Memorial Day this year had a different meaning for Mineral Ridge High School boys track and field coach Ron Toth. Later that day, he found out a good friend and former colleague had passed away.
Rod S. Hice, who was the Mineral Ridge girls track and field coach from 1997-2011, was 55 when he passed last Monday.
This year, he was an assistant at Western Reserve, helping out Blue Devils football and track and field coach Andy Hake. Hice was an assistant football coach at Western Reserve, Garfield, and Jackson-Milton as well.
Toth said, and speaks for others, that Hice wasn't just an ordinary track coach.
"He was a loyal friend," Toth said. "There's a lot of people that have a deep appreciation for him because of that."
Hice's death hit Toth quite hard when he came back to school at Mineral Ridge last Tuesday.
"The day after he died I walked into the school building and looked at the record board," Toth said. "On the left side are the girls. On the right side are the boys. Everything on the left side, with the exception of cross country, were girls that he coached and they loved him. He brought them to the next level."
Lordstown track and field coach and current South Range assistant Frank Rahde talked with Hice almost every day.
"We e-mailed almost every day, multiple times during the track season," Rahde said. "He always had an interesting 'take' on things that we discussed."
Rahde and Toth said Hice was more than a coach. He was talent scout as well.
"He was very 'matter of fact' when it came to a kid's talent level, but he also knew that there were intangibles that some kids had," Rahde said.
"Everybody has a special type on intelligence," Toth said. "His was knowing what a kid was able to do and how to get them to an elite level. That was his gifting. Everybody has a little bit of something. That's what he had."
Hice's track and field resume as a track and field coach was uncanny. The Rams had 29 state qualifiers, 17 all-Ohioans, three bronze medalists, one state runner-up, four state champions, one state record holder, one regional record holder and had an athlete win Trumbull County four consecutive years in the 1,600 (Nicole Moore). There's an laundry list of other accolades as well.
But Hice's shining moment came prior to the 2008 season when he shifted Nicole Honsaker from the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes to the 100 and 300 hurdles. She also competed in the long jump.
Hice had his doubters, wondering why in the world he would move Honsaker from the sprints since she was accomplished in those events.
Honsaker went 43.82 seconds in the 300 hurdles at the Division III 2008 Navarre Fairless regional, breaking the old state record of 43.85 set by Chelsea Shelnick of Oregon Cardinal Stritch in the 2003 state meet held in Dayton.
Honsaker later went on to win the 100 and 300 hurdles, along with the long jump.
''Maybe that will shut up everybody questioning why I put her in that (hurdles),'' Hice said during the 2008 regional meet. ''I had a feeling she could do it.''
The track and field world lost a great mentor, not only for athletes, but fellow coaches as well.
"He helped me so much in my career that I could never have repaid him," Rahde said. "The coaching community has lost a tremendous resource. Many of us have lost a great friend, and the kids that he coached, currently and in the past have lost a special mentor."
There will be a small memorial for Hice on June 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Mineral Ridge Fire Department on state Route 46.