Coaches talk about John Retton’s influence

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” – James 4:14

WEIRTON – John Retton died at age 66 two weeks ago.

“John was the man who when he walked into the room, everything got brighter,” said Steubenville Big Red baseball coach Fred Heatherington. “His personality was one that opened your eyes and ears. There was never a dull moment if you were around John Retton.

“His passion was baseball and not only was John a great baseball man in the Ohio Valley, he was a loving husband, father and grandfather. I’ve always told people that if you didn’t like John Retton, then you didn’t know John Retton, because if you knew him, you would have loved him.

“It was truly an honor to have called him friend.”

Retton had retired from his education career in 2010 after 35 years to spend more time with his wife Patty of 46 years.

“I’m gonna miss him,” said former Madonna football coach Bob Kramer. “He did an awful lot for me. He helped me out a great deal.”

Retton helped many.

“He used to cut the practice field grass for us,” said Kramer.

Retton was a guy who just couldn’t sit around doing nothing.

“He always had to be doing something,” said Blue Dons basketball coach George Vargo. “He had to go scout. He had to go to Kroger’s. He had to be doing something.

“And, no matter where he went, he talked about sports.

“It was always something about sports with John. To me, sports creates a lot of good character, sharing and loving that can last a lifetime. It brings people together as a family, team and community. John kept that philosophy alive.”

Added Kramer, “He needed to be doing something all the time. It was hard for him to sit around, and I appreciated that. I took advantage of it. When he asked if we needed help I was more than willing to take advantage of it.”

Retton started at Follansbee High School in 1969 and coached baseball under head coach Perry West. In 1970 he moved to Brooke High School and coached freshman basketball. In 1971 he started teaching at Mingo Junior High School and coached wrestling and football at Mingo High School.

Most of his career was spent at Wintersville High School, where he was assistant football coach and head baseball coach for many years.

“Coach Retton was a very demanding coach who did not accept mediocrity,” said Indian Creek baseball coach Mike Cottis. “He was very good at keeping his teams together and getting the most of of every single player on the team.

“He was famous among his players and fellow coaches for his one-liners, or Rettonisms as we called them. Some of them go down in our local sports scene as historic. He always had a story or saying that would set the tone for the day.

“There were times, as a player, I didn’t fully understand the impact he had on us. Now, as an adult, I have a greater respect for the leadership and guidance he provided us.

“I was fortunate enough to start for four years for him from 1989-92 at Wintersville and was a member of the 1990 record-setting team that went 26-1. During that four-year span we won OVAC 4A titles in ’89 and ’90 and made regional appearances in ’90 and ’91. I then played for him in the summer for Post 33 from 89-92 where he was an assistant.

“Then, in the fall, he was my QB coach. It goes without saying that I spent a lot of time with him.

“Reflecting, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. He helped prepare me for who I am today and for that I am very thankful.”

Retton was a part of four state championships with Post 33 in 1989, 1994, 1995 and 1998.

“John had great enthusiasm for life and brought that enthusiasm to the baseball field and did it every day,” said Post 33 head coach Mark Stacy, who has been with the program since 1981 with Ang Vaccaro and Chuck Watt and took over the head coaching duties from Retton in 2003.

“John worked hard for his players. He cared very much. He was very demanding of his players and set the bar really high for them. I think he understood, regardless of what people say, that you don’t have a real fun time unless you’re good at something and unless you win and John demanded our players give it the attention it deserved and they worked hard.

“His teams were always winning teams.

“On a personal level, I had a lot of fun with John. He was joker. He was a guy, when he wasn’t being serious, could be the funniest guy in the group. He kept a lot of us coaches loose. We had some really great times together. I will cherish those memories. I really will.

“He loved and enjoyed his family so much.”

Kramer said he had no problem using Retton to help his program.

“Anything I asked him to do, he was more than willing to do that,” said Kramer, who finished his work at Madonna in June 2011 as the all-time winningest football coach at 110-35 spanning 14 years. “John and Patty took a lot of pressure off us. There was a lot of time and effort spent on the road scouting other teams, as long as Connor or Matt weren’t playing. They went a lot of places and saw a lot of things for me.”

Kramer coached Matt and Connor Arlia, Retton’s grandsons.

“John was on the field, but never got in the way,” said Kramer. “He never overstepped anything. He was just there to help. Sometimes in summertime during two-a-days, we would have coffee in the mornings and sit and talk. He was just helpful. I was always happy to see him.

“He never did anything for recognition. Never tried to tell me what to do. If I had any questions or wanted any information, he was always willing to help. He arranged things for us because he had a lot of contacts and a lot of influence throughout the state.

“When we went to Pocahontas for the playoff game, he talked to the people at Fairmont State so we could practice on their field. He would call coaches for me – throughout the state – if they had played some of the teams we were going to play to get information from them. That’s more helpful than a lot of people think.

“I didn’t have to ask him. He would ask me if I wanted him to help.

“He was very helpful to me and our program.”

Vargo was also around Retton a lot.

“I think John was an outstanding person with an abundant amount of energy,” he said. “He had an excitement and enthusiasm for the game, the way it was meant to be played – whether it was baseball, football or basketball. He showed his enthusiasm the way he talked, the way he walked, the way he came to the games and the way he talked to fans and players – sharing his wealth and experience of sports to us.

“As a coach, his words of wisdom helped me – especially when we had losing streaks. John the type of guy that when we were winning he told us that we had to work harder and when we were losing he told to keep our heads up and things would get better.

“He really was a rambunctious, hyper-energetic guy who loved his family and loved sports.”

In 1981, Retton founded the Follansbee Youth Basketball League which is still in high gear today. He was an assistant football coach at Bethany College from 1986-1990 under head coach Wally Neal.

“He was always calm and cool in the stands,” said former Madonna principal John Mihalyo. “He loved athletics and loved watching his grandkids play. There wasn’t a Madonna game Connor was playing in that I didn’t see him at. His loss will be felt by the Madonna community.”

Retton started the Wellsburg Legion team in 1985 before heading over to be a part of the Post 33 program from 1987-2002. He was the co-founder of the Post 33 Baseball Camp in 1995.

“One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never personally thanked Coach Chuck Watt (head coach of Post 33) and Coach John Retton before it was too late,” said Cottis. “At the funeral home I thanked Coach Retton’s wife on behalf of myself and all of my old teammates. She said, ‘don’t worry … he knew.’

“I sure hope so.”