In The Arena: Bluffton Gives Coach Storybook Finish

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Bluffton senior John Guagenti celebrates after winning the 1,600 relay Saturday. The Pirates won the D-II team title.
Bluffton senior John Guagenti took home four first place medals Saturday from the Division III state track and field championships at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Guagenti’s greatest accomplishment though wasn’t what he wore around his neck. It was the smile his head coach Steve Bruskotter wore on his face. Said Guagenti jokingly: “He's not a very happy guy.”


COLUMBUS – Bluffton senior John Guagenti took home four first place medals Saturday from the Division III state track and field championships at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Guagenti’s greatest accomplishment though wasn’t what he wore around his neck. It was the smile his head coach Steve Bruskotter wore on his face.

“He’s not a very happy guy,” Guagenti said laughing. “He’s pretty stern and he’ll say ‘Well that was pretty good, but you can do better.’ After today what’s he got to say?

“Seeing him smile is better than winning state.”

Guagenti is more than qualified to compare the two.

Thanks in part to his heroics, Bluffton captured its first state track title with a 54-40 win over Gates Mills Gilmour Academy.

The title also caps the career of Bruskotter who announced his retirement after this season three weeks ago. Saturday was the final and largest feather in his cap.

“If you had to pick a scenario on how you wanted to go out, this would be it,” Bruskotter said. “How could it be any better? The way these kids performed you can’t ask for any more.”

Bruskotter, an Ottawa-Glandorf graduate, took the Bluffton track job in 1977. The next spring the Pirates finished state runner-up. Thirty years later they finished first.

“(Winning a state title) has been the goal since the beginning,” Bruskotter said. “My second year we were state runner-up in 1978. We finished runner-up again in 1985 and again in 1994. We were girls runner-up in 2000. We’ve had success at state and been in the top five here nine times. We’ve scored a lot of points through the years with a lot of great athletes, but this is a great way to cap it off.

“We just wanted to get the bigger trophy.”

The state title is just the second in Bluffton’s trophy case and will now accompany the school’s Class A state wrestling title from 1981.

This effort was one of total domination.

The Pirates 800 relay team of Zach Guagenti, Jesse Herr, Ricardo Pena and John Guagenti set new Ohio and state meet records with a time of 1:28.47. The old state meet record of 1:29.62 was set by Waynesfield-Goshen in 2006. The quartet bettered its own state record of 1:29.12 set last week at the Tiffin Regional.

John Guagenti added victories in the 400 (state meet record time of 47.46) and 200 (22.17), while the 1,600 relay (same quartet as the 800) won in 3:21.44. The 1,600 relay mark was a new school record.

Senior Kory Place was second in the shot put (56-2.75) and Bluffton also finished third in the 400 relay.

“What can you say?” Bruskotter said of his team’s performance. “A couple of school records and a couple of state records. We wanted to win the 4×400 at the end to go out on a good note and they ended up breaking the school record which was a state record for seven years and set in 1985.

“Everyone performed the way we expected them to. This was definitely the best group we’ve brought here with the ability to score a lot of points. No doubt about that.”

No doubt about Bruskotter’s walking away either – or is there?

Bruskotter retired from teaching last year after 35 years of instructing social studies and science to mostly freshman and sophomores. His wife still teaches, which made him decide to come back to coaching. This however was his last hurrah.

“I told the kids a couple weeks ago that I wasn’t coming back for sure,” Bruskotter said. “They knew I was thinking about it but two weeks ago I told (the administration) to post the job. I don’t have any regrets. Who knows, maybe I’ll still help out in some capacity, but nothing official.”

Bruskotter’s standing with his kids and community isn’t in question.

When it was time to award the state championship trophy, OHSAA assistant commissioner Deborah Moore tried to hand the trophy to the Bluffton team. In unison they all pointed to Bruskotter who was the first to hold the hardware and lift it overhead.

When he did, section 205 – where seemingly the entire town of Bluffton was seated – exploded.

“Look at that see of Red,” Bruskotter said. “Oh my goodness. You could hear them yelling every time there was a Pirate on the track.”

Next year for the first time in four decades, someone else will be yelling during practice.

Said Guagenti: “We did it more for him than for ourselves.”

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