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June 17, 2015

It has been a rough couple of weeks around the Olivet High School Athletic Department.

No, we haven’t suffered any heart-breaking defeats or had any of our student-athletes seriously injured (knock on wood), but we did lose some valuable assets following the resignations of varsity baseball coach Heath Otto, varsity softball coach Steve Meyer and varsity girls’ soccer coach Steve Peak.

For different reasons, all three gentlemen are stepping down from their respective positions, but not before leaving distinct footprints along the way. Otto coached baseball at OHS for 16 years – 13 with the junior varsity team and three with the varsity. Meyer was part of the Eagles’ softball program for 10 seasons, including the last five with the varsity squad. As for Peak, he has directed the Lady Eagles since the 2003 season.

I first met Otto in June of 2013 during my initial interview for the Athletic Director position. It was a few days before his team was scheduled to play in a regional tournament. He was one of several committee members, seated off to my right, and I’m almost positive that I saw him nodding off a little bit during one of my responses. Can you believe that? All of that “magic” coming out of my mouth and he was falling into a trance?

Seriously, despite Otto’s sleep deprivation during baseball season, I have the highest regard for him as a coach, father, husband, teacher and colleague. This is the kind of man we want leading our sons and daughters on the field and in the classroom. Fortunately for OHS, he is only resigning as a coach and will continue as a high school social studies instructor.

Two of Otto’s former players were asked about playing for him, and here is what they had to say…

“It was a blast playing for Coach Otto,” said Joe Barr, a member of Olivet’s 2014 regional championship team. “He was determined to be the best. His enthusiasm electrified our practices and games.”

Shane Loney, another key player on the 2014 squad, agreed with Barr. “Personally, I had a great experience with (Otto),” he said. He made things fun and always stayed positive even if things weren’t looking good. He taught us to be winners on and off the diamond.”

Meyer may not be a teacher like Otto, but you would not know that by the way he interacts with teenagers and the impact that he has had on countless OHS softball players.

In the two years that I have worked with him, I have gathered plenty of snapshots of his work – ranging from off-season workouts, to early-season practices in the gym, to managing the personalities on his team during home doubleheaders. Regardless of the circumstances, he always seemed in control of his emotions and carried a positive vibe while dealing with players, opponents and umpires.

“It was a real pleasure playing for Coach Meyer,” said senior-to-be Jordan Richmond, a top player for the Eagles this past season. “He treated us all like family. We will really miss Coach Meyer, and we wish him the best of luck.”

Like Otto and Meyer, Peak has been a class act from day one. You are simply not going to find a high school coach who cares more about developing well-rounded student-athletes, with a focus on academics, sound character, positive attitudes and sportsmanship.

It is no secret that Olivet did not win a lot of soccer games during Peak’s tenure, and he is first to point that out. But anyone who knows anything about high school athletics understands that those results – or lack thereof – are complicated in nature. Regardless of Peak’s record, he will be remembered by this athletic director as a kind-hearted individual who cared about his players and went about his business in a professional manner.

“He has been a positive role model on and off the field, and is a strong proponent of sportsmanship,” said Katie Francisco, a 2014 graduate and two-time all-conference player for Peak. “He and his wife always made the team feel like part of a family with the many team dinners and get-togethers that they put on.”

If you pay close attention to the comments about these three coaches, you will soon realize how important these men were in their players’ lives. Their importance goes much deeper than filling out a lineup card, or deciding when to make a pitching change, or adjustments that are made on the field. Those tasks are important as well, at least when the competitive juices are flowing, but the real value of a quality high school coach is the positive influence he/she has on a student-athlete’s character.

Needless to say, the OHS Athletic Department has a huge void to fill for next spring.