ONTARIO — There aren’t many unchecked boxes left on Joe Balogh’s coaching bucket list.
Ontario’s venerable bench boss has won 564 games in a career that has spanned 34 years. His first victory came when Ronald Reagan was in office and his most recent in last month’s Division II sectional final against heavily-favored Lexington.
He has won 21 conference, 19 sectional and seven district championships and piloted the Warriors to the Division III Final Four in 1995. Ontario claimed Associated Press poll crowns in 1998 (Division III) and 2014 (Division II).
He won the Bob Arnzen Award, which goes annually to a member of the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association who has devoted 20 or more years of service to the same school, in 2004. He was presented with the Paul Walker Award, which goes annually to an active member of the OHSBCA who has made significant contributions to high school basketball, in 2011. From 2004 to 2006 he served as the OHSBCA President.
He ranks 21st in Ohio history in career coaching victories according to the OHSBCA website and is the owner of a .725 winning percentage (564-214). The city of Ontario celebrated Joe Balogh Day in January of 2016, shortly after he picked up career win No. 500 and — the coup de grace — the court on which Ontario plays its home games bears his name.
“What do you say at the exit interview when you’re sitting in the stands at Joe Balogh Court talking to Joe Balogh?” joked first-year Ontario athletic director Michael Grist, who wasn’t yet born when Balogh accepted his first and only head coaching position in 1985. “Actually, he’s so organized that it’s pretty easy. He’s done things the right way for a long time.
“Getting to be around him and see the way he’s so detail-oriented, it makes perfect sense that he has been able to have the success he’s had for so long. That doesn’t happen by accident.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that the OHSBCA Hall of Fame will open its doors to Balogh in an induction ceremony Saturday in Columbus. He is one of five members of the Class of 2019 and will join a short list of coaching greats to be enshrined while still active.
“When you look at the list of coaches who are in the Hall of Fame, guys who as a young coach you grow up having a lot of respect for and guys you coached with and against, it’s incredibly humbling to have this honor,” Balogh said. “It’s not something I ever imagined when I got into coaching. It never really entered my mind.”
Balogh was an All-Ohioan at Edgerton High School in northwest Ohio and played and coached at Ohio Northern University. He was a junior varsity coach at Fort Loramie before coming to Ontario as a varsity assistant in 1984.
He took over for Bud Livingston the following year and picked up win No. 1 at Highland on Nov. 29, 1985. The Warriors were 13-8 in each of Balogh’s first two seasons before going 7-14 in 1987-88, the first of just three losing seasons.
Ontario would go 24-1 in 1989-90, the first of a remarkable 12 20-win seasons. Win No. 100 would come midway through the 1992-93 season. Victory No. 200 came early in 1998 and No. 300 followed in December of 2003. No. 400 was a sectional final victory over Galion in 2010 and No. 500 came at Bellevue in December of 2015.
“After 500, somebody asked me if I was going to go for 600 and I said no,” Balogh said. “But we’re starting to get close.
“I’ve had several buddies ask me how much longer I planned to coach and I told them a couple more years. They said, “I’ve heard that for about 10 years.’ ”
Balogh’s ability to adjust has been one of the keys to his longevity. Coaching kids in 2019 is different from coaching kids in 1985.
“He’s also adapted to how kids have changed over the years. We now have music playing for certain segments of our practices, which we didn’t do 20 years ago,” said longtime junior varsity coach Tim Henige, who, along with varsity assistant Carl Schnittke, has been on staff for more than 20 years. “He’ll let them listen to rap, but it’s got to be clean. I think the kids appreciate things like that.
“The thing that sets Joe apart is his work ethic. He just finished his 34th year as head coach. I’ve coached with him for 25 years and I don’t see him slowing down at all.”
While there have been plenty of great moments during his career, what sticks out for Balogh are the relationships he’s fostered with hundreds of players.
“The neat thing is re-connecting with players you haven’t had the chance to talk to in many years,” Balogh said. “They’ll call and thank you, not just for the basketball stuff, but for the lessons they learned that extend beyond basketball.
“The guys who played in the program in its early editions still care for what is happening now. That’s probably more special than anything.”
Coaching sons Steven and Blake ranks near the top of Balogh’s list of career highlights as well.
“My two favorite players were my sons,” Balogh said. “Maybe it was the wrong thing to do, but I didn’t coach them in youth leagues. When the opportunity to coach them at the high school level came, that was pretty special.
“Hopefully those two looked at it as something special as well.”
As for Saturday’s induction ceremony, Balogh still has some work to do.
“I’ve got my speech about halfway done,” he said. “I really haven’t had the chance to think about it too much, but I’m sure this will rank near the top once I’ve had a chance to reflect on it.”