Braves’ locker room has a musical past

By Brad Morris

As Bill Frost started to put his stamp on the Logan Elm football program in the early years after he took over as head coach, one of the items on his agenda was getting better accommodations for the Braves.

“We originally dressed in the boys locker room across the hall from the high school gymnasium and then we had to hang all of our stuff up on hangers after practice and put it in a small equipment room,” Frost said. “It wasn’t a very ideal setup back then and definitely would not have worked as the years passed and the district grew.

“In the (early 1980s) we decided to ask if we could have part of the stage on the east side of the gymnasium and use that for our locker room instead? At that time, there was a typing class up on the stage and a wall divided the stage into two separate sections.

“They gave us the go-ahead and that started the process of turning what was once a stage into a locker room and weight room.”

What started as a musical space transformed into the home for countless memories, laughs and a few tears along the way. The Braves are inviting former players and coaches back to the former stage on Friday for “one last pregame” before the football game against the Teays Valley Vikings.

Former players and coaches are being asked to gather at 6:20 p.m. outside the locker room. When the Braves exit the stadium after warmups and return to the locker room at 6:35 p.m., former players and coaches will join them inside for “one last pregame”. The past and present of the Logan Elm football family will then walk back to the stadium and take the field together.

While the Braves (7-2, 5-1) hope to host a first-round playoff game next week, this will be the final time the team will use the locker room in the regular season. The new PK-12 building on the western end of campus is slated to open in August 2023, and a wrecking ball will soon thereafter demolish the original Logan Elm High School.

The current FFA building by the gate to the stadium will be renovated over the summer to hold a new locker room, weight room, coaches’ office and training room for the Braves that is slated to be ready for the 2023 season-opener against Zane Trace on Aug. 18.

“It’s going to be emotional. There were so many friendships and memories that were forged in here over the years and seeing some of those faces back here again one more time in the locker room is going to be special,” said Rod Smith, a long-time assistant under Frost who took over as head coach in 1996 and led the Braves for eight seasons. Smith also helped chair four building levy campaigns that eventually led to the passage of a levy to build the new PK-12 school. “When it’s time for this old building to come down, all of those memories are going to flood back again, but we’re excited for all the opportunities that our students are going to have with the new building and being in a modern building that meets the times that we are in today. It’s going to be a much better experience for them.”

Long-time Logan Elm coach Rod Smith stands outside of the door that leads to the football locker room, which was originally a stage when the high school opened.

Shaping a locker room
Once the football team had half of the stage, they soon were able to take over the other half of the stage when the typing class relocated to the business classroom.

“You can imagine what it was like having a divider separating your classroom from a locker room and all of the smells that the students in the typing class had to put up with,” Smith chuckled. “(The typing class was) glad they found them a better space for the classroom and then we finally had a large space that we could start turning from a stage into a locker room and weight room.”

Lockers, benches, weights, new lighting and carpeting were eventually added to the space as the Braves made the former stage start to feel like a true locker room. Smith also noted that the walls have been painted over the years by the coaches in every shade of white that is possible.

“Coach Frost was a great financier. Actually, he was kind of cheap and we didn’t have a lot to work with, so we had to find bargains,” said Smith, with a laugh. “He found some nice carpeting for the locker room, but we had problems with that over the years with the weights making little gashes in the carpeting and then having the type of problems you have when you mix cleats and carpeting. Eventually, when (former head coach Scott Bartholomew) got here he had this nice rubber flooring installed that we have today.”

Bartholomew, who served as head coach from 2008-14, also had new lockers installed that came with a twist in removing the original lockers on the former stage.

“We had lockers put in when we took over the space and then in the mid-1990s we had to get more lockers due to the number of kids that we had,” Smith said. “One day, I walk in here and the other coaches had found some lockers that we had to paint from blue to red.

“Eventually, Bart got us new lockers that will probably follow us over to the new field house. We were trying to get the old lockers out and Tyler Cordle was on top of them. We finally got the old lockers unhooked, but it all happened at one and Tyler had to jump off the top of the lockers. We were worried that we were going to get sued over that.”

The locker room serves as the school’s weight room during the offseason when six racks of weights are brought in from the barn beside the football field and the room is rearranged. Four racks of weights remain in the locker room for use during the season by football and the other sports programs at Logan Elm.

“When a college coach comes in, they find that to be an interesting arrangement,” current Logan Elm head coach Terry Holbert said. “It’s something they don’t see every day, because it’s more of an old-style setup.”

There is a flight of stairs to the left of the door the Braves enter after a practice or game that leads to what is now the coaches’ office.

“When we took over that space, those were two music rooms where kids could go to rehearse,” Smith said. “That’s why the door is so thick because it was basically a sound-proof room. Coach Frost and the rest of us would always complain about how tight that one room we had was, so after I took over as head coach, we decided to do something about that one day.

“I wanted to take out the wall dividing the two rooms and they said I couldn’t because it was a load-bearing wall. I said it couldn’t be, because there was an office right below the two rooms. So, one day, a couple of other coaches and I came in here and we took matters into our own hands. We brought in a couple of sledgehammers and went to work on that wall, hauled out the blocks and, boom, we finally had a coaches’ office that you could get five or six coaches into comfortably. Of course, we kind of clipped the ceiling a little bit and a couple pieces of the ceiling came down, but that was the price for progress.”

As former students can attest to, the high school does not have air conditioning, so Smith had to again improvise.

“I went out to Quality Farm and Fleet and bought this big industrial fan when I took over and we’ve been using it ever since,” he said. “That’s an awfully popular place in August after two-a-days or on a very hot day. This space can get hot in a hurry.”

