Editor’s Note — The is the second in a series of four stories featuring the 2017 inductees into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame. The inductees will be honored, along with nearly 30 high school senior scholar-athletes, at a banquet scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 22 at the Ponderosa Banquet Center in Hillsboro. The public can reserve tickets for the event by calling 937-402-2522.
When Tom Purtell was a youngster he often found himself at the Leesburg ball park with his parents and seven younger siblings all at the same time. Those days must have produced something memorable because all eight siblings became involved in coaching or directing athletics and if there is something sports-related happening in Leesburg, you’ll probably find Tom there.
“That’s just what you did. My parents (Philip and Janet Purtell) never pushed it or anything. We grew up around it, liked it, and when we got older we just continued on,” Tom said.
Some may know Tom as a softball coach. Others know him as a youth league director. Some know him as the guy that keeps the clock at Fairfield basketball games. But few likely know that he does all that and so much more.
It is because he has dedicated so much of his life to the youth of Leesburg that Purtell is being inducted into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I have yet to figure out when Tom Purtell sleeps,” the form nominating him for the hall of fame said. “In addition to all the time he puts in at the school for the athletes, he has a full-time job with McCarty and Associates as a surveyor and is involved with his church. …Tom Purtell could not be more deserving of this honor. The time he puts in working for and with the student-athletes is just unbelievable and he really asks nothing in return for himself. I’ve mentioned to a few people about nominating Tom and the response has been unanimous that someone should have nominated him for this honor sooner, and that he definitely deserves it.”
The valedictorian of the Fairfield High School class of 1969, Tom played basketball and baseball for the Lions – the only two sports the school offered in those days. He played two years of varsity basketball and said he came off the bench as a guard/forward depending on what coach Jim Cook needed. He played four years of varsity baseball and was a starting shortstop, but there were no all-league honors to be won because Fairfield was not in a league his last couple years of high school.
Since his dad began working with youth baseball in Leesburg in 1958 and helped start the town’s youth leagues in 1960, Tom had been helping out for years before his first official coaching gig came around in 1968 while he was still in high school. That year he helped his dad coach a Leesburg team that won the Babe Ruth league title at Shaffer Park in Hillsboro. He continued to coach at Shaffer Park four or five more years, switching back and forth from Pony League to Babe Ruth.
His dad continued to run the Leesburg Little League program until 1975. Tom graduated from Ohio State in 1973 and became president of the Little League program when his dad stepped aside to help start the girls program. Tom became president of the program in 1975 and is still running it today.
“I enjoy it. If I didn’t I wouldn’t do it,” Tom said. “On the high school side I’m pretty proud of it. We do quite well and I look forward to practice every day. I coached boys baseball for 25 years and then God blessed me with three daughters and I have changed. I have enjoyed both, but I would never go back to boys. The girls, believe it or not, will work harder and overall are more coachable.”
The youth girls program in Leesburg started in 1969, a few years before anyone else in the area had a girls program. Tom has been working with the girls youth program since then, and in 1995 he became an assistant coach with the Fairfield varsity girls program. He’s still doing that, too. He has also been an assistant coach with the Wilmington College softball program since 2001.
He also worked with a traveling girls softball team of girls from Highland County and the surrounding from 2000-09 that in its latter years had teams in three different age groups.
Tom has kept the clock at Fairfield boys and girls varsity basketball games since around 1980. He has ran a spring softball program for junior high age girls for the last 15 years or so. At one time it had teams from Wilmington to Athens. In 1991, he became vice president of the athletic boosters at Fairfield. He became president in 1992 and still serves in that role. He’s also active in the school’s music boosters – an agreement he says he has with his wife, the former Laura Cummings – and runs a golf tournament.
He writes stories about each Fairfield softball game that usually arrive at local media outlets at 2 a.m. or later.
For 14 years he was a girls junior high and assistant varsity basketball coach, and he still runs a basketball program for boys and girls in grades 4-6 in Leesburg.
It’s all volunteer work. He has never been paid. And all the people he gave credit to for helping along the way are too many to mention.
“It’s the people around me that make it fun,” Tom said when talking about why he keeps doing it all. “Over 50 years there’s been a lot of people in Leesburg that have helped make everything successful. A lot of programs struggle getting coaches and people to help in other ways. Maybe it’s hard to say no to me when I ask you to do something. A lot of times you hear about people kind of fighting the system, but we just don’t have that.”
In addition to all the extracurricular stuff, Tom starting working part-time at what is now McCarty Associates in 1969. He started working full-time there in 1973, and has been a partner in the business since 1983.
Tom is more than humble about what he does and is obviously uncomfortable talking about himself. But he is not shy talking about Fairfield softball. Since 1976 the Lady Lions have won 19 Southern Hills Athletic Conference titles, including nine since 2005; 31 sectional tournament championships since 1978; nine district championships since 1981, including five in the last seven years; and a regional championship in 1982.
“I couldn’t do this without my family, and I am very humbled about this honor,” he said. “I will reluctantly accept it on behalf of everyone else.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.