SOUTH POINT — Former players for Bob Lester reunited at South Point Community Park on Saturday where they shared stories and made calls to the public to honor the longtime coach.
The onetime baseball and football coach for three area schools still backs South Point, helps the underprivileged children in southern Wayne County and is an avid supporter of Marshall University's athletic teams.
"Some of you I haven't seen since you graduated," Lester told the audience of nearly 60 friends and alumni at the event. "I guess I must've been OK."
While Lester's former athletes helped organize the picnic, many there tolerating the heat were former students of the teacher and administrator. Many who knew Lester said he was to them like a "father figure."
"My father passed away, but like I said (Lester) was just as much a father to me," said Mike Gillum, a former South Point quarterback who journeyed from Georgia to honor Lester.
An athlete at Crum High School in Wayne County, Lester went on to Marshall, where he was a two-way football player in the late 1950s as well as a wrestler and baseball player. As a prep player, he made a name for himself in southern Wayne County for a team that was at that time a powerhouse.
Tex Pertee, a Crum High graduate who now lives in Barboursville, watched Lester at Crum before becoming a quarterback there himself. Pertee remembered Lester as an athlete who could take control of the game.
"The biggest rival there was Kermit High School. They were more known for basketball than football, but they decided one year to start a football program and they thought they were going to show those boys at Crum how to play football," Pertee remembered. "Bob scored five times and once jumped over a defensive end to score. Crum won 52-0 and (Kermit) quit football after that."
In 1959, Lester joined the faculty at Barboursville High School before returning to Wayne County where he coached football at Buffalo for one season. Lester then crossed the river to South Point, where he coached football from 1964-71. The Pointers won the Ohio Valley Conference championship in 1970, the first of three consecutive OVC titles.
Along the way, players like Gillum, Tom Price - who played at Dartmouth in the late 1960s and early 1970s - Randy Adkins and John Brubaker would take the field for Lester, who would hold them accountable for their mistakes and make them better men for it, they said.
"(Lester) worked us to death every practice," said Brubaker, who like Gillum was a member of South Point's 1966 team that would have won the OVC were it not for an 8-6 loss to Coal Grove.
"He was a good teacher and a great football coach," Brubaker said.
Lester's final season coaching football was at Symmes Valley High School in 1973. A four-year stint coaching baseball followed for Lester.
Upon retirement, Lester became involved again with Marshall in the M Club, where he ran the tailgate festivities and for 15 years has held a pancake breakfast each November in his hometown of Crum to raise money to buy school supplies, jackets, gloves and hats for the needy.
Lester still supports South Point athletics, too.
"I know in recent years South Point has fallen on hard times," Lester said to the crowd Saturday. "Let's get behind our athletes and get South Point back where it belongs."
Lester was presented a watch and a plaque paid for with donations from many of those former players and students.
Adkins and Gillum called on those South Point alumni there to back the coach for an honor that has eluded him — a place in the South Point Athletics Hall of Fame.