The smiles were wide and the stories were even longer.
It was a day of reminiscing on Friday, March 14, as a collection of former Mt. Sterling High School football players converged on the Madison Senior Living Community Center in London to pay honor to their former coach Robin Priday.
Priday, 90, a resident at the facility was the head football coach at Mt. Sterling High School in 1947 and 1948, resurrecting the program that went dormant from sometime in the late 1930s. The event gave the former players a chance to see each other and a coach they adored.
“I wanted to get the guys together and see coach,” Rodger I. Baker, one of the former players said. “We all loved playing for him. I’m just glad we did this. It may end up being the last chance we all get a chance to get together.”
Priday only coached those two seasons at Mt. Sterling, but the impact he had on the community and those he coached would be carried on for decades.
“A lot of the things I learned from Coach Priday, things like respect, sportsmanship, hard work all were things I learned from coach,” Baker, who was a freshman on the 1948 team said. “That was 66 years ago but they’re still with me today.”
Priday played football at West Jefferson High School before going off to play at Ohio State University. He was a quarterback/defensive back of the 1942 OSU football team that won the national championship under coach Paul Brown. He would later go on to become a bomber pilot for the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He returned to OSU to finish his degree and began a long stint as a teacher, administrator and coach.
When he arrived at Mt. Sterling to coach there was no football stadium and no place to practice, so Priday with the help of the families in the community helped raise money and worked on clearing a space for a field.
“We cleared rocks and such and made a practice field right there in the elementary school playground,” Baker said. “It was all dirt and clay, but that’s where he taught us how to tackle, how to play. He only had one assistant coach so he would be right out there showing us how it was done.”
There were roughly 25 or so players on the team back then and the young coach looked a lot like one of his players, but there was no question about who was in charge.
“Coach was a disciplinarian, but he was fair,” Baker said. “We had rules and if you broke them you didn’t play, it was that simple. You understood where he was coming from. He didn’t care if you were a freshman or a senior, the best players played.
“He was big on calisthenics. We were in really good shape back then. He taught us determination and self-confidence and we always played hard for him. He never raised his voice and didn’t put anybody down.”
One person who got to know Priday later in life but never played for him was Ray Justice. Justice was in junior high school during the two years the coach was at the helm and watched as his older brother Jim played for him.
“I was in seventh grade and I would go with my dad to pick up my brother and they just had these big farm boys,” Ray Justice said. “Robin’s teams were big but they were fast. They’d run the single wing offense.
“I never got to play for him. I wish I had. The young kids in the community really looked up to those teams and Coach Priday back then. He was such a good coach and didn’t put up with anything.”
Priday’s 1948 team amassed an impressive 8-1 record.
After his time at Mt. Sterling, Priday went to Wilmington High School and ended up in the Grandview Heights School system where he continued to teach, coach and eventually became a principal.
Old age has slowed the once energetic coach, but his mind is still sharp enough to place names with faces from more than 60 years ago.
“I saw him being wheeled in (at Madison Senior Living Center) and I hardly recognized him,” Baker said. “I said coach do you remember who I am and he looked me right in my eyes nodded his head and said Rodger Baker.”
“He really enjoyed the experience,” Justice said. “To see his former players he coached and taught come back to see him really meant something to him.”
Priday’s daughter, Jan Seitz, was born in 1947 and she said she’s touched by how many people her father had the opportunity to influence in a positive way.
“He’s always been a very humble man,” she said. “He’s influenced so many people in a positive way over the years. He truly loved coaching, that definitely was his calling. He was highly influenced by Paul Brown. He really enjoyed building up young men, but to me he was just dad.”