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Published: Wednesday, 5/20/2009

Start's Arbinger retires

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Start's Rich Arbinger, one of the most successful high school baseball coaches in Ohio history, resigned from that position yesterday after 34 seasons.

Arbinger, 59, retires with a 759-214 record, ranking him fourth on the state's all-time victory list.

"It wasn't anything in particular," Arbinger said. "I just would like to do other things. Coaching baseball is a huge time commitment. Right now I'm healthy and things are going good. I'd like to enjoy that for whatever time I have left. Nobody knows how long they're going to live."

Start athletic director Dan Sanders and the school's athletic committee will soon begin the process of replacing a legend.

"We're losing a great coach," Sanders said. "But you have to understand that he put in 34 years of service and he deserves his retirement. He retired from teaching a couple years ago and now baseball. But he'll always have Start High School in his heart.

"Obviously this hurts our baseball program but, luckily, he's passed on his expertise to his staff and to a lot of his ex-players who are now coaching at different places. The impact of Rich Arbinger will be felt for many years."

Arbinger, who admitted that stepping away from baseball will create a large void in his life, owns a cottage on Middle Bass Island and has at least one other hobby.

"I love to fish and now I won't have to come back for games and meetings and practices," said Arbinger, who retired from his position as a mathematics teacher at Start a few years ago. "I've done about everything a high school coach could do, and it's time to let somebody else experience those things. I've been very lucky."

Luck is said to be the by-product of hard work, and few prep coaches ever outworked Arbinger, who routinely threw approximately 700 batting-practice pitches 40-50 times a year for the first 25 of his 34 seasons.

A conservative estimate for practices alone had Arbinger - a member of the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame - throwing more than a million practice pitches. That figure does not include the post-practice work in the cage he did with players who asked for it. The pair who asked most often were his son Mike, and Mike's teammate, Sean Ryan.

"They hit every day after practice and my rule was they had to quit once the sun hit the tops of the trees at Bowman Park," Arbinger said.

The field at Bowman Park was renamed Rich Arbinger Field two years ago to honor the coach who had fostered most of the team achievements that are listed on the many four-by-six-foot banners that span the outfield fence nearly from foul line to foul line.

Arbinger's run with the Spartans, which began in 1976, included seven trips to the state tournament, with Division I championships in 1994 and 2000. There also were state runner-up finishes in 1987, 1997 and 2005. His 1993 and 1995 teams also advanced to the state semifinals, and eight of his teams won City League titles in 16 championship-game appearances. His Spartans also collected 15 district titles, the last in 2008 when a 24-4 Start team lost in the D-I regional final.

Between 1994 and 1998 Start doubled as CL and district champion five straight years, a run led off by Start's greatest season ever. The 1994 Spartans, led by pitcher Matt King, ended a perfect 31-0 and brought the school its first state championship. Start was also the top-ranked prep team in the nation that year by the Easton poll in Collegiate Baseball magazine, and was rated No. 2 in the nation in the final USA Today newspaper poll.

The only Ohio baseball coaches with more wins than Arbinger are Don Thorp of Hebron Lakewood, who closed the 2009 season at 819-215-3 through 37 seasons, Mike Cameron of Cincinnati Moeller (768-304 from 1969-2007) and Tim Engleka of Centerville (760-307 from 1964-2002).

A young Spartan squad that included just two seniors closed this season at 13-10, falling short of reaching the City League playoffs or the district semifinals.

Arbinger and his wife of 34 years, Debbie, created a true diamond family. Elder son Jason and Mike were each three-time first-team All-City selections, as was daughter Kristen, the youngest sibling, on the Start softball team. Jason and Mike also were All-Ohio selections before playing at Ohio University.

"I've been coaching for 34 years and had a lot of good times," Arbinger said. "I'll always remember those times. The seven years we made it to the state tournament were definitely

highlights. But there were other times working with kids on teams that didn't make it that far that also stand out.

"Baseball's been a huge part of my life. I don't do a whole lot outside of my family and baseball."

Before his coaching career, Arbinger was a standout high school and college athlete. He played on three CL championship baseball teams (1966-68) at Central Catholic as well as that school's last two boys basketball league championship teams in 1967 and '68. In his prep finale for the 23-2 Irish, he scored 29 points in a last-second 67-65 loss to Lima Senior in the Class AA regional championship. He played freshman basketball and baseball at Eastern Michigan before transferring to Bowling Green State University, where he was the Falcons' starting catcher for three seasons.

Arbinger worked as a Buick salesman for two years after earning his degree. He arrived at Start as a teacher and coach in the fall of 1975.

"One of the first things I'm going to have to do is buy some new T-shirts," Arbinger said, "because about everything I own says Start on it. Not that I won't still wear them."

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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