For love of the game

Oscar Grant remembers the first time he set foot at the state track and field meet.

He was a half-mile runner in 1941, running for former Johnston High School (which consolidated into Maplewood High School).

Grant’s father eventually got him a pair of track shoes that cost around $6, which was high-end for that day.

This weekend, Grant makes his return to Columbus. This time, the former Johnston runner is a heralded official.

Grant, 89, was selected to be part of the officiating crew at this year’s state track and field meet at Jesse Owens Stadium on Ohio State University’s campus.

“I enjoy being around the kids. I love track,” Grant said. “Track was my worst sport when I was in high school, although I made it to state in the half mile my junior year and senior year.”

Grant, who has been officiating for more than three decades, said if he would be selected to this year’s meet, he would retire from officiating.

Although, he won’t stay away from the sport completely. He’ll continue to drive a mile or two down the road to help with Maplewood High School home meets.

Grant didn’t make the officials cut to state last season.

Maplewood boys track and field coach and the school’s athletic director, Mark Yoder, said this honor should’ve happened much sooner than now.

“I think it’s about time,” said Yoder, a 1982 Maplewood High School graduate.

“A guy like that should’ve been doing that a long time ago. He’s not a great official; he’s a great person. You will not meet a nicer person than Oscar Grant.

“He’s a class act all the way. Those are the type of people you should have officiating in the state meet.”

But, there were many good reasons why Grant didn’t apply to state sooner.

Area meet official and former Boardman High School athletic director Jim Fox said Grant had other things on his agenda than just heading to a state meet. Fox ran the Boardman Invitational and the Boardman Regional cross country meet for years. Fox said Grant always helped in Boardman.

In turn, Fox said he helped Grant, who is the Division II and III district tournament manager at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds.

“He’s always been helpful with other things,” said Fox, who will help officiate at this year’s state meet. “He’s been a township trustee forever up there. I know he’s active in his church. I knew he taught part time. I think that’s one of the least things on his wish list.

“I think that’s one of the things he wanted to do, but never had the opportunity to do it. Now he has the opportunity in the twilight of his career. We’re happy for him.”

Yoder, who ran for Grant when Grant taught and coached at Maplewood, said he his former mentor found a way to always be helpful. That’s why Yoder thinks he’s the epitome of a good official.

“He was always there before everybody else,” Yoder said. “He’d go out there and start setting up hurdles, getting things ready to go – just not standing around waiting for the meet to start. He’d always be helping as much as he can, talking with people and making sure everybody had a good time. That’s the type of an official you really want at your meets, somebody that’s relaxed, make sure everything goes right and is always there for the kids.

“He’ll do whatever it takes to make sure the kids have good time and be successful.”

Grant took the test to become an official in the early 1970s. He started to help out during Maplewood’s home meets and some away meets, when needed. However, his full-time officiating didn’t start until after he retired in 1986. However, Grant continued to teach at Victory Christian School until a couple of years ago.

Now, the former Johnstown half-miler makes his trek back to Columbus. This time as an official, a passion for Grant.

“The kids would come up and thank you for being an official because they knew you’re doing it because you like to do it, not because of the money you might make or whatever,” he said.