Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta signs a jersey for Derek Schult, 12, of Waterville, while football coach Jim Tressel signs a football for Derek's father, Steve, at "Meet the Buckeyes" night at the Masonic Great Hall. More than 1,500 fans attended.
On a rainy night in 1986, five Ohio State boosters sat down together at the Frisch's Big Boy on Secor Road and brainstormed. Their attempt at putting together a golf tournament to raise scholarship money for the Buckeyes had failed, and they were intent on taking one more crack at doing something to help out.
One member of the group pitched the idea of using a spaghetti dinner to generate some funds, and although that concept received a generally lukewarm reception, they decided to try it.
Nineteen years later, the direct descendant of that spaghetti dinner is the "Meet the Buckeyes" gala held last night at the Masonic Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater, which was attended by more than 1,500 Buckeyes supporters. The event, held every other year since the inaugural fund-raiser in 1988, has generated about a half million dollars for athletic scholarships at Ohio State.
The program, which brings Ohio State coaches and former Buckeyes together with fans for a catered dinner, autograph session and celebration, has honored standouts such as Archie Griffin and Chris Spielman. It has survived - and thrived - through four athletic directors, four head football coaches, and four men's basketball coaches.
Last night, Ohio State AD Gene Smith was joined at the event by football coach Jim Tressel, men's basketball coach Thad Matta and women's coach Jim Foster, along with a contingent from the OSU Athletics Band, and the Buckeyes cheerleaders.
"These people here tonight represent the one constant that allows our program to remain on top," Smith said. "The common denominator in all of our success is the Buckeyes' fans like the ones here in this room. Their support is phenomenal."
Last night's program honored Bill Hosket Jr., a member of the OSU basketball team from 1966-68 who was an All-American, an all-star in the NBA, and an Olympic gold medal winner. Also honored was former Buckeyes defensive end and current New England Patriot Mike Vrabel (1993-96), who was an All-American at OSU, and has been an All-Pro in the NFL and played on three Super Bowl champions.
"I love this university and I've made it a part of my life," said Vrabel, who
makes his off-season home in Columbus. "We're all proud Buckeyes and it's great to see such strong support for Ohio State, and its important that this community of fans keep rallying behind it."
The Toledo-based "Meet The Buckeyes" is the only program of its nature that Ohio State takes part in, and it is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country.
"It's a labor of love for the people who have worked on this," said Phil Harrison, one of the original organizers of the event. "These coaches are so busy and it's very hard to get them all together like this, but I think they see the value in getting out to meet the fans like this, and they genuinely seem to enjoy the evening here. That's why they want to keep this going."
Harrison, a Toledo native and Bowsher grad who has the distinction of scoring the first touchdown in Bowsher football history in 1962, never attended Ohio State. He spent three years at Morehead State, then finished his undergraduate work at the University of Toledo. But Harrison was hooked on the Buckeyes long before that.
"My dad took me down to Ohio State one summer when I was 12, and I got to see the locker room and walk on that field," Harrison said. "And I can remember laying on the living room floor and listening to the games on the radio. When you are young you are very impressionable, and I just gravitated to that team, and it stuck with me."
Earlier in the day, Tressel took part in a luncheon/fund-raiser for Mom's House, a Toledo facility that helps educate low-income, single mothers. He also spent time privately with a seriously ill young man from the area, before being swamped by the rabid Ohio State faithful last night.
"There's a lot of energy in this room, and if you think about it, 2006 has started off pretty good for the Buckeyes," Tressel said, alluding to the fact the Big Ten co-champion Ohio State football team won the Fiesta Bowl in January, while the men's and women's basketball teams claimed Big Ten Championships earlier this spring.
Harrison, who has the 2008 "Meet the Buckeyes" night already in the works, said the spirit and enthusiasm that filled the hall was nothing out of the ordinary.
"It never goes dormant here," said Harrison, who along with Rick Hartley are the only remnants of the group that put the original program together. "We see Michigan and Notre Dame stuff all of the time here in Toledo, so the Ohio State fans never take a day off. This is the front line as far as college football in the Midwest is concerned."
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