By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Inside Jim Pfleger’s office at Garfield High School is a wall filled with pictures of throwers that achieved podium finishes at the OHSAA state-championship meet in Columbus.
As the school’s athletic director and assistant principal, days can be a blur.
They can be stressful and filled with checklists that seemingly grow larger instead of shrink.
That wall can can be comforting for Pfleger.
Look at the pictures of yesteryear, the former standout athletes standing with pride and smiles inside Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, provides an instant stress relief.
Those pictures capture a moment in time.
And priceless memories.
Fortunately for Pfleger, along with his brother, best friend and coaching partner Matt, there are a lot of pictures to look at.
Matt, a six-time state qualifier, is even in one of them from his runner-up finish in the discus in 2006.
In total, over the last 19 years, remarkably, there have only been four times that the G-Men did not have a thrower qualify for the state championship.
During that timeframe, the G-Men, both boys and girls, have established themselves as one of the most dominating programs in Portage County and developed a reputation of excellence throughout the state.
In 19 years, the Pflegers have coached five state champions and five state runner-ups, along with 11 regional champions, 34 state qualifiers and 18 top-eight podium finishes.
It has been an incredible run, which shows no signs of reversing trends, by the way, that the Pfleger brothers both take a lot of pride in.
“It is special to coach here,” said Jim Pfleger, who is a 1999 Garfield graduate. “I left for two years and it just was not the same for me. I loved the kids, but they were not Garfield kids. There is something special here, and I know now that I do not have a desire to coach anywhere else.”
So how have they done it?
They focus on fundamentals, coaching with care and love and not being afraid to ask a lot of questions about anything they don’t know.
And it all started with Matt.
Longtime Garfield track coach John Bennett, now retired, brought in a 21-year-old Jim Pfleger onto his staff in 2002 to coach the throwers, including his younger brother Matt, who was in eighth grade at the time.
Jim, admittedly, had a lot to learn, but he knew it and was not afraid of it.
He asked questions.
He wanted to make sure he did everything he could to give his throwers the best opportunity to succeed.
By 2004, Matt qualified for the state championships as a sophomore in both the discus and shot put. He credits the accomplishment, and everything that followed it, to his older brother.
“I was an undersized thrower. I weighed only 195 pounds,” said Matt, who graduated in 2006. “The only reason I was good was because of my brother. My practice would consist of 50 to 100 throws every single day, and he was there for every single one of them.”
It is that level of care that has forever set Jim Pfleger apart — and while Matt’s coaching career started later, his philosophies run parallel to those of his brother.
“I am a big relationship guy,” Jim Pfleger said. “You can’t coach an athlete to care. We have to do that with our actions. We have to show them that we genuinely care about them. Once they sense that, then we can accomplish anything.”
They have, too.
With more to come as the 2023 season winds down and tournaments rapidly approach toward what Pfleger calls “the best weekend of the year.”
This year, that would be June 2 and 3.
A chance to capture some new memories in Columbus.
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