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Ben Smith

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Russ Isaacs has worked 38 years as football coach and athletic director at Snider High School.

2 retiring ADs leave imprint on young lives


– The days linger now, as summer crowds close. May departs, June enters, and here is the last of another school year, here is 2013-14 going out on a Rand McNally putt, a heel nicking a hurdle, a grounder to short becoming a farewell 6-3 out at first.

And why does that never feel like the end, but only a pause? Especially now?

Because, listen, what you need to know as another year goes into the archives is that out at Snider, up there at DeKalb, it is an end of sorts. And, no, it doesn’t feel like it, because you can’t fathom either place without two men who will no longer be there come fall.

Halfway between Auburn and Waterloo, Ron Kock is spending his final days in the office as DeKalb’s athletic director. On the east side of Fort Wayne, Russ Isaacs is doing the same at Snider. After 35 and 38 years at their schools, they’re hanging it up at the end of the month, and neither place is going to look quite right without them.

“The face of Snider High School,” North Side athletic director Dale Doerffler called Isaacs last fall, and you could just as well say the same about Kock and DeKalb.

Isaacs brought that face to Snider in 1976, and it was a hell of a face. The trademark ’fu, the wide-eyed intensity on the sideline on football Fridays: It was all a con, because behind the fierce look of a Visigoth sacking Rome lurked the soul of Mr. Chips.

He was, at bottom, an educator in the best sense of that word, someone who understood that in his charge were not adults but kids learning how to be adults.

And that beyond the scoreboard were teachable moments and experiences that went far beyond 100 yards of chewed-up turf.

“I’ve heard from a lot of players over the course of the last year, and what strikes me is how many talk about the wonderful friendships that have endured over the years,” Isaacs said this week. “How there’s a bond that was formed when they were 16, 17, 18 years old that is still just as strong now that they’re in their 30s. Those friendships they made are just as vibrant and invested as they were at that time.”

And so, Isaacs, too. He came up coaching for Mike Hawley, and then he became the head coach who took Snider to the state title in 1992, and then, finally, he became the AD.

The capper came Wednesday, when Isaacs and Snider assistant coach Russ Bush were inducted into the Region 3 Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

It’s a career trajectory nearly matched by Kock, a Garrett boy who came to Waterloo in 1979 and never left. He was on Dale Hummer’s staff when the Barons won a 4A football title in 1986, and he was head coach when DeKalb went back to the title game in ’94, and yet as much as anything he enjoyed watching his own kids come through the school during his 14 years as AD, because by then he understood what a special place it was.

“I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve at a school like DeKalb,” Kock said. “It’s the only school I’ve ever worked at it. I think one thing I’m going to enjoy is still being a fan. I don’t think I can walk away from DeKalb athletics and not be a fan.”

Isaacs, too. He won’t be a stranger, either, he says. You don’t just shut off 38 years of service to a place like you’re shutting off a spigot. Because, in a sense, you’ll always be in service to it.

“We’ve talked quite a bit this spring but about how fast that time went,” Isaacs said. “I can remember coaching in the ’70s and ’80s with coach Hawley, and it doesn’t seem like a long time ago at all.

“I think that’s very representative of the fact that when you’re enjoying what you’re doing, there’s no drudgery. It really is amazing how fast the time has gone.”

And how eternal it all seems, somehow.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.