Two weeks after graduating from different high schools in the summer of 1970, Mel and Sara Minnfield met on an outdoor basketball court right behind Woodward High School at Wilson Park.
Almost 35 years later, 34 of those as a married couple, it seems fitting now that the three children they produced would all find success in athletics.
Just in case the two girls and one boy weren t going to be successful on their own, Mel didn t take any chances. He basically made sure they found their path in sports. The former Woodward and University of Toledo football star also made certain they worked hard and were tough on the field. Meanwhile, mother Sara made sure they got to their practices and games and tended to their academic responsibilities. Mom was also there to provide emotional pick-me-ups when needed. Most importantly, Mel and Sara were always there for their children, and still are.
That s what we re all about, Mel said. We re family first and we try to participate in sports and do the best we can. The thing I tried to teach them was that, if you re going to play, be the best. I don t care if it s jacks or marbles or whatever. Be your best. Strive beyond 100 percent, so if you come up short you re still 100 percent.
Melissa, the eldest child at 22, remembers being thrust into organized sports for the first time as an 8-year-old second baseman on the boys baseball team coached by her father. Son Corey, 21, who recently completed his college football career at Ohio Northern, after three seasons at Defiance, was the team s shortstop.
I didn t [initially] want to play with boys, but as I got older, that s all I played with was boys, Melissa said. We always got together as a family, always playing out in the backyard. We were always at each other s practices, doing this and that and helping out.
It was around that time that Corey knocked out one of Melissa s teeth in a backyard football game, a piece of family history that Melissa would prefer remain in mothballs.
From these experiences, the Minnfield children learned how to compete and push themselves toward maximizing their potential.
Practices, games, extra running, swimming laps, shooting, lifting weights and so on. Little free time was wasted, and little of what the Minnfield kids did went unnoticed.
Our parents are always at our games, Corey said. They were at every one of Melissa s games, every one of my games and now every one of Jessie s games. And Melissa and I are at every one of Jessie s games.
I can t speak for some of the players that don t have parents and brothers or sisters, but I feel naked out there if I don t have my parents there. When I look up in the stands and see them, everything comes through clear.
In the Minnfield household, the word nasty has an entirely positive connotation. It means being tough on the field of play. It means dishing out as well as being able to take physical contact.
Mel was tough and taught that to his kids, but wife Sara sees it more as tough love.
He s a good father, she said of her husband, a 22-year veteran of the Toledo Fire Department. He took a lot of pride in them and took a lot of time away from himself for them. He steered them in the right direction. They re very close with their dad, all three of them, and they re very proud of him. They have a good relationship.
Mel may have spent the most time with his third child, and it has paid off.
On the court for the Central Catholic basketball team, fourth-year varsity player Jessica has already signed to play at the University of Michigan.
It s a dream come true, said Sara. She s earned it and worked for it. She gave up her summers and holidays and her weekends. She basically gave up her social life to be a part of AAU. Her coach was very strict and drove the girls hard. She traveled all over the United States when she could have been out swimming and goofing around.
In addition to her quickness, solid ballhandling skill, spirited defensive play and good shooting touch, Jessica may be one of the physically toughest players, pound-for-pound, in the area, if not the state.
Considering her father was a tough-as-nails linebacker and defensive end at UT, a player whose college career as a starter included the final year of the Rockets legendary 35-0 winning streak (1969-71), and considering how he instilled toughness in Melissa and Corey, Jessica may be actually be the least tough athlete in the family.
But don t tell that to opposing players, or to Irish coach Steve Pfahler, whose team is 11-0 this season.
Quite frankly, I wouldn t want to be in the way when the ball is loose and she s going for it, Pfahler said. That s her determination. That s what she s about. That s something good she passes on to the younger players.
Jessie is hard-nosed. She s one of the sweetest kids you ll talk with off the floor, and she s well-respected within our school. But inside those lines, it s her world. She s worked hard to get to that level, and she s respected throughout the area as a player.
Jessica is averaging 17 points, five rebounds, six assists and five steals per game. In her final season, she hopes to match the accomplishment of her older sister, who was on two Irish teams that advanced to the state semifinals (1998 and 99) and a third that got to the regional (2000). Jessica s teams have yet to advance beyond district competition.
Jessica concedes the toughness contest to her older sister.
Melissa was just mean, Jessica said. She was nasty on the court. I learned her attitude and feel of the game. It made me play harder, and she pushes me like she pushed her teammates when she was here at Central. She tells me to be the best I can be.
Older sister helps out with some of life s big decisions.
I try to keep Jessie in line, Melissa said. Grades come first, then sports, then [other parts of] school. I tell her not to worry about the outside things too much and just to keep focused. You have to do whatever you have to do to get where you want to go. That s why she s going to Michigan, because she s keeping her head in order and staying on track.
Melissa, Corey and Jessica are now the eldest three Minnfield children. About eight years ago, Mel and Sara adopted three girls Samantha, Shaquilla and Stormy, who are 10, 9 and 8, respectively.
Growing up in the Minnfield home, the children were purposely insulated from some negative forces from outside.
We probably protected our kids more than other people do, being an interracial couple, Sara Minnfield said. We had strict rules. They couldn t run [the streets] like other kids could, and sports were a big part of their life. That s what they did for fun. They started following their dad, and then that became part of their life.
Jessica feels her attention to sports served to protect her.
As I get older I see a lot of people making bad decisions because of the people they hang around, Jessica said. For me, being in sports all the time, I have no time for that. I m a better person and a better athlete because I stay away from that. I have goals and dreams that I set for myself a long time ago, and I still have those.
When she gets to Michigan, the 3.2 student hopes to match the collegiate efforts of brother Corey, who started at quarterback for Defiance and Ohio Northern.
In his only season at ONU, the senior completed 132 of 246 passes for 1,616 yards and 19 touchdowns for the 8-2 Polar Bears.
Corey, who attended Central as a freshman, transferred to Woodward in the fall of 1999 when Mel got the job as head football coach at his alma mater. The downtrodden Polar Bears never had a winning season while father and son were coach and quarterback there, but both say they would not trade the experience for anything.
Playing for my dad was just like being at home, Corey said, getting yelled at here and there and stuff like that. But on the football field I knew what to expect from him. He demands 110 percent from every player. I never had someone push me that hard. But if he didn t push me so hard I probably wouldn t be where I m at today.
Contact Steve Junga at:email@example.com 419-724-6461.