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Scrutchins nearing end of City League guidance

04/13/2014, 12:00am EDT
By STEVE JUNGA BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Fairness was trademark of commissioner’s career

Scrutchins nearing end of tenure

After 45 years with Toledo Public Schools, including 22 as the City League athletic director and commissioner, Ed Scrutchins, 72, will leave his post at the end of the school year. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

Since the fall of 1993, Ed Scrutchins has been the answer man for problems and issues surrounding the City League.

If he didn’t have an answer immediately, a caller might get the CL athletic director’s trademark response: “Now don’t start me to lying.”

But the answers always came — to simple problems, complex issues, or bitter disputes.

Whether Scrutchins’ decisions were popular or not, they were almost always fair and consistent, and made in the best interest of his league and its athletes.

As the 2013-14 school year winds toward a close, so too will Scrutchins’ run with the league.

His official title — before he retired and was rehired by Toledo Public Schools in the early 2000s — was director of athletics and extracurricular activities. He was better recognized around the area as the City League commissioner.

The last three school years Scrutchins, 72, was working under an independent contract with TPS. That contract will not be renewed by the district, which instead is restoring his former post as a full-time union position.

Tom DeMarco, the principal at Burroughs Elementary, is transitioning to Scrutchins’ job, and may likely be hired as the new director of athletics.

Brian Murphy, the chief of staff for TPS superintendent Romules Durant, said that the job will be posted for other applicants within the district.

“Because of our past [union contract] negotiations, it’s been changed to a full-time position, and we’ll just be releasing Mr. Scrutchins from his contract,” Murphy said. “He’ll be retiring again.

“Mr. Scrutchins is a very much loved individual in our district by our staff, by our parents, by our kids, and by the community. He leaves the district with a lot of institutional knowledge that nobody else really has, and he’s going to be missed.

“We certainly appreciate his service and everything he’s done for us, and for the community and the kids in the district. We will be posting the position, and we will go through the application and screening process. Obviously, Mr. DeMarco will be one that we’d be looking at for the position.”

As for Scrutchins, his 45-year run with TPS is at an end, and that fact leaves him disappointed.

“It hurts,” Scrutchins said. “It’s all I’ve been doing for years. I look forward to coming into the office, and seeing all the kids that have come through. And I’m obviously going to miss all the people I work with.

“A lot of people don’t know what makes athletics work. They see the event, but they don’t know how dedicated the people are who work at the events, and how many years they’ve put in. The ticket takers, the security, the athletic directors, the administrators, the officials. That’s who I’ll miss. All of the people I’ve seen, some of them for over 20 years.”

Aliquippa to Toledo

Ed Scrutchins came to Toledo in 1959 after graduating from Aliquippa (Pa.) High School, where he excelled in football and basketball. He played football at the University of Toledo.

After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, where he earned the rank of sergeant, Scrutchins returned to civilian life and played one season as a lineman with the Houston Oilers in the former American Football League.

He returned to UT to work on completing his bachelor’s degree, and began his career in education with TPS in 1969. In a variety of roles — from community coordinator to human relations specialist to time in the City League office — Scrutchins has witnessed the high school athletic scene in Toledo for nearly a half century.

High points

Scrutchins, who served in several other TPS positions connected to athletics before he orginally became athletic director and commissioner in 1985, looks back fondly at some of the most memorable moments.

“Once upon a time Toledo Public Schools had never won a state championship in [boys] basketball,” he said. “Then, through the efforts of a lot of people, and some great coaching, Macomber and Scott won back-to-back state titles [1989 and 1990].

“The more recent thing was bringing back athletics [after 2011 budget cuts], and seeing kids come back with enthusiasm. Bringing back wrestling this year, and bringing back freshman sports. These are the types of things that make you feel good.

“Then you see someone like [Wisconsin basketball player] Nigel Hayes on TV now and think back to when he was in junior high when [Whitmer] was part of the league.

“All the great athletes we’ve had come through our junior high programs, and later you see them go on and do big things.”

