Those who follow high school baseball in central Ohio should not be surprised by the tight bond within the coaching fraternity.
Even though winning is the ultimate goal, the coaches cherish the friendships within their group. And when a member of their fraternity is in need, others are quick to respond.
That closeness is evident in the battle Thomas Worthington coach Stephen Gussler is fighting.
Gussler, who recently completed his 16th season leading the Cardinals, was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer more than three years ago and has received support from his coaching peers ever since.
'"Guss' has always been there for kids," Dublin Jerome coach Chris Huesman said. "He's just one of those great guys that you come across every so often in high school baseball. It just makes it tough to hear what he's going through. He's been a champion for kids for quite some time."
Despite Gussler's declining health, the Cardinals have been among the top Division I teams in the area in recent years. This spring, they finished 24-7 and won their second consecutive district and OCC-Central Division titles. Their season ended with a 15-13 loss to Hilliard Darby in a regional semifinal May 30.
"He knows the game better than anyone I've ever met before," Cardinals senior second baseman Sean Lima said. "He knows what other coaches are going to do and what's going to happen before anyone else does."
Gussler recently was named Division I state Coach of the Year by the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association.
"In a situation like that, all of us (coaches) were looking for different ways to recognize him," said Grove City coach Ryan Alexander, who nominated Gussler for the award. "We thought 'Guss' deserved it. He may not always have the most talented guys compared to some of these other teams around here, but he finds a way to get it done. He went to the regionals two years in a row. What he's done for the program ... is equally as impressive as what he's doing for everybody in that whole community."
Gussler also was named OCC-Central Coach of the Year and was inducted into the Central District Baseball Coaches Association hall of fame during the senior all-star game May 28 at Jerome.
Dublin Coffman coach Tim Saunders, who serves as secretary and vice president of the CDBCA, nominated Gussler for the latter honor. The induction ceremony usually is held in the fall, but Saunders wanted to make sure Gussler was well enough to participate in it.
"He's a good coach and he's just as good or a better person," Saunders said. "He's done a fabulous job over there at Thomas. He's a baseball guy and the relationships he's formed over the years with our coaches and the kids are great. He just has all the intangibles as far as being a good coach and a good person that you want around your kids. ... He was going to get in (the CDBCA hall of fame). It was just a matter of when. This was deserving."
According to Lima, Gussler would rather have his players recognized than have the attention focused on himself.
"He's really team first," Lima said. "He doesn't like personal accolades. It's all about the team's success. ... I'm never going to forget this team the last two years. It's been like the best experience of my life. I'm never going to forget this."
Thomas defeated Jerome 5-2 in a district semifinal May 21 and beat Grove City 8-2 in a district final that was completed May 24. Neither Huesman nor Alexander mind his team's season came to an end against the Cardinals.
"All of our coaching staff said the same thing, 'If there was a time you'd be cool with losing, I guess it would be losing to 'Guss' while he was making that (tournament) run,'" Alexander said.
"At the end of the day, it's not about wins and losses and things like that and coach of the year awards," Huesman said. "It's about getting him healthy and making sure his family is safe. At the end of the day, that's all you really want for somebody. It's neat to see how the Worthington community has rallied around him with the 'GussStrong' events that they do and it's kind of neat to see how the Central District coaches have rallied around him as well and try to support him as best we could."