‘Average Joe’ is the Tigers’ biggest fan

Published 9:48 am Friday, November 4, 2011

The numbers in Joe Holtzapfel’s age add up to the point equivalent of 10 touchdowns and a safety. Or 18 grand slams. Or 24 three-point buckets.

Or, roughly 18 percent of the total number of victories he has enthusiastically watched Bob Lutz reel in as the head coach of his beloved Ironton Fighting Tigers football team.

And in those 72 years, spent in a love affair with Ironton sports, he has touched the lives of many former players in multiple ways, myself included.

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I followed his advice in 1977 when he gently explained to this nine-year-old Pete Rose wannabe that I was, in fact, not Pete Rose and that his batting stance was his, not mine. The adjustments he made paid dividends to me and the Tipton’s Astros for the next four years, which included two championship game appearances.

And he was just warming up. The Astros, thanks to Joe and sponsor/manager Tommy Tipton, became the dominant force at the Ironton Little League throughout the decades of the 1980s and early 90s.

Countless young men benefitted from his tutelage, many of whom emulate him to this day on baseball diamonds across the country. He looks at all of us as a part of his extended family. And in a way, we really are.

When the seasons changed, so did Joe’s focus. If you’ve attended any Ironton sporting event since the Eisenhower administration and did not see Joe at the game, the house must have been so packed that he simply blended in with the spectators.

Or he might have been in the press box, or sitting courtside helping announce the game on radio.

His knowledge of all things sports, combined with a competitive yet personable demeanor, have placed his name among the best known and most admired sports enthusiasts and historians in our community.

And although he loves all sports, Ironton Fighting Tiger football is his passion.

Joe’s blog, www.joeholtzapfel@wordpress.com, features his unique perspective of every game the Tigers play. The site is such a hit, particularly amongst former Tiger players, that emails trickle in during the offseason asking him to write about historical games, coaches, and players.

The 1979 state champion Tigers, which he calls “My biggest sports thrill ever” is a hot topic. The continually escalating win total for head coach Bob Lutz is another.

In between, he has written about former IHS coaches such as Jim “Bear” Mains, Bob Bruney, Shortie Davies, Jim Rockwell, Charlie Kautz, and Dick Gallagher….and he can tell you fascinating stories about each man.

Former players, from the famous Coy Bacon to the Rudy-like Tyler Whaley to lesser-known former Tiger icons, such as twin halfbacks Keith and Ken Barnes, spew quickly from his mind when elaborating on the history of Tiger football.

He can tell you who quarterbacked the Tigers in 1954, when his love affair with the team began. And he can also give you a history of that quarterback, John Leach, who went on to become a highly respected orthopedic surgeon at The Ohio State University.

How many times have the Tigers been named AP poll champions? Easy question for Joe (answer: 4). How many times has the team gone to the playoffs? Another soft lob (answer: 29, second only to Newark Catholic’s 31).

Name a Fighting Tiger in any sport from the past half-century and Joe’s memory will likely give you the highlights of his or her career.

If you can stump him with a trivia question about Ironton football, however, your picture should be framed and displayed in Tiger Alley.

The man has a gold mine of information about our history in his head.

The funny thing is, I’m not certain that Joe understands his value to our community. In the past, he has questioned whether anyone was reading at all…if it was worth the time to write.

But messages of appreciation, such as one from a former Tiger serving our country in Iraq, John Turner, pushed him to continue.

“When you get a message like that, you have to keep going,” he said.

Visit Joe’s blog, www.joeholtzapfel@wordpress.com, read about the current Tigers and digest the stories of the ones from the past.

It’s a free trip, bought and paid for by 72 years of passionate dedication.


Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at hollandkat3@aol.com.