Low moments

The City League, now a six-team grouping of TPS schools (Bowsher, Rogers, Scott, Start, Waite and Woodward), was once unique blend of public and private schools.

That lineup saw its membership greatly reduced at the end of the 2010-11 school year after TPS budget cuts trimmed many sports and coaching positions.

Those cuts led the non-TPS portion of the league (Central Catholic, Clay, Notre Dame, St. Francis de Sales, St. John’s Jesuit, St. Ursula, and Whitmer) to pull away and form the new Three Rivers Athletic Conference with Findlay, Fremont Ross, and Lima Senior.

That rueful split is something that wounded Scrutchins’ spirit.

“Obviously the breakup of the league is the biggest disappointment,” Scrutchins said. “I enjoyed the people from those schools — like [St. John’s basketball coach] Ed Heintschel, and Dick Mattingly and Carl Janke [coaches and ADs at St. Francis], and [Central AD] Bill Axe. They were like family. That was very disappointing.

“One of the bigger moments, one that brought tears to my eyes, was when Rogers beat those guys [Central and St. John’s in districts] in basketball last year. It’s not like they were my enemies, but for the last two years [Bowsher won the district this season] to see our [TPS] teams win, that was big.”

Another low point for Scrutchins was a personal legal battle that lasted more than two years (1991-93) in connection with his part ownership of the Fifth Quarter Lounge and loans acquired through Toledo’s Small Business Assistance Corporation.

He was indicted on misdemeanor liquor charges, and later on bribery charges, but was acquitted of all charges by Sept. 2, 1993. Having been suspended with pay by TPS during that time, Scrutchins returned to his job as the CL athletic director a week later.

Listen first, then act

Scrutchins rarely made a decision without careful thought, and his strength was seeking opinions before acting.

“My whole thing is that I listen to people,” Scrutchins said. “Having Bill Nopper as the assistant commissioner, we were able to talk things out and I’d get another viewpoint. I also talked to ADs and principals

“If I would have a problem with something, I could call Father O [Rev. Ron Olszewski at St. Francis] or one of the principals, and get different viewpoints.

“There were times I would have to take a position. I thought I was fair. You have to be fair. If it comes to your plate, you have to make the right decision. A lot of that came from good counsel.”

Legacy of respect

Those who worked the longest with Scrutchins echo a sentiment about the outgoing commissioner.

“He really did understand the City League in terms of its dynamic and its diversification as far as the members of the league,” said Nopper, who worked with Scrutchins from 1993 to 2013. “He always tried to do what was best for the kids, and for the league itself.

“Sometimes his decisions weren’t popular with a certain school over a certain issue, but he always had the big picture in mind as to what was best for the league.”

Bill Axe, who will exit as Central AD after this school year, worked along with Scrutchins for more than 20 years.

“Ed had a lot more introspection and was much more of a profound thinker than it appeared,” Axe said. “The decisions he made were always for kids, and sometimes would come off as kind of a knee-jerk reaction.

“But, whether you agreed with him or didn’t agree, if you put that aside, most of the time Ed was right. No matter what anyone thought, he put the kids first and made wise choices. I had great faith in him. He understood the root of a problem much quicker than I would.”

Jim Huss has been the AD at Scott for 16 years. He learned some valuable lessons from Scrutchins.

“Ed was always fair and consistent, and always based his decisions on what was best for the league as a whole,” Huss said. “He had many experiences and I think he could reflect back on previous happenings.

“I personally learned, early on as an athletic director, that it’s better to ask questions first to do my job correctly. That’s something that he instilled in me. What I liked about him is that he always seemed to root for the underdog.”

Pride without prejudice

Asked if the City League was like family to him, Scrutchins got emotional and had to pause before revealing the depth of his love affair with the league and its members.

“In the whole country, we were the only place like this, and we got along,” he said. “The kids at Scott got along with St. John’s kids, and played together. One place like this in the country. That was a good feeling.

“The kids respected one another and encouraged one another. They cheered for one another. When one of the teams from our league would go down to the state, I always felt so good — whether it was St. Ursula or Central or St. Francis, or one of our [TPS] teams.”

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.

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