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Bluffton coach Dennis Lee hasn’t lost his passion for the game

By JAMIE BAKER Staff Writer BLUFFTON — Many things have changed during Dennis Lee’s tenure as the head football coach at Bluffton High School. But as he enters his 25th season as the Pirates’ head coach, there is one thing that has remained constant, the excitement of the opening night of the high school football season. “The opening Friday night when the lights come on, there’s nothing like it, there really isn’t,” said Lee, who heads into the season with a 167-94 record as Bluffton’s coach. “In this area, it’s small-town football at its best. In small towns, everyone identifies with the school and its team. There’s a sense of belonging for people in a community or small town. And it’s like that all over northwest Ohio. “When you live in that community that’s who you identify with, those are the kids from your community, that’s YOUR team. For many folks, going to games on Friday night is just the thing to do.” The Pirates have opened their season with a backyard brawl against neighboring Cory-Rawson for years. It’s always a hard-hitting game with bragging rights on the line. But there have been a few hiccups along the way during Lee’s 24 openers. One year, one of Bluffton’s seniors was so jacked up he accidentally led the team on the field by running straight through Cory-Rawson students who made a tunnel on the field before the Hornets took the field. “Thankfully, most of our kids saw what was going on and they stopped. That was not cool and I had a tough time apologizing for that one. He just got so excited to get out there he didn’t know what he was doing. I can laugh about it now,” Lee said with a smile. “Another year we had our quarterback forget his shoes in the opener. “The game against Cory-Rawson is a big one, there’s no doubt. You want to play well in the first game and you want to get off to a good start, but you have to keep it in perspective and it’s just one game and that’s what we tell the kids.” While it’s Lee’s 25th season as head coach, he’s been on the sidelines for a total of 35 years. He started his career as an assistant at Creston Norwayne for one year and spent two years at Wellington In Northeast Ohio. That’s when he got a job as an assistant at Bluffton coaching under Mike Richards and Bill Lodemeier. And 25 years later, all Lee has to do is walk the streets of the village or look up in the stands at Harmon Field on a fall Friday night to see how many players’ lives he’s impacted during his long coaching career. “I see a lot of my former players on the streets around town and they are walking around with their own families. I see some kids on Friday night and they come back and want to be a part of it. When they talk to you, it’s neat and it makes you feel good,” Lee said. “They are dads now, in fact some of their sons are playing for me now. We’ve got a good school system. We’ve got good families. I think we do it the right way here, and I think that’s very important for all of us here.” Seems as if many high school head football coaches today rarely last more than five or six years before either giving up coaching all together or taking a break. Lee loves almost everything about the job of being a head football coach even after a quarter of a century. “I love what I do, first of all. If you don’t really have the love of all the work and the endless hours, you won’t last very long,” he said. “I really love challenges, I’ve had great support from my family because, of course, you can’t do it without that. “Every year it’s a new season; it’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s a new season for everyone and each year presents a challenge. I just love what I do or I wouldn’t be doing it.” Baker, 419-427-8409 jamiebaker@thecourier.com