The locker room has been part of countless memories for former and current players and coaches for the Braves.

Smith can still remember his first reaction when he left West Virginia in 1977 and arrived on the Pickaway Plains to interview with then superintendent John Henn for a job at Logan Elm, where he would contribute to many of those memories.

“I thought this is the flattest place that I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “I lost a job at Calhoun County in West Virginia, and I was looking for another job. Coach Frost called Jim Frazier, who he played with at Glenville State and was a friend of mine from Ripley and Jim gave him my name. Coach Frost was a senior at Glenville State when I was a senior in high school, so when I went to Glenville State, I had heard of him but did not know him.

“When I interviewed with John for the job, he asked me if I would coach this or coach that. I told John that I would clean the restrooms with a toothbrush if I had to, and he said you’re hired.”

Frost and Smith started making memories together, one of which was when the Braves snapped the 36-game win streak of the Pickerington Tigers and future Hall of Fame coach Jack Johnson in the late-1970s.

“I don’t care what people say, that was the greatest win in the history of Logan Elm football,” Smith said. “Jack really had Pickerington going then and they had some tremendous teams. We switched up our defense going into that game and the boys got after them and they got the job done.

“The next day Coach Frost and I was driving down to Southeastern to watch our junior varsity team play Southeastern’s varsity team. Southeastern had just started its football program. We were driving down to Richmond Dale in Coach Frost’s Rambler and listening to the replay of the Pickerington game on WNRE, which was a big deal back then. All the parents and coaches would listen, especially after a big win like that. We hit a straightaway east of Chillicothe on Route 35 and we ran out of gas. Coach Frost said we could walk back to a house we had seen a while back to get help and I told him, ‘No, you are going to walk back there, and I am going to listen to the rest of the game on the radio’. I think we got to that game in the second quarter to watch the rest of our junior varsity.”

The Braves narrowly missed qualifying for the playoffs in 1998 but made their first postseason appearance in 2000.

“In 1998, only four teams got in per region and Teays Valley got in ahead of us even though we beat them during the season,” Smith said. “That was a heartbreaker, because that 1998 team was a sensational team. When we got in for 2000 after they went to eight schools per region. When you normally go out for warmups, there are just a few people in the stands. At a playoff game, it’s already getting crowded.

“We made it a special experience for the kids. That was another really good team that we had. Dan Bise, who was then the athletic director, arranged for us to eat at Lake Hope and we took a charter bus down there to New Richmond for the game, because that was a long ride. The field was a piece of crap that we played on, and we lost to them, but we eventually got them back when we hosted New Richmond up here for a playoff game in 2009.”

Frost shares some of the same memories that Smith does of his time leading the Braves.

“We were the last Mid-State League team to beat Pickerington before they eventually left to join the (Ohio Capital Conference), so that was a special memory,” he said. “Bloom-Carroll sent us a nice card after we beat Pickerington, because that allowed them to share the league title with Pickerington. They thanked us for beating the University of Pickerington.

“We had some great teams that won the league a few times. I remember one season where we only gave up 508 yards of total offense in 10 games and Liberty Union had like 190 of those yards in one game. We had some great coaches that I worked with and some great players that I was fortunate enough to coach.

“I remember one game where we called a slant and Scott West threw the ball behind Dave Cooper, but Dave still made the catch on a slant for a touchdown,” Frost continued. “Dave had the best set of hands that I ever saw, and our team left the bench to congratulate him because it was such a good play, and we got a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. When I think of names like Jeff Justus, Scott West, Dave Cooper, Eric Henn and on down the line., it brings back so many memories. When I think of one kid that I coached, that leads me to thinking about another half dozen or more.”

Frost, like Smith, will be sad to see the original high school go but is excited for the future of Logan Elm.

“I have so many memories teaching, being a guidance counselor and coaching there and walking the halls,” he said. “It’s a special place and there are a lot of special memories there, but Logan Elm has needed a new building for years and I am glad they are finally getting it. It will be a great resource for the kids and staff.”

‘What makes Logan Elm special’
Frost can remember getting notes from restaurants that his teams ate at before a game complimenting him on the kids that he coached.

“For someone to take the time and write a note and send it to us, I knew that we had to leave an awfully good impression,” he said. “That’s what makes Logan Elm special, at least to me.

“I always had great kids to coach, because they are instilled with those farming values by their parents and the community. Some of the seasons I enjoyed the most were where we didn’t have the most success on the field, but the kids worked so hard and got the most out of what they had. I was always proud of our teams, because I was proud of the type of men that we had coaching our kids and the type of kids that we had. We represented Logan Elm the right way.”

The community was one of the reasons why Smith and his wife Marcia, who taught at Washington Elementary in the district for years, stayed on the Pickaway Plains and raised their family.

“I had an opposing coach tell me once that kids are raised differently down here and that’s something that always stood out to me,” he said. “Wins and losses are important here, but you don’t have to look over your back and worry like you have to at some other places.

“People raise their children the right way and they teach them respect and proper values. Little things, like saying please and thank you and yes, sir and no, ma’am. I know that’s something that stood out to Coach Frost and stood out to me, as well.”

Since he retired as head coach after the 2003 season, Smith has served as an assistant on the coaching staffs of Ron Stephens, a former player of his, Bartholomew and Holbert.

“I took two-to-three years off and a little time here and there, but the hardest thing about retirement is getting this out of your system. Being in the locker room, around the students and the other coaches. The schedule, and everything,” Smith said. “Once you’re a coach you’re always a coach.”

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