In 1973, a former Cleveland State goalkeeper who was serving as an athletic trainer for the Cleveland Stars professional soccer team walked into the Willoughby home of Ron Priest to interview for a job.
Priest was the Mentor athletic director at the time, and the school needed a coach for its newly minted boys soccer program.
In Tom Mackar, Priest didn’t just find a coach. He found a leader, as it turns out one of the best to ever grace this area.
Mackar is among the inaugural class of The News-Herald High School Sports Hall of Fame, in part because of a tenure from 1973 to 2003 that produced 391 victories, good for fifth all-time in Ohio, and a Division I state championship in 1994.
Perhaps beyond those numbers, though, was the impact Mackar had off the field with generations of players who would carry on his lessons into their everyday lives.
It all began with that interview between Priest and Mackar.
“His wife later told my wife that part of what impressed him was I had taught a year in a Catholic school, and that’s how he started out,” Mackar said. “I remember him asking, ‘What do you need for a successful team?’ I said, ‘I just need a team. I’ll take care of everything else.’ ”
Everything else entailed a little more than he may had imagined.
The Cardinals had three soccer balls — “and when they hit the water they were real leather and absorbed water, which made them feel like three pounds,” Mackar recalls — and a nine-match schedule for their first season.
Mackar held his first players meeting in 1973, asking athletes to fill out index cards with their contact information. Included in that group were parents of a sophomore who was unable to attend that day. They filled out four index cards worth of information on their son. The first piece of information was the most important because it later became synonymous with the program — his name, Walter Schlothauer.
“When I got the job at Mentor, his uncle Herb Haller was on that Stars soccer team,” Mackar said. “When I told the guys I got the job, Herbie said, ‘My nephew goes to Mentor.’ ”
As his career went on, Schlothauer made the Cardinals go. By the program’s third season in 1975, Schlothauer was an All-American. He had 39 goals and 22 assists in 34 career matches. Schlothauer was the first player in program history to be inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame in 1996.
“As he went on to achieve success after high school into college and the pros, he never forgot us,” Mackar said. “He still came back and still asked if he could help out. We’d introduce him to the kids and tried to build throughout the years, even a guy who had played earlier, you knew him through the stories.”
The 1995 Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee has many.
“Every high school coach — OK, maybe just me — you collect things you can use some other time,” Mackar said. “What I did was have a whole collection of hundreds of quotes — I’d hear it, I’d see it in the paper. I’d hear a cool thing — that one sounds good, I’ll jot it down.”
One which stuck with Mackar came from an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” One of the show’s characters, Worf, responded to a concern about not having much recourse by stating, “There are always options.”
Inspired as the 1994 state tournament began, Mackar unveiled a Worf action figure as a good-luck charm. As the Cardinals kept winning, it was expected by players to have one more Worf for the ride for superstition sake. Mackar had five, but needed seven to get through the tournament. As a D-I state semifinal awaited, Mackar was shopping at his local Marc’s and found Worf — the two additional action figures he required.
Locked in a 1-1 stalemate in overtime against Perrysburg in that semifinal, Gabe Rhoads won a ball and played a 25-yard pass to Brian Herrick.
Herrick had aspirations of playing striker, which he did the next season, but at that point was a midfielder who had scored two goals all season.
Whether it was destiny — or perhaps with Worf’s help — Herrick elected to try his luck.
“He wound up and he crushed it,” Mackar said. “The goalkeeper was 8 yards out and had the angle cut down well. Brian hit it so well it went over the goalkeeper. It had to be like 60 miles per hour, and it dipped. It goes up and in. What a great shot.”
In Mentor’s path after that 2-1 overtime win was Centerville in the D-I state final. The Cardinals built a 3-0 halftime lead — the three-goal margin Mackar always stated was vital to ensure good fortune — and went on to a 4-1 victory for the program’s only state title. Mackar’s mother-in-law, who is now 84, still has the time of each goal memorized.
In the late 1980s, the Cardinals had difficulty scheduling big-time nonconference opponents because it played at Memorial Junior High and at their football stadium, both narrow for soccer purposes. Mackar received assistance from key figures such as Tom Eames, and what was initially a $30,000 commitment from the district for field improvements became the reality of a dedicated stadium.
“All of a sudden people were on board, and the whole thing came together,” Mackar said.
The stories could be the time Mackar called legendary News-Herald sportswriter Hal Lebovitz at home to discuss his famous “Please Don’t Cut A Boy” column in 1992, when Mackar had 80 players out and was unsure he had a place for all of them. Mackar and Lebovitz talked it out and came to an understanding that produced intramural and Mentor Soccer Club fall league options for players who didn’t make the Cardinals’ roster.
Or it could be the Mentor athletes who remembered Mackar teaching how to shake hands and make eye contact, and then passing that lesson onto athletes they would go on to coach.
Regardless, the stories abound.
The truth is the work has already been done. It started in a Willoughby home in 1973, and it continues through the players who never forgot Mackar, what he meant for them and who won’t be surprised to hear he has another Hall of Fame to join.
“As I get older, I appreciate it more,” Mackar said.
“This school system gave a kid from Collinwood an opportunity to teach there and to make mistakes, but to learn from it, and that went a long way.”
- Who: 2013 News-Herald High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee
- Sport: Boys soccer (coach)
- High school: Mentor
- Where are they now?: Retired from teaching physical education at Mentor since 2004, Mackar now works for Shannon Fence and teaches a motorcycle safety class at Lakeland.
- High school highlights: Won 391 matches from 1973 to 2003, currently good for fifth all-time in Ohio. … Guided the Cardinals to the Division I state championship in 1994. … Under Mackar’s tutelage, Mentor had three high school All-Americans, 31 All-Ohioans, 39 academic All-Ohioans and 24 seasons with a minimum of 10 wins.
By Chris Lillstrung | CLillstrung@News-Herald.com | @CLillstrungNH