Gfell was first St. Paul athlete to score at state track

Mark Hazelwood • Oct 4, 2018 at 12:00 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a six-part series focusing on those who will be inducted into the St. Paul Hall of Fame on Saturday.


Things were a little different back then.

And Mike Gfell didn't know any better — which proved to be a good thing.

"Back when I ran track, we ran on the stone tracks — there wasn't too many of the rubberized tracks we see everywhere now," said Gfell, a 1976 St. Paul graduate.

But running on stone tracks and getting pushed by a strong runner from Norwalk High, Gfell became the first St. Paul athlete to ever score a point at an individual state championship event. He did so when he placed sixth overall in the 1976 Class AA state championship mile run in 4:29.4.

Also an All-Ohioan in football, Gfell — still very active in the St. Paul community — will enter the school's Hall of Fame as part of the 2018 class of inductees.

Being inducted with Gfell on Saturday will include the late Harvey Keller (distinguished), the late Charlie Roth (distinguished), Mike Mushett (distinguished), Bill Bader Jr. (distinguished) and Jordan Centers-Mayer (athletic).

Inductees will be honored at halftime of Friday’s St. Paul football home game vs. Mapleton, with the induction ceremony slated for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. inside the social hall.

"My coaches admittedly didn't know a lot about distance — so I ran with Norwalk kids, especially with Wendell Rakosky," Gfell said of his track days. Rakosky, in the Norwalk HOF, was a standout in cross country and track for the Truckers.

"I think that helped me a lot," Gfell added. "Wendell ran cross country when I played football, so he was definitely a better runner than I was — and he made me work harder. But I just kept working every year to get better, and that's where it got me."

A four-year letter winner in track and field, Gfell also reached the state championships as a junior in 1975, placing 10th in the one-mile race. His time lowered to the PR of 4:29 at state as a senior, a program record at the time.

In football, Gfell intercepted six passes and recovered five fumbles as a junior in 1974 — earning Firelands Conference Defensive Back of the Year.

As a senior in 1975, Gfell intercepted a then program record 10 passes — giving him a total of 16 for his career — also a school record at the time. He capped his football career by being named to the Class AAA All-Ohio honorable mention list.

A three-year starter, the Flyers were back-to-back FC champions and finished with an overall record of 23-5-2 during Gfell’s three seasons as a varsity player.

"In football, I don't think we realized how close we were to making the playoffs back then," Gfell said. "I don't think anyone pushed it like they do now, where it has become such a focus. We were good, but I think we could have been in the playoffs had we performed a little better in a game or two.

"We were close, but we never realized it or worried too much about it like they do now," he added. "Our goal was to win the FC and have a good season."

Gfell cited a game at Monroeville in 1974 as a top football memory. The Flyers won the game, 14-7, on the way to the FC title that season.

"We played that game in the fog and no one could see us out there playing," Gfell said. "That was pretty cool."

Gfell was also a contributor in basketball, lettering twice for the Flyers, who shared the FC title in 1975-76. A nine-time letterwinner, Gfell also was the school’s first-ever Bill Magnuson award winner — awarded annually to a senior who has shown dedication and leadership in athletics, as well as senior class president.

After graduating St. Paul, Gfell began working at locally-owned Lake Erie Construction, where he has been ever since. He will retire in a few months after four-plus decades on the job.

One of Gfell's greatest satisfactions though did not come as a player. Through his family, he has seen St. Paul's rise as a football and volleyball power, as well as a historic run in boys’ basketball.

His oldest two of four daughters, Sarah (1997 SPH grad) and Lisa (1999) were cheerleaders when St. Paul reached the Division IV state semifinals in boys’ basketball for the first and only time in school history.

Daughters Megan (2003) and Julianne (2007), and son Scott (2005), all performed at state championship football games in 1999 and 2004 in the flag corp, cheer team and marching band. Daughter Renee (2001) was also a prominent leader of the student cheer sections and heavily involved in the support of the teams.

Gfell's nephew, Alex Simon, was the starting right tackle for the 2009 Div. VI state championship football team, and his cousin's daughter, Kim Stoll, was a standout on the 2002 Div. IV state championship volleyball team.

"It's been great to see all those things and have a front row seat for it," Gfell said. "Real, real special."

He has continued to give back his time to St. Paul while wearing many hats. On top of being a record-setting athlete, Gfell has been a dedicated servant to the church his entire life. He’s been a eucharistic minister for the church since 1976 and has been an usher at 9 a.m. Sunday mass for the past 12 years.

Gfell has also stayed close to all the Flyer athletic programs, notably football as part of the ‘chain gang’ for home football games for over 25-plus years, helping run the sideline markers for yardage and first downs.

With his construction ties, Gfell has also helped install the fencing at Whitney Field, worked on the construction of the present-day field house — and did work on the ceiling and auditorium inside the Convocation Center.

Gfell and his wife Cheryl (Collier), also a 1976 graduate, have been married for 40 years. Along with their six children, they also have 13 grandchildren, including a 2015 SPH graduate and eight who are currently attending Norwalk Catholic School.

"I enjoyed going to school there," Gfell said of St. Paul. "Our kids went to school there, now our grandkids are going to school there ... I just think it's great. We're fortunate to even have a Catholic school in our town.

"A lot of these other little communities don't have it, like St. Wendelin closing in Fostoria for example," he added. "We're lucky to have great parishioners and alumni at St. Paul that have kept things going so well for so long."


COMING FRIDAY: Bill Bader Jr. is featured in the fifth part of this series.

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