And knowing beforehand it was going to end, John and Marlo Rossman figured it was best to go out on top.
John Rossman spent the last five seasons as the head track and field coach at St. Paul, and his wife served as an assistant. Prior to that, Marlo was an assistant and also served as head coach for two seasons, then stayed on as a coach with her husband.
But with their son, Kaden, graduated from the school on May 26, the couple has stepped down as coaches and are moving to the southern Alabama coastline.
Their tenures at St. Paul ended with the best overall season in school history at the Division III state track and field championships last Friday and Saturday.
Among the boys and girls, 16 athletes competed in nine events at state, with five events reaching the podium to earn All-Ohio honors.
It was the most kids ever to go down for St. Paul in a single year, led by seniors Meghan Hedrick and Olivia Powers as the only girls in program history to reach state in four events in a single season.
“All great things come to an end, but the things you’re most passionate about stick with you forever — and that never ends,” John Rossman said. “What is so special about our St. Paul community was shown in examples all weekend.
“I was getting text messages and emails from as far as Florida and from people who I didn’t know who they were that weren’t in my contacts list from Thursday through Saturday,” he added. “Just alumni and people who cared about St. Paul and what these kids were doing. I shared that with the team. When you go to state and do something this extraordinary, you’re competing for the people who came before and after you.”
St. Paul has sent at least one athlete to state in eight of the last nine years, while 17 of a possible 34 school records have been broken during the Rossmans’ tenure.
When John Rossman graduated from St. Paul in 1994, his football coach was John Livengood, Mike Smith was his basketball coach, while Nancy Miller was his math teacher and Dennis Doughty was the principal.
Today, Livengood is still the football coach with 250-plus wins and a state championship. Miller still teaches math and has over 500 wins and two state titles, Smith has over 300 wins and a trip to state — and Doughty has since returned to serve as President of Norwalk Catholic Schools.
“Those are people I drew strength off of and success from,” Rossman said. “When I came back to help coach multiple sports, I really utilized the tools while I was there from high school.
“That is kind of the philosophy I followed in raising my son as well, and to be able to give back to St. Paul and countless people who also helped me — it means the world to my wife and I,” he added.
But one aspect Rossman is notably proud of is he and his wife aren’t leaving the program with an empty cupboard. On the boys side, Noah Avendano, Nate Tokarsky and Zach Stine are three of the four who will be back from the 4x800 relay that reached state, while Cam Caizzo and Treg Smith return from the 4x100 team that placed 13th.
For the girls, Lily Dowdell is already a multi-time placer in both cross country and track, while Holly Powers, Claire Ceccoli and Gwen Olcott will also all return after reaching the podium over the weekend.
“Obviously what Meghan, Gabby and Olivia have done speaks for itself,” Rossman said. “And Joey (Catalano), Paul (Pearce) and Jared (Arnold) are seniors who stuck with me through it all, and I’m so proud of them for getting the two relays to state.
“But with Davis (Hedrick) placing in the discus, and for the younger gets to get there and run — you can’t get better experience than to perform on that stage and be among the top eight in Ohio,” he added. “They should be able to use that experience, and the excitement is now at an all-time high after we took 23 kids (including alternates) to state of the 39 on our team.”
Rossman also said any number of people helped along the way that didn’t show up on the heat sheets each week.
“Our principal Jim Tokarsky has been a rock for me both professionally and personally,” he said. “It was awesome to help get his son to state. I got a special text from my mentor, Coach Livengood, while I was at state, and it just really felt good.
“Our motto was track and family all year, and Marlo and I were able to coach the kids of parents who coached me in school,” he added. “Tom Baker, Mike Smith, John Livengood … at a school rich in football and volleyball tradition, our biggest accomplishment is putting our track program near their levels.”
As they prepare to move south in the coming weeks, Rossman said it will probably take another year to sit back and enjoy everything that has happened. On top of the state accomplishments, the girls team won back-to-back Firelands Conference championships, the boys were district runners-up, and all the relays went through the postseasons with no disqualifications.
“And we had 13 All-Academic Ohio kids as well,” he said. “It is truly a fairly tale ending for my wife and I. Over the past decade we have gotten more out of these kids than they will ever know, and we simply cannot thank everyone enough.
“We have given them everything we have in terms of coaching, and in return we got memories for a lifetime,” he added.