OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HEROES: Sherman enjoyed mentoring Road Runners softball teams

ELM GROVE — Rick Sherman can’t help but smile when he thinks about his nearly 50 years as a coach.

As he walks away from that career, it’s caused him to look back and think about all the lives he’s touched — and how they’ve touched him in return.

Sherman never sought to carve out this long of a career, it just happened. So, as he sat in his SUV on Thursday at the J.B. Chambers Youth Sports Complex and reflected it dawned on him that actually game of softball is simply the genesis of why he’s proud of the young ladies he was able to mentor.

“So many tremendous accomplishments after you get past the softball stuff,” he said. “That’s what continues to be really, really neat.”

Sherman, who started the highly-successful Road Runners softball organization some 25 years ago, is proud of those who became doctors, went into the military, and decided to devote their lives to other forms of service, like coaching.

In fact, Sherman and his wife love watching former players who’ve matriculated to the collegiate level — as players and coaches.

“In the spring, we’ll go to Florida and rent a house and watch my ex-players play and coach,” said Sherman, who now lives outside Cambridge and, as a high school student, lived in St. Clairsville for a time.

“It’s incredibly neat to get to see them continuing to play and to see them moving on to the coaching part where they get to help other young ladies fulfill their dreams.

“It’s really exciting.”

Sherman started coaching in the late 1960s at John Glenn High School. There, in addition to coaching football, started the girls’ basketball and softball programs there after some young ladies seeked opportunities.

“It was the kids coming and asking,” he recalled. “There were a group of girls that wanted to play sports. You have to remember this was 1968.”

That was pre-Title IX and opportunities for girls and young women were few and far between at the time.

But Sherman saw a group of athletes who wanted to succeed and he was willing and happy to help lead the way.

“This was when girls that competed in athletics were looked down upon,” he said. “It’s when any man that would be involved in girls’ athletics was looked down upon. They needed somebody to coach because they wanted to play and I guess I was young enough to be willing to donate my time to do that.

“I’ll be honest, it was one of the best moves I ever made. It was an unbelievable pleasure getting to coach female athletes and seeing the growth of sports for females.

“It’s been an incredible experience.”

Sherman was grateful he had an opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

“All I ever wanted to do was make things better for the girls than it was at that moment,” he said. “But to say I had visions of what has happened in girls’ athletics …I had absolutely no clue.”

Prior to starting Road Runners, Sherman started the New Concord Merchanettes and the James Gang in the 1970s; softball teams founded with the intent of giving players an opportunity to hone their skills not just during softball season.

Now, finding competition was easier said than done in those days.

“We travelled all over the state and, actually, over multiple states to get enough competition,” Sherman remembered. “Locally, it was almost impossible.”

After getting out of high school coaching in the early 1990s to spend time with his daughter, Sherman was approached by the parents of some of his daughter’s friends asking if he’d be interested in coaching a team comprised of them. That’s how Road Runners started. He had no idea the organization would explode into what it did.

“It’s incredible what it turned into,” he marveled, noting players from as far south as Point Pleasant to as far north as Cleveland have participated. “That wasn’t a plan that I had. I wasn’t trying to build a big organization.”

At one point, there were 10 Road Runner teams. The last couple of years there’s just been one — an 18U one.

Sherman credited many people for the organization’s success, including current Brooke High head coach Jim DiCarlo, Mike Mathieu, who helps at Wheeling Park, and the late Ben Taylor, of whom a field is named in his memory at I-470.

Then there are players like the Prokopakis twins from Edison, the Mirabella girls from Steubenville Catholic and the Johnson girls from Park. Martins Ferry’s Kayla Lewis and Indian Creek and Youngstown State alum Paige Geanangel rank high on his list, too, as do Ashley Marinacci and Sara Pelegreen.

The latter two have gone on to successful coaching careers — Marinacci at Adrian College and Pelegreen now at Robert Morris.

“We’ve certainly had some great ones come through,” Sherman said.

At the end of the day, though, Sherman has been focused on improving lives. Now, he said it’s time for someone else to step in and continue the mission.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate that my health has allowed me to do this for as long as I have,” Sherman, 73, said. “I just don’t have the stamina to do the job correctly.

“When I coach, I think I’m 20 again. But after the weekend is over, I feel like I’m 90 for a couple of days.”

If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter @RickThorp1