When Lance Engleka announced his resignation as the Middletown High School head football coach this week it resonated nationally. Not because he was leaving the Middies, but rather the reason: death threats.
Media throughout the state and country were quick to follow the story, including the Washington Post and New York Times. Engleka cited online threats, parental and verbal abuse aimed at himself and the coaching staff for his resignation.
A former offensive coordinator with the program, Middletown was 1-19 in his two seasons as head coach and lost 18 straight games.
“Nobody should have to go through that,” said former Middletown coach Jim Place. “One person can be at any community. I don’t think it reflects Middletown. I think it reflects that person.”
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Engleka’s resignation hit Place and another former Middies head coach, Chip Otten, hard. Both former coaches said the ease of digital access – and the ability to hide behind it – is something they didn’t deal with during their Middletown eras.
Place was the Middies head coach from 1986-90 and resigned as the Ponitz head coach just this week. Otten taught at Middletown for 15 years and coached football, track and baseball. He was the Middies head football coach from 1995-2000.
“The thing you have to guard against as a coach is, are you going to buy into all that?” said Otten, now the ultra successful head coach at Coldwater. “If you buy into it, it can really suck you in. It’s easy when you’re typing and texting and tweeting. When you’re not face to face with someone, it’s a lot easier to say things.”
Place was inducted into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. He led the Middies to 48 wins in five seasons, including three playoff teams. He likened Middletown to Massillon football during that run.
“You shook a tree and a Division I player would fall out,” he said. “We had that many players and that much talent. I can guarantee that 99.9 percent of Middletown people are just as sick about it as everybody. You still feel for Lance; he’s the one going through it.”
Otten was an assistant under Place before succeeding Joe Tresey as the Middies head coach. Otten likened Middletown sports to that of Lima Senior and Springfield high schools, similar mid-sized towns that could field great sports teams but just as often didn’t. His final two Middletown football teams were 3-7 and 2-8.
“I’ve been there in those tough seasons,” said Otten, who has guided Coldwater to Division V state title games in all seven seasons he’s been head coach, winning four. “You get people calling you out. … There were times when I would get some calls late at night from parents who were frustrated or their kids weren’t playing enough. But we never felt threatened.”
Middletown City Schools superintendent Marlon Styles said he was “shocked” by the accusations, which included an “unsafe environment” that Engleka also addressed in a resignation letter.
Engleka, 46, also is the dean of students at the high school.