Archdeacon: Oakwood returns some love to ‘The Hat’

When Howard “The Hat” Sales was memorialized in early December of 2019, many of his former Oakwood High football players showed up to say farewell to the man whose coaching – and the life lessons that came with it – had guided them when they were in their blue and gold uniforms and now, years later.

One of the players was Jeff Hartley, a quarterback, running back and safety on the Lumberjacks teams from 1981-83.

Sales had been a friend of his dad – Bob Hartley was the athletics director at Oakwood in the early ‘80s – and Jeff had become close to his old coach in recent years. They occasionally would go to lunch together, right up until a few months before Sales died at age 86.

“He is one of the greatest men I ever met,” Hartley said. “I respected him for his character, his integrity, his honesty and his kindness.”

Hartley knew many other players felt the same way and he kept thinking: “We’ve got to do something to see that he is remembered.”

After the service, he spotted brothers Tom and Jamie Greer. They’d been Lumberjacks linemen on teams that preceded his and were part of a family who had played Oakwood football for four generations.

It began with their grandfather Rowan Greer, who was on the first team and graduated in 1924. Then came their dad, Dave, the well-known Dayton attorney, musician, author and raconteur par excellence. Tom, an offensive lineman who now is a doctor, graduated in 1980 and Jamie, a defensive tackle who graduated in 1982, is a lawyer with his dad at Bieser Greer & Landis.

And Jamie’s son, Bobby, was an Oakwood defensive back who graduated in 2012 and now is at the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

Hartley ran his idea by Jamie, who had similar thoughts about their old coach.

“Howard did not have the archetypal football coach personality,” Greer said. “He’s the nicest guy you ever could meet. He surrounded himself with the tougher assistants, but he was a softie in a lot of ways. He always seemed interested about how you were doing. That you were OK.”

Hartley and Greer tossed around some ideas and Jamie came up with a memorial centering around Sales’ well-known, floppy cloth hat.

Mounted on a pedestal, it could be a good luck totem – much the way that fabled piece of quartzite called Howard’s Rock is for the Clemson football team – that players touch on their way to the football field.

“Howard wore that hat every day. I’m not sure he ever took it off,” Joe Gural, Sales’ longtime assistant coach and friend, said with a laugh and a little exaggeration. “It became his trademark.”

Across the front of the hat – there were three or four in his 19 years as Oakwood’s head coach – Sales’ wife, Patsy, would embroider: “JACKS.”

Greer remembers cheerleaders unfurling banners that professed good fortune was associated with that hat.

“‘The Magic’s in The Hat’ – that was big back in my day,” Hartley said.

To raise funds for the project, they reached out to the former players Sales had guided from 1968 through 1986.

“People respond when you pull at their heartstrings and they remember things that really influenced them as kids,” said Greer. “And Oakwood players really appreciated that part of their lives and that experience.”



Although Sales had blue collar roots, had served in Korea – on the DMZ – before going to college and then had struggled for money and at various times dropped out of the College of Wooster to work, he meshed well with the Oakwood players, most of whom came from prosperous families.

“The thing about Howard was that he never changed. He was always the same man,” Patsy said. “He didn’t care if you had a lot of money and he wasn’t impressed with social climbing or affluence. He was just Howard and he wanted the best for his kids.

“He loved those Oakwood players. He knew a lot of them probably wouldn’t go on and play college football, so he wanted the high school experience to be the very best for them.”

On the field he made them winners. His teams went 112-74-5. They won Southwestern Buckeye League titles in 1979 and again in 1985, when they completed a perfect 10-0 regular season and made the school’s first trip to the state playoffs.

Sales was voted the SWBL Coach of the Year both those seasons and today is enshrined in the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, the Oakwood High Athletics Hall of Fame and the Sam Andrews Education Hall of Fame at OHS.

He fostered camaraderie among his players. Junior varsity players were on the sidelines on Friday nights cheering the varsity team and Saturday mornings the varsity players did the same at the JV games. The fight song – “Stand Up and Cheer!” – was regularly sung at practice.

“He wanted his players to work hard, learn to make it on their own, have some kind of goal and be good to other people,” Patsy said. “He focused on being kind.”

Those lessons still resonate with Sales’ players and Hartley estimates 70 to 75 percent of them donated to the project.

Former Lumberjacks player Greg Lauterbach, now an Oregon District architect, designed the memorial which includes a bronzed replica of Sales’ hat, photos of him coaching and a pair of Lumberjack logos.

Greer said enough money was raised that they also were able to put together a 206-page pictorial and testimonial history of Sales’ coaching career at Oakwood.

And this season, helmet decals – featuring the bearded Oakwood lumberjack wearing a floppy hat – will be awarded to players for their big plays.

The memorial will be dedicated Friday evening before Oakwood’s home opener against Northridge. Among those who’ll speak are Gural and former University of Dayton head coach Mike Kelly, who had Sales on his staff from 1995 to 2005.

The big thing Friday will be the current Oakwood players being able to touch The Hat as they leave their dressing room and head over to Mack Hummon Stadium.

