As a boy growing up on a Trowbridge Road farm outside Genoa, Bob Younker didn't have much time for sports.
There were crops to be picked, cows to be milked, pickles and tomatoes to be hauled to the Dunn pickle docks in Williston and to the old Stokely cannery in Curtice, and hay to bale.
As a freshman coming into Genoa High School in the fall of 1963, Younker weighed 100 pounds, which made him too small to play football or basketball.
Forty-five years later, Younker has earned his Comets varsity letterman's jacket some thousands of times over.
Younker has been a statistician for Genoa girls and boys basketball for 23 years, scoreboard operator and timekeeper for the Comet football program, and a bookkeeper for Genoa’s baseball and softball programs. He’s even been a grounds crew member and a scout.
“I used to kid everybody, and say 'If there's a job that didn't pay anything, I'd get it,'” laughs Younker. “But the truth is, I really enjoy it. It's a good seat for every sport, there's a lot of nice people involved in high school sports, and as long as I'm healthy or whatever, I'll continue to stay involved myself.
“It's the people you meet through high school sports, and the friends that you can make, including most of the officials, who are all pretty nice guys, that keep you going,” he adds, “it's the good times, and the chemistry shared amongst the guys up in the press box during all those years.”
If Genoa were to award Younker a jacket today, and stitch something on the breast, the most appropriate name would be “Utility Man Bob.”
“I got started in all of this in kind of a funny way,” explains Younker, 63.
Younker says it's when he was attending Genoa Lady Comets basketball games back in the 1980s to support his youngest daughter Marianne's friends, the D'Clute sisters, who played guard and center, that the opportunity for courtside seats came careening into his lap like a Tammy D'Clute bounce pass.
“Back then, they didn't put much in the way of girls' stats in the newspapers, so I'd always go down after the games to check with the girl doing the book, to see how they did,” he says. “Often times, I'd add up all the numbers for her, and before I knew it, I came down one day, and she said, 'I asked the coach. He said it's okay if you want to do it.' That was Coach Larry Kincaid at that time, and I ended up sitting down and finishing the season doing the girls' book for him.
“Once Larry found out how much I liked basketball, he offered to let me do his team's stats for him for as long as he was coach,” remembers Younker. “Pretty soon, I found myself scouting for him. I was helping him out in practice regularly, which included playing against his players. I've done book for Coach Tom Kontak when he took over, and Coach Mike DeStazio. I've done book for like six different Genoa girls basketball coaches, and in my first 15 years, I only missed three games. One was because I was seriously ill. Another was because I was on a golf outing down in Carolina. And the third was because Jim Henline sent me to an agricultural clinic one weekend, because I was also taking care of the football field.”
“In all,” he ponders thoughtfully, “I guess I'd say I've done about 1,900 games, both varsity and junior varsity.”
Back in the early-to-mid '90s, towards the end of the storied, 70-year Bergman Field era, it was Younker who volunteered to run the scoreboard so original press box guys like longtime public address announcer Kevin Gladden, and Ken Harsanje, and Denny Hoeft could watch their boys perform on the field - a job he still holds at Comet Stadium today.
In spring on the Genoa baseball diamonds, circa the early '90s as well, Younker started taking care of the book for then-head coach Jeff Thompson in addition to spending hours helping JT keep the field in tip-top game condition, and even volunteered to lend a hand to Thompson's successor, the eventual 1999 state semi-finalist coach Gary Nissen, until it was finally discerned that Nissen had all the help he needed.
From there, Younker moved over to the GHS softball dugout, where he instantly began forging a longtime friendship with the late skipper “Papa” Joe McLear, whom he also assisted with stats, practices, and field care until Coach McLear — with the Genoa JV since '94 — passed away after a battle with illness on Oct 20, 2007. Even so, Younker would linger on by serving as team statistician for a bevy of coaches, from freshman skipper Bruce Moritz, to current varsity coach Jeff Eisenbrandt.
He's mowed miles and miles of grass at Bergman, back in the days when it sometimes took a guy eight-and-a-half hours to get the job done right including cutting, bagging and dumping. He even kept the mower, water-reel, painter, and other assorted field-maintenance equipment in his Fifth Street garage for a time, since the old football facility never had such storage space.
Younker practically lived at GHS for four years, where he served as a custodian; an all-purpose set-up man working upwards of 40 hours cleaning the school, and another 40 setting up for practices and events for various Comet coaches from fifth and sixth grades on up.
He was a keeper of the key for that smiling face that greeted you if you were a player seeking entrance to the school for a Sunday afternoon practice, or a pre-game shootaround. He was an assistant in the batting cages and in the gym during special shooting and post-up, and at defensive clinics on weekends. He was even a “practice body” to go up against the varsity. This mostly came to an end when first a district fiscal cut and then an industrial accident at a machine shop where he was working (a 1,500-ppoundb piece of metal crashed down on his right foot, crushing a number of bones) forced him to slow down.
Then there are the stories he has to tell.
Remember early Genoa baseball pioneer, Coach William Pope? Younker does, he served as a student-manager for him during all four springs of his GHS days, back when the Comets still played their home games at Waterworks Park near Brunner School, with that short left field “porch” lined by trees and that old, meandering stone path.
Are you aware that the Comets once boasted a pretty strong bowling team? Under venerable coach Dave Miller they did, and it was the only sport the slight-statured Younker participated in, rolling a steady 150 average in four seasons of Northern Lakes League competition. Practices were just over the tracks at Bud's in Clay Center.
There was even a time that he somehow managed to land the gig of doing girls basketball statistics for the whole Suburban Lakes League. All by longhand, which he'd then mail back out to the SLL coaches.
Younker has slogged miles-upon-miles all over the state of Ohio to do book for various Comet teams, including to Ashland University for that by-now notorious trip to the prestigious 2006 softball state semifinals during which he saw that edition of the Lady Comets — a team, many still argue to this day, was the best in Ohio at the time — not only get their hearts broken 1-0 on a fluke play to Bloom-Carroll. The trip included a bizarre incident in which their bus was robbed and their personal things rifled through while they played in this most-bizarre of games, which actually started at 1 a.m.
“There are so many funny stories, like the time we showed up to line the old football field, and pretty soon a cop car rolled in, and a squad. And we found out A.D. Jude Meyer's little boy, who was hanging out in the stands at the time, had accidentally called 911,” he said. “And well, when Jude went up and confronted him, all he could say for himself was, 'We ain't got to tell Mom about this, do we?'
“But the best part about staying involved is the kids themselves. When you've done book for as long as I have, and sometimes even for teams during the summers, you get to know these players. You get to see their skills develop firsthand. So you know what a lot of them can do by the time they get to the high school level. It makes it more interesting. It makes it a lot of fun. It makes you all the more happy for them, and proud of them, when they go out and give it their all,” he said.
Bob Younker. (Press photo by Harold Hamilton/HEHphotos.lifepics.com)