Vichich was more than just a coach
Tom Vichich will forever be remembered as the coach who led Shadyside to the 1976 state track and field championship.
The thing to really keep in mind is that title is just small part of the man who Vichich was and will be forever known for.
More important than the state title, Vichich was a husband, father, friend and mentor. A true gentleman in every sense of the word. Those will far outweigh any accomplishments in the coaching realm, and let’s be honest, there were many.
Late last week, Vichich, 79, passed away after a bout with cancer in Florida, leaving behind his wife Glenna and three children, Tommy, John and Jodi, all of whom were Shadyside High School graduates.
News of Vichich’s passing spread quickly as his former athletes and friends took a few moments to share their thoughts on their coach.
“What I remember most about Tom was his love for the student-athletes,” said Vichich’s long-time friend Jerry Narcisi. “There’s no doubt that Tom’s mission in life was to do well by the student-athletes that he came in contact with … and he did. His personality was absolutely infectious.
“Tom was just a great man. This is a terrible loss for all of us,” Narcisi continued.
Vichich was a Powhatan High School graduate. After earning his bachelor’s degree at Ohio University, master’s at West Virginia and serving a stint in the air force, he taught and coached at Smithfield and Bellaire before coming to Shadyside.
Having the unenviable task of replacing another legendary track coach in Jack Berger, Vichich picked up right where his predecessor left off. He led the Tigers to that 1976 state title in his first season.
“I remember our freshmen year, Coach Vichich, who was an assistant at the time, sat us in the lockerroom on the first day of practice and told us, ‘you guys have the ability to win a state championship in track. And, I am going to get it out of you.’ I’ll never forget that,” said Rudy Jovicic, who was one of the stars of that 1976 team. “He was a great coach and a great person. I would run through a wall for him. He was just such an unbelievable guy.”
Well, four years later with Jovicic leading the way, the Tigers did hoist the top trophy after Jovicic finished state runnerup in both hurdle events and the Orange’s 4×2 team of Tommy Vichich, Johnny Vichich, Joey Vucelich and Jovicic claimed the gold medal.
The Tigers went into that relay final wearing a chip on their shoulder because of the motivational abilities that Vichich had for his athletes.
“He kept telling us that the other teams weren’t better than us,” Jovicic recalled. “He told us not to be intimidated by anyone and we weren’t. We carried that mentality with us into every race.”
Vichich wasn’t the Tigers’ track coach long. He was there long enough, however, to win five OVAC titles and lead another solid group to Columbus in 1979 when they finished state runnerup to Lorain Clearview by one point.
One of the stars of that team was state champion pole vaulter Pat Miller, who was inducted to the OVAC Hall of Fame in 2011.
“I never heard an unkind word about him and I don’t recall that he ever raised his voice either,” Miller, who now resides in suburban Columbus, said. “He was one of those rare coaches that commanded respect by simply being the coach. We all looked up to him and wanted to be the best we could be for him.”
Along with his coaching, Vichich was one of the chief masterminds in the formation of the Shadyside Relays. Not only did he help start the meet, he helped make into one of the premier track and field meets in the state of Ohio.
“He was instrumental in bringing the relays to a reality and helping to build it to the reputation that it has today,” Narcisi said. “It really makes me sad because Gary Cunningham and I had talked about doing a special recognition for Tom, but we were never able to coordinate the schedules to where we could get him at a track meet or football game to present him with a plaque.”
Vichich was also the Shadyside Athletic Director for seven years prior to his retirement.
We’d like to send our deepest condolences to the entire Vichich family.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.