By Susan Jenior
The banners in the Mogadore High School gymnasium proclaim back-to-back-to-back state championships.
Readers might think this is a football story, but, in fact, it is the remarkable athletes from the 1971, 1972 and 1973 varsity golf teams who brought home the consecutive OHSAA trophies.
Historically, the only Portage County program in history to accomplish a state championship three-peat.
Competing in Class A for the first time when the state divided golf teams into three divisions (A, AA and AAA), Mogadore topped Columbus Academy by 12 strokes in 1971, easily climbed to the top of the leaderboard by 25 strokes over Sydney Lehman in 1972 and then dominated runner-up Lehman again in 1973 by 14 strokes.
Gary Francis, a member of all three championship teams, and the state medalist in 1972 firing rounds of 76-79—155, remembered his golfing days with the Wildcats like it was yesterday.
“We had good individual players,” said Francis. “Hardly anyone could beat us. We only lost maybe one match in 1972 and 1973.”
Jack Heldreth, an English teacher at Mogadore, was also the golf coach.
“He was a good English teacher and also good at scheduling good matches,” said Francis. “We would play 26 to 30 matches in a year and played good teams like Hudson and Stow.”
At the time, Stow boasted their own state champion in Mike Morrow, who won the state title in 1971 before going on to an illustrious career coaching the Kent State University women’s golf program.
“My dad got me started in golf when I was 10 years old,” Francis said. “He had a membership at West’s Mogadore Country Club.”
John Rainieri, head golf professional, who leased the golf course from Glen West, allowed Gary’s dad to purchase a membership for the two of them for $150.
“The other kids on the team also had memberships, and we played together all the time,” said Francis. “Our parents would drop us off at 7 a.m. and pick us up at 9 pm. every day. We played 72 holes or 54 holes every day, so we got relatively good.”
The team stuck together and hung around together all the time.
“Only four of us could go to the state tournament (the team roster permitted by OHSAA), but all of us could have made any team in the state.
“We usually played our sectional tournament at Oak Knolls Golf Club in Kent and our district tournament at Barberton Brookside in Barberton,” Francis said.
Then the team advanced to the Ohio State University Scarlet Golf Course, the same course that the boys teams still play today in the state final.
“All three divisions played the same course,” said Francis. “We were swimming in the pool of the Olentangy Inn my junior year and heard the men sitting in the lounge talking about this little team from a little school that was winning the whole state.”
They were listening about themselves.
And although Mogadore didn’t end up beating all of the teams in the other divisions on the second day, it was still a proud moment.
“It was the depth of our team that made it so good.”
“My daughter manages a sport bar in Norton and she has a picture of the Ohio Sports Almanac on the wall,” said Francis. “I don’t look like a golfer now, but that Almanac has 15 names and one of them is mine on the same page as Jack Nicklaus.”
Francis fondly remembers chipping and putting off the picnic tables under the deck at West’s Mogadore, betting each other with quarters, and winning some money from the league golfers at the time because of his putting and chipping skills.
Some of his best memories.
“I played in tournaments and junior events with Tom Lemon (state qualifier from Rootstown) and Dave Buhas (former Kent State golfer and basketball player from Akron Garfield),” said Francis.
“As a kid at that age, you just weren’t worried about missing a 3-foot putt, you didn’t think about winning or losing, we all just went out and played,” said Francis.
At least Francis didn’t think he was nervous.
But he remembers coming out of the restroom at the course and having to change gloves before he teed off.
“I washed my hands with my golf glove on,” said Francis, laughing at the memory.
He fondly remembers the people who supported the golf team, following them, including Bill Evans, a coach at Mogadore, and Jack Cordier, Superintendent who had also been a coach.
Memories include the parade, riding in the convertible as the coach drove with the state-championship sign on the side and the parents that lined up when they left for the state tournaments.
“I still have some of my clubs from 50 years ago,” said Francis.
“Jerry Kennedy (one of the golfers on the team and state medalist in 1971) said that I was the only four-time state champion for Mogadore since I won an individual state championship and was on three state champion teams,” Francis said.
Good memories of the team that won three straight championships for Mogadore.
He still sees some of the guys, although several, unfortunately, have died.
“West’s Country Club closed, but some of us and some of the Field golfers still see each other in events at Paradise Lake Country Club.”
Golf has continued to be an outstanding sport on the roster for Mogadore, with golfers advancing to the district every year and teams or individuals often found at the state-level competition.
Those teams in the early 1970’s started a tradition of excellence that has been maintained to this day.
Head Coach: Jack Heldreth
Jerry Kennedy 87-83—170 (state champion)
Randy Brouse 81-81—172
Gary Francis 91-84—175
Bob Pierson 89-90—179
Gary Francis 76-79—155 (state champion)
Jerry Kennedy 78-88—166
Ed Breckenridge 80-88—168
Randy Brouse 84-84—168
Gary Francis 78-84—162
Tom Johnson 79-84—163
Ed Breckenridge 81-88—169
Randy Brouse 78-79—157
Mogadore’s golf team 1967 Paul Nehlsen 152 lost in playoff for medlist Dennis Check 160 Richard Brouse 166 an Mike Miller 172 , only class A team to make it in the tournament