By David Jablonski
SPRINGFIELD — Steve DeWitt learned an important lesson after the last play of his football playing career — one that has stuck with him through 34 seasons as head coach at Catholic Central and one he’ll remember tonight as he’s inducted into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
DeWitt was a sophomore walk-on at Kent State in the summer of 1972. Playing cornerback in practice, he got hit by a wide receiver on a crackback block — helmet to knee. The hit shredded every ligament in his knee, and he went to the hospital where head coach Don James, who would later win a share of the national championship at the University of Washington, waited with him until his parents arrived from Springfield.
“Here I was, a lowly walk-on, and this guy’s waiting on me,” DeWitt said. “That made a heck of an impression.”
If not for that injury, who knows what path DeWitt’s career would have taken.
DeWitt, a 1971 Central graduate, came back to Springfield after the injury and worked as a lifeguard at the Overbrook Pool in Sunnyland that summer before classes started at Kent in September. Catholic Central’s head coach, Mickey Hannon, noticed how DeWitt dealt with the kids on the swim team and invited him to help out with the high school team before he returned to college.
That’s how it all started. DeWitt was named head coach in 1977 after four seasons as an assistant.
Today DeWitt, 59, has a career record of 221-139-3 entering his 35th season — with no plans of retiring anytime soon — and he guided the Irish to the state championship game in 1991 and the state semifinals in 2007.
DeWitt would be the last guy to brag about his accomplishments, of course. He knows he wouldn’t be anywhere without the school, his players, assistant coaches and family.
DeWitt remembers asking his wife, Kim, when they were dating if she could tolerate football and all that comes with it. For 32 years, she has never complained about the game, he said.
“She’s a wonderful facilitator of my bad habit (football),” DeWitt joked. “Most of all, she’s taught me an enormous amount. She was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. She never had anything less than a positive attitude. The first words out of her mouth were, ‘I’m going to beat this thing.’ I came to understand what courage was. I saw that in her.”
Kim DeWitt is healthy now, Steve said, and continues to host team dinners at the house.
DeWitt’s coaching staff is just as loyal. Bill O’Neill has been on the staff for DeWitt’s entire tenure, and Mike McKenna has been around for 22 years. Pat Rizer and DeWitt’s son, Pat, fill out the staff.
“Football, to us, has always been a lot more than the X’s and O’s and winning,” DeWitt said. “It’s about developing young men to the fullest of their capabilities. That part’s been fun.”