“Hopefully some of that luck from back then will rub off and get the current teams back to where they were under Howard,” Greer said.

All this has already produced some magic, Patsy said.

“The last three years of Howard’s life were really tough,” she said of her husband’s declining health. “When you watch your loved one fade and not be well, it’s rough. And when they pass, you tend to spend too much time thinking about that.

“But all of this – the event, the book, talking about Howard’s coaching days – it’s made me return to thinking about him in his younger, better days. It’s a positive, exciting thing. Mentally, it helps me to go back and remember all the good times.”

‘50 years of Friday night football games’

Patsy grew up in a suburb of New York City – in the village of Larchmont in Westchester County – and ended up at a private girls boarding school in Northfield, Massachusetts.

Back then she said she had “no exposure” to sports:

“I had no brothers and there were no sports at my school. Even at home, we’d watch the news and when they’d say ‘Sports is next,’ my parents would turn off the TV.”

She ended up at Wooster in northeast Ohio and soon met Howard Sales, who became the most unlikely of suitors.

An Army veteran, he was eight years older, played basketball and baseball at Wooster and served as a student assistant football coach.

But even with GI benefits, he struggled to pay for his schooling and Patsy said there were times he had to go back home and earn money:

“He worked at the post office and he loaded planes for Pan Am airlines. When he’d get enough money, he’d call the dean, who was a wonderful friend, and say, ‘I’m ready to come back.’”

They began to date at Wooster and the romance continued when she transferred to the University of Iowa to study speech therapy. During Howard’s senior year, they got engaged over Christmas break and married when he graduated.

She temporarily dropped out of college and became a coach’s wife when he got a job as an assistant on Paul Greene’s staff in Huron High School.

After three years, they followed Greene to Oakwood and Sales spent another three years as a Lumberjacks assistant. In that time the team won just four of 28 games.

In 1968, Sales became Oakwood’s head coach and began wearing his old fishing cap when he couldn’t find a suitable ball cap to wear on the sideline. He promptly led the program to six straight winning seasons and that hat suddenly seemed to be as magical as Bear Bryant’s chapeau down at Alabama.

The couple had three children – Cheryl, Doug and Steve – and Patsy got her degree from Wright State. For 25 years she taught special needs children at Southview and especially the Gorman School in Dayton.

After growing up with “no exposure” to sports, she found herself fully immersed in high school football, both as a coach’s wife and the mother of two sons who played at Fairmont.

“Oh Lord, yes! I saw some football!” she laughed. “I had 50 years of Friday night football games.”

She and Howard were married 57 wonderful years because, she said, “We tried to always treat each other with kindness and respect.”

Sales treated his players and coaches the same way and they – especially Gural -- returned that love, especially when his health faded.

“His buddies would come to see him and every Friday they’d go to lunch with him at Geez,” Patsy said. “I’d drive him there and then go have coffee somewhere as he spent time with the guys. That was good for him.”

‘He really gets it’

During his Hall of Fame coaching career at UD, Kelly said he always was looking for “high school coaches who were retiring, but I felt still had coaching in their blood. I needed guys like that on our staff.

“And I remember thinking about Howard and saying: ‘That guy is pretty good. He really gets it.’”

After he’d retired as the Oakwood coach, Sales spent a year as a Fairmont assistant and served as Oakwood’s athletics director.

“When Mike Kelly called Howie was happy again,” Patsy laughed. “He went down to UD and he loved it.”

The one adjustment Sales had to make was with his hat. He got a floppy white one that had a small UD logo on the front. Otherwise he was the same. He was calm and insightful on the sideline when other coaches might be agitated and yelling.

Kelly said he initially would keep an eye on a new coach who’d moved up from the high school ranks: “I was always concerned if they would relate to college athletes. But that first class that Howard had, those young men were so impressed by him that they when they left they wanted an award named after him.

“And you know, it’s become a tradition for probably 15 years now. We have the “Howard The Hat” Coach of the Year award. It started with me and now Coach (Rick) Chamberlin has continued it.

“Every year at our national football convention, we have one night we call the Dayton Night and a lot of the guys who played at UD and now are coaching in the college ranks around the country come. So do some of the high school coaches and our current and former assistant coaches.

“We get space in a restaurant, have dinner and vote on our college or high school coach of the year.

“We have a floppy hat and they sign it and get to keep it a year. Then they bring it back and it’s awarded to someone else at the next convention.

“It’s a big deal for us. We don’t have an award named after another assistant coach—not one after Rick Chamberlin (28 years a UD assistant before becoming the head coach) or Dave Whilding (35 years a UD assistant, including 29 as offensive coordinator) but we’ve got one for Howard The Hat!

“And now look what his high school athletes are doing for him at Oakwood.

“All this tells you what he means to football in the community and the Miami Valley. And what he’s meant to young men at the junior high and high school and college level. Howard Sales has remained someone special in their lives.”

Like they always said:

There was magic in that hat.

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