By Rob Kiser
BRADFORD — It started as a way to help build the football program at Bradford High School.
30 years later, Greg Hale is still running one of the most successful powerlifting programs in the state.
And nothing — not even cancer — can stop that and this week is a testament to that.
Hale has been in a battle with cancer for six years now — and he is not about to give up the fight.
He was over at The James at Ohio State University for radiation treatments earlier this week — but you can be sure he won’t miss the state meet Saturday at Kenton for Division V-VI-VII powerlifting.
“I am going go home Tuesday night and be at practice Wednesday,” Hale said in an interview from The James on Monday night. “I will miss Thursday’s practice for another treatment. Then, we have the state meet on Saturday.”
Hale found out this week he will be going into the Miami Valley Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame for assistant coaches.
“I knew coach (Jason) Schondelmyer had nominated me,” Hale said. “You neve know how things are going to work out.”
For Bradford, having Hale as a powerlifting coach and member of the community couldn’t have worked out any better.
A program that is one of the most successful —year in and year out — in a sport where many big schools can’t even field a team — started as a thought before the 1988-89 school season, when Hale came to Bradford from Upper Sandusky.
“I was coming as junior high football coach and social studies teacher,” Hale said. “With the promise of moving up to varsity the next year. I had some lifters up at Upper Sandusky. So, I called coach (Kent) Shafer up and asked him what he thought about me starting a powerlifting team — and he sad, ‘Go for it.’”.
Bradford hasn’t been the same since.
Hale has impacted countless students lives in a positive way over the years, to the point where he now finds himself coaching sons and daughters of some of the lifters off his early teams.
“I don’t know a lot of guys that coach one place for 30 years,” Hale, being is usual honest self, said. “Coach (Al) Hetrick at Versailles. Coach (Bill) Nees at Piqua. But, there are not a lot. Usually, you get run off or have a dispute with a parent. I am getting into second generation lifers now.”
Hale fondly remembers when he started.
“We had one of those white vans from the 70s,” Hale said with a laugh. “It had the shag carpeting in it and everything. We would load that thing up and go to meets. We had six or eight boys that first year. It just kind of took off from there. It started out with football players that weren’t playing basketball and just kind of expanded.
“Girls started doing it in the early 90s. And the girls had their own meet for the first time in 1999.”
And Hale has made sure Bradford has always competed at the highest level.
“I have had 47 state champions,” Hale said. “Now some of them are multiple champions. We have had a number of two or three time state champions. Chad Dailing was my first state champion. The boys highest finish (as a team) was third in 1994. The girls were state champions in 2000 and 2001. We were second to Piketon for 10 or 11 years. They grow them big down there.”
He could reflect back when several years ago, he was inducted into the Bradford Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I remember telling coach (Kent) Shafer,” Hale said, “remember back when we started this. Who would have thought we would be here?”
It was upgraded from a club sport to an official sport at Bradford 20 years after Hale started the program.
“The administration has always supported me,” Hale said. “They have never questioned any meet we have went to.”
That includes a meet at Edon one year.
“That was a ‘Are we there yet’ meet,” Hale said with a laugh. “It is about one mile from Indiana and no more 10 miles from Michigan, up in the corner of the state.”
And Hale has always been an innovator as a coach.
He brought a form of the spread offense to Bradford football long before it became common place.
It is the same with powerlifting.
About 10 years ago, the lightest boys class was 115 and after 220, it went to unlimited.
“We didn’t have more than six to 12 guys at 115,” Hale said. “We had so many guys between 22o and 285. So, I suggested we make the first class 125 and add a 250-pound class and it has worked out really well.”
This year, for the first time, Division IV will be with the Division I-II-III schools at the state meet.
“I told them they need to move Division IV in with the top three divisions,” Hale said. “Because that meet had about 100 lifters and we had 500. They did that this year and it balanced it out pretty well.”
Coaching powerlifting has always been a family thing for Hale, whose son Curt was a state champion.
“It is a big time commitment,” he said. “Saturday, you leave for a meet at 9 a.m. and get home around 6 p.m. It was always a family thing for us. My son, my three daughters and my wife were all involved. It made it a lot of fun.”
Hale has also been a football coach in different roles at Bradford and Arcanum over the years.
And not much slows him down.
“Last year, they had to take part of my femur and put a 16-and-a half inch rod in my leg,” Hale said. “My leg feels good now.”
But, this year has been the biggest challenge of Hale’s life — literally.
“I almost died this fall,” Hale said. “I went into kidney failure had to go through dialysis,”
Then, he found out the cancer had returned and has been getting treatment at The James.
“I have had a lot of help this year,” Hale said. “A former lifter Anthony Monnin, whose daughter lifted for me, has helped out, along with coach (Chris) Hawk, my son Curt and Kyle Parker. The only thing is, I can’t get up and show the kids what I mean when I am talking to them.
“My son has been a big help with that. He has always had perfect form in the weight room. He is kind of like a basketball coach’s son in the gym. They had chairs for me to sit in at a couple meets. At our meet (at Bradford), I stood and walked around, but I was sore for three days after that.”
But, he is still the coach and thinking ahead to the state meet.
“I think sixth is about as high as our boys could finish,” Hale said. “It has been a tough year for the girls, we are just so young,, it makes it tough. We had two good lifters that weren’t able to lift this year.”
His health issues have him thinking about next year.
“I am probably going to give up weight room supervisor, but I still want to coach if I can,” Hale said with emotion in his voice. “If I can’t, I am going to recommend my son Curt for the job — I don’t know if they will hire him, but he is more than qualified.
“I was 26 my first year and he is 25. I know we wouldn’t be where we are this year without him. He has done a great job.I want to coach next year, but we will have to see. Right now, I just want to get through the awards program next week. I want to focus on my treatments and get those done. I just want to get back to ‘normal Greg’.”
And continue the positive impact he has had on the Bradford students and community for 30 years.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.