Galion’s Chris Hawkins serves his one-game suspension in an Ontario restaurant, but is ready to get back on sidelines this Friday for the Tigers’ home opener.
GALION — It was the worst football Friday night Chris Hawkins ever sat through.
Banished for a game by the Ohio High School Athletic Association for offseason bylaw infractions surrounding an incoming player, the Galion head football coach watched the bus pull out of the parking lot on its way to the season opener at Bucyrus.
It was a gut-punch for the veteran coach.
“I just sat there,” he said. “When they left, I was just devastated. It was horrible. It was the most horrible feeling I’ve ever had professionally.”
Then a longtime friend and former assistant coach Mark McCoy stopped by and told Hawkins to get in the car. McCoy was taking him to Buffalo Wild Wings in Ontario.
“I’m not even a huge wing person, and I had more wings tonight than I’ve eaten in the last six months,” Hawkins joked.
The OHSAA said Hawkins could go to Bucyrus as a spectator. He couldn’t be on the field, in the locker room or in the press box, and he couldn’t have any communication with anyone associated with the team before or during the game.
Hawkins lives in Bucyrus. His two oldest daughters graduated from BHS and his youngest daughter Ashton is a student there. The Galion-Bucyrus rivalry in football is one of the oldest in Ohio, and it was the kickoff to the 2015 season. There were enough subplots, so he wanted the focus on the game and not on him. He didn’t want to deal with well-wishers and folks asking him to second guess what was going on in the game. He didn’t want people speculating what he was doing if he pulled out his phone to talk or text.
He felt it was better to be out of sight. So he stayed behind. And ate wings. Lots of wings. Miserably.
Then McCoy got a text from somebody at the game that simply read, “24-0.”
“We’re looking at each other like, ‘Who? Who’s winning?’ He texted back and once we got that it was Galion I was a little more comfortable.”
Later Hawkins sent a note to his daughter Ashton who was at the game. When she wrote back, “55-nothing,” he could finally relax.
Relaxation has been in short supply since news of the infractions broke in late July.
“It’s been tough on my family because my name is plastered all over it. All they see is OHSAA hands down two-game suspension. As soon as they see that, people automatically think cheat, cheat, cheat. That’s the toughest thing,” Hawkins said. “It was tough seeing my team pull out of the stadium with me not on the bus. But as tough as that was, it was a lot tougher to see your daughters in tears because their dad’s in the headlines.
“As tough as it was football-wise on me, the toughest thing is how it dealt with my family.”
Originally suspended for two games by the OHSAA, the penalty was reduced to a game when it was obvious during the appeal that there was no intentional recruiting of Crestline move-in junior quarterback Chase Cooke. However, the OHSAA contended bylaws were broken before Cooke enrolled.
Hawkins, who is president of the area’s coaches association, feels he is innocent, but took the punishment in order to move on. A week ago Sunday, he decided not to seek an injunction.
“I didn’t want to be a distraction anymore. One, it was killing me; two, I was tired of being in the paper,” he said. “I was tired of it, so I felt it was in the best interests — not necessarily for me maybe because serving a punishment looks like you are admitting guilt — but I just thought it was best.”
That erased any uncertainty within the team. They prepared all week knowing their head coach would not be with them. On Wednesday and Thursday during practice even the assistants got into the act, wearing headsets so they could get used to the game-night communication.
Galion rolled to a 55-0 win that was never in doubt after the opening moments. Even the loss of all-district players Jacob Fryer and Drake Barnett to early injuries couldn’t change the outcome.
Late Friday night, Hawkins was back in the Galion locker room to welcome the team home. Saturday they would breakdown the tape and start the preparations for Week 2’s home opener against the Columbus Crusaders.
“I served it and I’m good,” he said. “It’s completely over. It was tough, but somebody told me the Good Lord only gives you so much to handle and a lot of times it pushes your limits for a reason. That’s what I hung my hat on and it got me though a tough situation.”
That and six months worth of wings over one dreadful Friday night.