Hometown Hero - Coach Coogan Reese, 1916-2004
A ten part free lecture series celebrating the City of Mentor’s 50th Anniversary culminates with a program on October 29th honoring ‘Hometown Heroes, Past and Present.’ As a former MHS student, class of ‘75 and retired educator, I can think of no one other than Coach Reese more deserving of being recognized. It was not until I spoke at his funeral and served as pall bearer in 2004 that I came to realize how giving a man he truly was. I had only known Coach Reese as a guidance counselor and my cross country – track coach before that moment. Here is his story and my recollections of a hometown hero to many of us former Mentor Cardinal student-athletes.
Coach Reese had a military career few even knew of. He enlisted in the US Army in 1933 and served thru 1937 attaining a rank of PFC. He reenlisted in 1940 and served as an intelligence officer with the 475th Infantry thru 1945. 1944-45 saw him experience some of the War’s most iconic moments in India, Burma, and China. It was not until giving his eulogy that I learned of Combat Awards, Purple Hearts, China and US awarded ‘Stars’.
Coach’s next phase of life was known to me. He attended Hiram College, starred in athletics while there and graduated in 1949. This I know because Coach Reese always pitched his alma matter to us on the track team each year. He even took us to the campus for a day and introduced us to his classmate, friend, and another war decorated veteran – track coach Bill Hollinger. That visit sealed my college choice.
Upon earning his degree in education, Coach Reese located to Lordstown,Ohio for two years, residing in a boarding house with his young family. He taught history, physical education, and drivers education at the high school. He also founded the football program at the school. In 1951, Coach Reese joined Lee Tressel and Arden ‘Stretch’ Robertson at Mentor High. Coach Reese was the QB coach, asst. basketball and track coach. In time he became the head boys basketball coach. In 1956 he left basketball and football to assume the head track coach duties. In ’57 he added head cross country coach to that list. Coach Reese remained in both those positions for more than three decades. His last year was ’79-80 and a young coach at Euclid had the opportunity to share a moment with his former coach and mentor at the Euclid and Mentor Relays. That coach was me.
Coach retired and moved to Punta Gorda, Florida but his influence never waned. His Christmas card arrived a day after Thanksgiving every year until his passing. Pictures of his wife Mary’s exploits as senior citizen community baker or Senior Olympics medalist followed. Stories about golf rounds and memories from our shared past never faded. Coach Reese touched the lives of probably in excess of 3000 athletes in his time at Mentor. My story is not unlike any other person who met Coach Reese – our lives were intertwined and made all the better because of his generosity and commitment to our total lives. Hometown Hero is a title that is synonomous with Clarence Richard Reese – Coach Reese.