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Earle Bruce last coached the Ohio State football team Nov. 21, 1987 - a 23-20 win over Michigan. But more than two decades later, the 77-year-old Bruce is still recruiting, still charging up the faithful, and still fanning the flames with that old, bitter rival.
Bruce, who comes to Toledo on Friday to be the featured speaker at the Meet The Buckeyes fund-raiser at the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater, made this town one of his first stops when he replaced Woody Hayes as head coach at Ohio State in 1979.
Bruce came here to see a pair of standout high school players - Steve Simpson, a lineman from Bedford, and Ray Myers, a fullback from Bowsher. Bruce got them both to play for Ohio State, and considered it his first significant victory over Michigan.
"At the time I took over at Ohio State, the rumor was that the people who owned recruiting around Toledo were from Michigan, but that was not the case at all," Bruce said.
"The people who helped us get kids from Toledo were very strong, veryhelpful, and very, very loyal to Ohio State. They were able to do a lot back then, as opposed to now, and they kept us abreast of all the talent in the area."
Those unofficial recruiters were called the Frontliners, and then became Ohio State Committeemen. Before the NCAA manual on recruiting regulations became the twin of the Manhattan phone book, Bruce leaned heavily on that volunteer force, which included Toledo businessman Phil Harrison, a Toledo native and Bowsher grad.
"The Committeemen and guys like Phil Harrison were very instrumental on the grass roots level," Bruce said.
Once their direct role in recruiting was legislated out of existence, Harrison and fellow Committeeman Rick Hartley and several other Ohio State boosters first tried to organize a golf tournament to raise funds for the Buckeyes, then opted for a spaghetti dinner. The event evolved into Meet The Buckeyes, now a mega-sized banquet, fan fest, autograph session and full-fledged Scarlet and Gray gala that has been held every other year since 1988.
"Coach Bruce helped us get it started, but he was let go after the 1987 season, and wasn't here for that first one," Harrison said. "But he's remained an important part of the Ohio State football family, and it's nice we'll get him back to Toledo after all these years."
Bruce will be joined at the event by Ohio State assistant coach Dick Tressel, the brother of head coach Jim Tressel, and former Buckeyes standouts Craig Krenzel and Tim Spencer. Former Ohio State assistant Bill Conley is also on the guest list, and two-time Olympic gold medalist and former Buckeye basketball star Katie Smith will be honored.
Smith, currently a member of the Detroit Shock of the WNBA, played for Ohio State from 1992-96, and led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship and the NCAA title game in her career. Smith was the Big Ten MVP as a senior, and had her number retired by Ohio State.
Harrison said the Ohio State cheerleaders and pep band will also be at the event, which has raised about a half million dollars for the Buckeyes' scholarship fund over the years. This year's affair, which includes a raffle of game tickets, jerseys, and other Ohio State memorabilia, will fund scholarships for the trainers and managers affiliated with Ohio State athletics.
"People think it is amazing you can fill a room with close to a thousand Buckeyes fans in the middle of May, months before the start of football season, but that doesn't surprise me at all," Bruce said. "The interest level in Ohio State football is high everywhere I go. Ohio is nuts about the Buckeyes, and the fans lick their chops over anything about the team."
The doors will open at 6 p.m. on Friday, and the Ohio State players and coaches in attendance are scheduled to sign autographs for about an hour before the dinner, with the formal program beginning at 8.
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