979, it seemed to new St. John's varsity basketball coach Ed Heintschel and his inexperienced Titans that they might never win a game.
St. John's opened 0-8 before squeaking out a 52-50 City League win at Cardinal Stritch on Jan. 11, 1980. From those humble beginnings (4-15 record), a coach and a program have grown to a level among Ohio's basketball elite.
Last night Heintschel crossed back over to his native east side of the river, where it all began, to earn victory No. 400 as St. John's beat Woodward 79-52 at the Waite Field House.
The Titans (3-1, 2-0 CL), who shot 58 percent from the field (31 of 53), got 19 and 13 points, respectively, from sophomore B.J. Raymond and Zach Hillesland, plus 17 from junior Brian Roberts.
Alex Malone had 18 and Vincent Butler 13 for Woodward (0-3, 0-2).
“To be honest, it's not all that important to me now,” Heintschel said of the milestone. “I suppose when I'm done coaching these accomplishments will mean more.
“You have to be around for a while and have talented players. But when you only play about 20 games a year and you get to 400 early in your 24th season, you've done some good things. So, I'm just grateful to the players. They are St. John's wins, not Ed Heintschel's.”
Heintschel, 52, has spent his entire playing (St. Francis de Sales) and coaching (St. John's) career west of the Maumee, but he grew up close to Waite.
“I lived on Euclid Avenue, a stone's throw from here,” Heintschel said. “When I was a kid I used to walk over and watch Bob Nichols' Central teams play.
“Back in '79, I really didn't know if we'd ever win. We had a lot of sophomores playing and we were pretty demoralized. I remember that [Stritch] game. It was a tough win.''
Titan assistant coach Ed Mouch reminded him that at that rate (four wins a season) it would've taken a hundred years to get to 400.
“Of course he was on that team, so he contributed to those miserable four wins,” quipped Heintschel, who is 400-131 overall (.753) with eight City League titles and two Division I state runner-up finishes (1993 and 1996).
His son Ted, a sophomore, was a part of win No. 400, scoring seven points. But their joy was tempered by the fact that wife and mother Cheryl Heintschel could not be there. She succumbed to cancer over the summer.
“Not having Cheryl here crossed my mind a number of times,” Heintschel said. “Hopefully she's smiling down and enjoying this because she was really looking forward [to Ted playing and the 400th win]. During warm-ups I was thinking about how many times we'd been in here with her watching and cheering.”
Heintschel led St. John's to a 17-4 mark and the school's first City League title in 1980-81. CL crowns followed in 1993, '94, '95, '96, '98, '99 and last year, when a top-ranked 25-1 squad lost in the regional final.
Heintschel's teams have won 15 or more games in a season 17 times, and 20 or more nine times. The coach listed three keys for the success.
“I think we've maintained discipline without rigidity,” he said, “we've sold kids on the team concept and giving up of themselves for the good of the team, and it's required a lot of dedication and hard work from everybody.”
Heintschel is the second City League coach to reach 400.
Scott's Ben Williams went 429-120 (.781) over 24 seasons (1974-98), with 11 league, nine district and five regional titles topped by a 1990 Division I state title.
Other boys coaches from the metropolitan area with 400-plus career wins include Maumee's Jim Robinson and former Perrysburg skipper Larry Clark.
Robinson, in his 34th season, is 435-223 with stops at Port Clinton, Cincinnati Western Hills, St. Francis, Lima Senior, Libbey, Milan (Mich.) and Lake high schools in addition to 19 years in two stints at Maumee.
Clark, who will be inducted into the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame on April 12, retired at 442-236 overall record. He was 135-59 in nine seasons at Lincolnview (1965-74), and 307-177 in 22 years at Perrysburg (1974-96).
Williams and Heintschel are the only local coaches with 400 wins at one school.
The all-time Ohio wins leader is Kalida's Dick Kortokrax, who is 696-251 in his 43rd season. He topped Middletown's Paul Walker (695), when Kalida beat Allen East on Dec. 3.
How long will Heintschel continue?
“As long as my health is good and I'm effective with the kids, I will coach. But there won't be another 400 wins.”