Judge Kovacs keynote speaker: Oil Barrel smoker brings Oregon, East Toledo together

Yaneek Smith and J. Patrick Eaken

The best rivalries are the ones based on fierce competition but also a mutual respect between the two teams.
        Separated by just over five miles, Clay and Waite high schools have battled one another in the Oil Barrel rivalry 52 times with the Eagles leading the series, 36-13-3. It's not exactly Ohio State-Michigan, but it is important to people living on the East Side and in Oregon.
        The Eagles won the last meeting on September 13, defeating the Indians, 41-8. It was sweet revenge for Clay, which lost last year's game in heartbreaking fashion, 30-28.
        The keynote speaker of the event was Lou Kovacs, a 1978 Clay alum who played football at the University of Michigan under legendary coach Bo Schembechler. Kovacs was an assistant at Clay under Jeff Lee and Mike Donnelly and he currently works as a judge in the Oregon Municipal Court.
        Kovacs' two sons, Aaron and Jordan, played football at Clay, and Jordan, who also played football at Michigan and was named a captain during his senior year, currently works as a defensive quality control coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. He played for the Miami Dolphins for three years and retired in 2016.
        "You all appreciate this rivalry. If you lose this game, you live with it. You can't wait until (the) next year to redeem yourself. If you're a senior, you have to live with it," said Kovacs. "This is a great event for both communities — it gives the people in the community an opportunity to celebrate this rivalry. Events like this (are) all in good fun. The players are all winners, whether they're from Waite or Clay."
        Kovacs was someone people looked up to in the community because of his athletic prowess.
        "For me personally, Lou was one of my idols," said Clay coach John Galyas. "It's huge to have him come back (to Oregon). He's coached with us in the past, and Aaron has coached with us, too."
        The master of ceremonies was Troy McLaughlin, who also works as the director of football operations at Clay. He talked about what makes Lou so valuable to the program even 41 years after his graduation.
        "It's great to have Lou Kovacs as an alumni. He has spoken to our team in the past," said McLaughlin. "We use Lou as an example of what a lot of hard work can get you. He had to earn that at the University of Michigan. His mental toughness and learning how to fight on a team like Michigan helped him to get his law degree, and set himself up for life. He's doing very well, Lou's a special person. We're blessed to have him around our program."
Bobbing for apples
        Some other key figures from both sides at the smoker included Waite coach Brian Lee and Clay coach John Galyas, who attended the annual smoker at the Bayside Boardwalk in Oregon.
        What is different about this rivalry is that people may have attended Clay or Waite but saw their children attend the other school. Galyas' father, John Galyas, Sr., was the head coach at Waite, and John Jr. attended Clay. Galyas Jr. had to work his way up the ranks, working as an assistant coach in the program for 16 years — six as a junior high coach and 10 years at the high school.
        "In this rivalry, the communities are so close together. There are so many people who live in Oregon who moved from the east side. My dad went to Waite, coached at Waite, then moved to Oregon," said Galyas.
        "It's a unique rivalry. The kids all know each other, and that makes them play even harder. If you know anything about rivalries, there are only a couple games (where) you play for a trophy. Coach Lee has done a great job. He's certainly energized that program. This is a great rivalry, there aren't too many rivalries like this. These are two great programs, two great traditions and two great stadiums."
        Lee, who hails from West Toledo originally, has found out why this rivalry is so meaningful to residents on this side of town.
        "The reason this rivalry is so special (because) the kids are so close. We only see them once a year," he said. "When it's Clay-Waite, it makes it a big game. My parents and grandparents played in this game. I want my kids to be able to say, in my senior year, we gave Clay everything they had, win, lose or draw. When you play a team like Clay and Coach John, I want to learn a lot from him. If I can learn from him, I can be a great coach."
        Now in his second season coaching the team, Lee is growing more comfortable with his role.
        "One thing I pride my kids on is heart. I look at the program now, it's more stable. I'm more comfortable. My kids believe in me, they can play for me," he said. "They know what to expect out of me and I know what to expect out of them."
        One thing both coaches have done well is improve roster numbers. Galyas is a teacher at Clay High, so being in the building gives him access to the hallways, while Lee is a teacher at another Toledo Public Schools’ building, but he is also involved in the Waite building.
        Waite has 85 to 90 players in the high school program this year, and Lee says he got 10 more freshmen to join the program just before the season started.
        “The main thing I did was I shut my doors to other kids from other schools. I only lost three kids —one to Northwood, one to Cardinal Stritch and one to Clay, and I got two transfers from Clay. I worked out a back-up quarterback (transfer) — he came and tried out for me and threw the first day, and he said, ‘We’ve never worked this hard.’ I said, ‘Because we want to be state champs,’” Lee said.
        “When you have the numbers, like he (Galyas) has good numbers, it’s great for the program. It’s great for the tradition. We both did not win our leagues, and we both finished about the same, and you want to get over the hump and the first thing you want to do with that is have a good number of kids. So, I want to let you know that the kids believe in me and in John because we do good things with our programs. Over here on the east side, I’m trying to make sure we win.”
        Mark Beach, the athletic director at Clay, played for the Indians when he was in high school and is yet another example of the crossover between the two schools. He was forced to sing the Waite fight song because the Indians won last year's game.
        In addition to the variety of speakers, there was also a “paper triangle” football game played between two of the coaches and a trivia contest was held with coaches bobbing for apples and getting pies thrown in their face.
        McLaughlin has a special appreciation for the rivalry because he played in the Oil Barrel game when he was in high school.
        "This game, I look at it like the rivalries in college football -- Ohio State vs. Michigan, Florida vs. Florida State, Toledo vs. Bowling Green. I don't know how many years (they've been playing each other)," he said. "For people that have played in this game, as they get older, they become friends, (some) move to Oregon or the East Side, and there are bragging rights because we're so close together. It's a special game, it's a friendly rivalry game."


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