Since joining the Gahanna Lincoln High School boys track and field program as an assistant more than four decades ago, Don Weatherby has seen many of these conversations.
A young athlete, practicing his event or preparing for a race, would form a two-person huddle with head coach Ed Rarey.
What was said between athlete and coach was personal, but the results usually spoke for themselves.
“The biggest thing (Rarey) tells kids is that you’re going to be a record-holder,” Weatherby said. “Whether it’s a personal record or a school record, he’d say that your time will be better. He’d put a kid’s arms on his shoulders and just talk to them, and the next thing you know the kid is excelling.”
Rarey has impacted thousands of track athletes during a coaching tenure that began in 1953, although his role has changed this spring. Now 84 years old, he is working with sprinters and long jumpers as an assistant but isn’t leading the program after doing so for 61 seasons.
Taking over as head coach is Bob Cramer, who began serving as an assistant under Rarey in 1982 and also is Rarey’s son-in-law.
Also on the staff is distance coach Larry Schwade, a 1966 Gahanna graduate who ran for Rarey and is in his 35th season with the program.
“I stepped back this year,” Rarey said. “I’ve got some fine young gentlemen standing in the wings (to coach the program).
“It’s been a great run and there have been some outstanding memories. The kids I had and the records they set over the years were great, but the greatest thing in my eyes is that they’ve had opportunities. Gahanna has been blessed because it’s got great kids, and Bob’s going to do a great job. It’s been super, and I can’t speak highly enough about the kids and the community as well.”
A lifetime pursuit is born
During Rarey’s time as head coach, Gahanna won 31 league, 26 district and 14 regional titles in addition to capturing Division I state championships in 1979 and 2009.
The impact he had on the track might have been different, though, if he had followed another of his passions: Football.
Rarey played football and competed in track before graduating from Groveport High School in 1948, and he then played both sports at Otterbein College before graduating in 1952.
He even looked into a professional football career with the Pittsburgh Steelers before realizing it wasn’t for him.
“I was very involved in football and (track and football) kind of blended together back then,” he said. “It was not really like a tryout (with the Steelers). I only lasted a couple days.”
Rarey got his coaching start as an assistant in football in the fall of 1952 at Gahanna. He spent eight seasons in that role, but where he truly found his niche was as a track coach.
While Gahanna has evolved into central Ohio’s largest public school, Larry Lintner remembers a much smaller community when he was a senior in 1952-53. He played football and was a sprinter in track in the first year of Rarey’s tenure with both programs, and he also went on to play football for Otterbein.
“Things were much more limited back then, but we had good sprinters and some good guys in the field events,” said Lintner, who owns the Dairy Queen on U.S. 62 in Gahanna. “Ed likes to kid me that I was the only guy who wasn’t in good enough shape to run the 100-yard dash, but I would consider he and his wife (Anne) to be really good friends to this day.”
Rarey began coaching cross country at Gahanna in 1957 and shortly afterward became principal at Gahanna Lincoln Elementary, a job he held until 1990.
Weatherby joined the coaching staff in 1970, while Schwade became a coach at the school in 1979.
During Schwade’s first season, a Lions boys track team led by Peter Andersen, John Gonzales, Craig Lipps, Steven Reynolds, Bruce Washington and Dwayne Young won the state title.
“I came to Gahanna in my junior year (in 1978-79) after going to Beechcroft as a freshman and sophomore, and it was such a better situation,” said Gonzales, who works for the Behal Law Group and is a candidate for Franklin County Common Pleas judge. “I got to Gahanna and this entire program was just so well run. Coach Rarey was not only a coach but a mentor.”
The intensity of a Lion
Gonzales calls Rarey “the kind of guy you didn’t want to disappoint.”
Rarey credits his former high school football coach, Luke Keck, for instilling in him a passion for winning.
“I’m very competitive,” Rarey said. “In anything and everything I’ve done I’ve been competitive, and I still am.”
That drive also helped Rarey’s track teams.
“He’s always been real personable, but just don’t get him mad,” Schwade said.
One example that remains etched in the memories of Cramer, Schwade and Weatherby occurred sometime in the early 1980s.
After one of Gahanna’s athletes was pushed during a race but no interference was called, Rarey made his displeasure known to meet officials.
“He was ticked,” Cramer said. “We were coming home from Mount Vernon and got in the car, and he was driving. I remember we went over a railroad track and then ‘boom,’ we landed. We made it home in realistically a half hour.”
Rarey was Gahanna’s boys cross country coach from 1957-87 before handing the program over to Schwade. In addition, Rarey was among the first girls track coaches at the school and led that program for nearly a decade before Roger Whittaker became coach in 1989.
Whittaker felt frustrated when he came to Gahanna in 1981 as a teacher and was told there were no coaching openings even as a volunteer in basketball or football.
Rarey, though, offered Whittaker a position as a paid assistant, explaining to Whittaker that he was a “good judge of character.”
As the girls program grew, the need for a separate coach became evident, and Rarey believed Whittaker would be the right fit.
“We had a little (difference of opinion) about a kid, and he says, ‘You need to be a head coach,’ ” Whittaker said. “I’ve always loved the guy and we’ve been in spats. He is the guy who gave me my break, and I needed a break.”
One of Rarey’s biggest success stories was the 2009 state-title team led by juniors Blake Heriot, Harry McFann and Herman Washington.
Heriot, who won two individual titles that season, now competes for Baylor University. McFann runs for Columbia and Washington competes for Michigan.
“We had our disagreements, but we always came to a common ground,” Heriot said. “He teaches you how to become a man.”
A stable leader
One of the most successful sprinters to compete under Rarey was 1989 graduate Hassan Bailey, who placed in three individual events in the state meet as a senior and went on to play football and compete in track for the University of Kansas.
“He was really tough, but in a good way,” said Bailey, who joined the Gahanna coaching staff as an assistant in 2012. “He didn’t let us get away with anything. This has been a successful program for 61 years and he still has a lot of energy.”
In addition to the philosophies about track that Rarey has taught over the years, he’s been a model of stability throughout both Gahanna and Groveport.
Rarey, who has been married to Anne Rarey since 1952, has been a Groveport councilman since 1994. They have one daughter, Carla Cramer, who is president of the Groveport Heritage & Preservation Society, and one granddaughter, Angela Cox, who is a teacher at Lincoln Elementary.
His roots to Groveport run deep, as one of the original settlers in the early 1800s, according to touring-ohio.com, was Adam Rarey, one of Ed’s relatives.
In addition, a cousin, John S. Rarey, was a well-known horse whisperer who, after being summoned to England by Queen Victoria in 1858, calmed a horse named “Cruiser,” according to the website rarey.com.
He was given the horse as a gift – the origin of Groveport’s school nickname.
“I’ve had some kids who were great horses over the years,” Ed Rarey said, jokingly. “We’ve had some outstanding athletes.”
Rarey, who has been enshrined in the halls of fame of the Ohio Capital Conference (2010), the Ohio Association of Track & Cross Country Coaches (1986) and Groveport Madison High School (1988), showed an ability to help develop track athletes even into his final years as coach.
Jake Blankenship won state pole-vault titles in 2011 and 2012 and Riak Reese captured state championships in the 100 and 200 meters a year ago.
“I have the utmost respect for Ed Rarey,” said Robb Hammond, who is Pickerington Central’s girls track coach and previously coached boys teams at Pickerington and Pickerington North. “I’d love to coach for 61 years, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
“It was definitely a great experience competing for him because you have a coach with a lot of experience,” Blankenship said. “You could tell he was extremely passionate for track.”