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Brueggemeier lived to serve media, others as Old Fort AD

We used to chuckle back in the day, a day when sports writers were known as the pad-and-pencil set.

Years before hand-held recorders were common, decades before the internet, nearly a half century before today’s social media, we used to chuckle at the way Athletic Director John Brueggemeier closed the accompanying letter to his Old Fort preseason sports information packet every fall, winter and spring.

“And if I can be of further service to you in any way, don’t hesitate to call,” it read. We chuckled because, well, we were young and it just sounded hokey.

But there was nothing hokey about it on those occasions when you needed a favor. Because Brueggemeier always came through. Always.

Service was the dominant trait of Brueggemeier, who died at age 77 at his home Friday after a lengthy illness. Ultimate nice guy was a close second.

For evidence of the former, consider the 40-year Old Fort Hall of Fame resume that included teacher, coach, athletic director and daily bus driver. Ask anyone who knew him and you’ll hear evidence of the latter.

It wasn’t always easy to be of service to media in the days when Old Fort played its basketball on a stage, a setting with a scoreboard above and behind the scorers’ table for the benefit of folks in theater seating across the way.

But Brueggemeier was adaptable if you were. So he would find a way, usually placing a card table or a student desk on a baseline corner near the edge of the stage. Every now and then, when Old Fort had a big game, there would be a small cafeteria table for media off the front row of the theater seats. That could mean only one thing.

“Yup,” Brueggemeier, his eyes meeting yours, would say through the kind of smile you thought was reserved for a first-time father. “The Blade’s coming.”

The Blade, more often than not in those days, meant Duane Schooley. And while Schooley appreciated a good match-up as much as the next guy, he made no secret of his belief that any game in Seneca County was important primarily because it afforded him an opportunity to sample the ribs at New Riegel Cafe.

But hey, there was no reason to burst Brueggemeier’s bubble.

When the new gymnasium opened in the mid-1980s, Old Fort became a mecca for sectional and district tournaments for boys and girls basketball as well as volleyball. As athletic director, Brueggemeier served as tournament manager for all such events.

There was no reason to consider out-of-town fare on those nights. Thanks to Brueggemeier and his volunteer staff, the Old Fort hospitality room food was the best.

Some of the games, especially in the opening round, might have been blowouts. But nobody cared because the food in the hospitality room was the best.

Come spring, Brueggemeier managed multiple baseball and softball tournaments at Old Fort, sometimes as advanced as the regional level. Those games in particular were usually excellent. Plus, the food was the best.

There were occasions when Brueggemeier’s service to Old Fort athletes and the people who covered them was a little more simplistic. But if you wanted details, he had details. Like the time he called the office 30-some years ago…

“Hello. John Brueggemeier here. I’ve got results from the Old Fort Invitational Cross Country meet.”

Reporter: “Okay. Our fax number is…”

Brueggemeier: “Uh, we don’t have that newfangled stuff where I’m at right now. I guess I can drive it over there and drop it off if you want. Or could I maybe read it to you over the phone?”

Now the reporter here was a stickler for information. Some might have considered him obsessive-compulsive. Others thought worse of him.

In this case, it meant team standings and point totals, both boys and girls. Top 10 runners and times for each were requested as well as all individual runners (first and last names, please), placements and times for all area schools.

But Brueggemeier was willing and dutifully read them over the phone. Five minutes went by, then 10 and then 15. Still, the litany of runners continued.

Incredible.

When he finished, a sigh of relief followed. In two-part harmony.

Reporter: “Okay John. Thanks so much for your time and patience. (Extended pause). John? Are you there?”

Brueggemeier: “I’ve got junior high results here also if you want them.”

Incredibly incredible.

Brueggemeier’s three daughters, Kelli, Amy and Julie, were successful athletes in multiple sports at Old Fort. Julie, in fact, was a state champion in the high jump one year and a state placer in another.

One had to pump Brueggemeier pretty hard to get much out of him regarding their accomplishments, however. He was proud to be sure, but always reserved.

Brueggemeier retired in 2004, but he continued to follow Old Fort athletes through the years. He and his wife, Donna, were regulars at basketball games. Just about anywhere a Stockader was putting forth effort, they were there offering support.

His years of service extended to the community as well as the school. Brueggemeier’s obituary says he was an active member of First Lutheran Church of Tiffin, where he helped on several committees, was a member of the choir and served on the church council.

He continued in such ventures, school and community, for as long as he was physically able.

Because he was a man of deep faith, it would surprise no one who knew him if he had some sort of plan for offering further service in the next life. Faith being what it is for so many, the potential response seems predictable.

Relax. Put the feet up. You have served quite enough.

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