Editor’s note – This is the fourth of a four-part series on the 2015 Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame inductees. They will be honored June 10 at the Ponderosa Banquet Center in Hillsboro, along with 30-plus senior student-athletes. The event is open to the public and tickets are available. Call 937-402-2522 for more information.
When Danny Long was in junior high, McClain High School varsity swim coach Jack Gill decided he wanted to start a junior high team.
“He convinced a lot of boys to give it a try and I started swimming different strokes,” said Long, a 1964 McClain graduate. “I was a little more agile than some of the guys, so I started diving, too, and that’s how I got started.”
He’s never been far from a pool since.
Long went on to be a member of the swimming and diving team at Ohio University. He has been a swimming official for 50 years and counting. In the late 1990s, Long and his late first wife, Nancy, were named the Ohio High School Athletic Association Swim Officials of the Year. He coached the McClain swimming teams for 25 years including back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1994-95 and 1995-96, and ran the swimming pool at Buckeye Hills Country Club for 20 years. In recent years he helped start swimming programs at Hillsboro, Miami Trace and Washington C.H.
In the late 1960s, Long helped officiate the Big Ten Conference Swimming Championships in Columbus. He signed results cards at the event that established three U.S. swimming records. Two of the records was set by a guy named Mark Spitz.
“It’s given me an opportunity to go a lot of places and see some fantastic young people perform as swimmers and divers,” Long said of officiating.
Long has also been a track and field official for 45 years and counting.
He coached the McClain golf team for 25 years, taking one team to the state tournament. He coached youth basketball when his sons, Barnaby and Nick, were young, was a member of the McClain Athletic Association when it installed new bleachers and an all-weather track at McClain Field, and has been involved in countless community activities.
Shortly after he received his industrial technology degree from OU, Long received a call asking if he’d give the industrial arts instructor job at his alma mater a try.
“I gave it a try for 34 years. I guess I was a long-term sub,” said Long, who taught industrial arts for 15 years, then was a guidance counselor his last 19 years.
“Which was an enjoyable experience for me,” Long added. “I think you’re put on this earth by the good Lord for a reason, and that seemed to be something I was able to help with. There were a lot of really neat kids I ran into. You know, you look in the newspapers today and there’s a lot of bad stuff, but there’s a lot of good kids out there.”
Talking to Long it’s easy to understand that helping kids is always foremost in this thoughts. But it is also easy to understand that he enjoys athletics and has had a few funny experiences along the way. Like one time when he was starting a track meet between Hillsboro and Washington C.H. It was bitterly cold and started snowing.
“I told the kids, ‘when I call your event make sure you get yourself ready, then get to the other end as quick as you can,’ he said. “It was so cold they pulled the buses up by the track. The kids would run their event, then they’d run to the bus. We ran all the events, boys and girls, in about an hour.”
Long has also took his share of lumps. His first wife, who he officiated swimming with for several years, passed away at a relatively young age, and his youngest son broke his neck during a McClain swim practice.
“It happened right in front of me. I was lucky I was there at the right place and the right time. That was probably the low point of my coaching career,” Long said. “When you get to the hospital and the doctor comes out and says that your kid may be paralyzed for life, you don’t feel very good.”
But four months later, wearing a halo, Nick walked across the floor to be inducted into the National Honor Society. His father said he’s doing well these days.
One of Long’s former swimmers, current Hillsboro swim coach Joe Rhonemus, remembers it this way: “Not only was it a horrible accident for him and his family, but for the team around him. I remember a meet not too long after this event where he was right beside us as his son was recovering. We knew he wanted to be with his son, we also knew he wanted to be with his boys and girls he spent so much time around. We were like his kids also; as are most of the kids he was in contact with over so many years of involvement at McClain as a guidance counselor.”
Current McClain swim coach Bradley George was a member of Long’s teams and says it is his former coach’s genuine love for live that impresses him most.
“It was his passion and enthusiasm that led me to be the head varsity boys swim team coach for the past 16 years,” George said. “The biggest part of the sport he taught me, and I teach to my swimmers to this day, is that it is not about the win or the loss, it’s about doing your best and improving, combined with good sportsmanship and representing yourself and your school in a positive manner.
“There is so much that can be written about Mr. Long, but to sum it up, I cannot think of anyone more deserving of being chosen to be inducted into the Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame.”
Long says seeing young people that are willing to give that extra effort to make themselves better are what keeps him coming back to officiate.
Speaking of his years of coaching, Long said: “It was a really good time for me because I got to run into a lot of really neat kids that may not have been state champions, but turned out to be really productive members of the community. They’re going to be the ones that step to the plate and see that things happen in this life.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.