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An Interview with Joe Crawford, AD of Willard High School (Willard, OH)

July 19, 2023

Today, we share a conversation we got to have with Joe Crawford, Athletic Director at Willard High School. After getting to know Joe during a very collaborative gym floor renovation, we found his story to be worth sharing.

About Willard High School

Willard High School is a public high school in Willard, Ohio and is the only high school in the Willard City School District. It has an enrollment of approximately 380 students. Willard athletic teams are known as the Crimson Flashes, their colors are crimson an d white, and they compete in the Sandusky Bay Conference.

What is your current position with Willard High School and how long have you been at the position?

Mr. Crawford is the Athletic Director/Assistant Principal. He has held the position for one year.

Have you held this position at other schools?

This is Joe’s first time as an Athletic Director, so he has not held this position at any other schools.

What did you do before becoming the Athletic Director at Willard?

Joe grew up east of Cincinnati in Hillsboro, Ohio. He participated in many sports as a youngster, but found his most success on the baseball diamond. After graduating high school, Joe played baseball for the perennial powerhouse Kent State University, where he was a pitcher. Joe continued his baseball career after Kent State, spending 11 years in professional baseball as a pitcher. From 1991 to 2001, he played with the Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox organizations. In 1997, he made his MLB debut with the Mets. Joe remembers, “My first game was in Dodger Stadium, and my first major league win came in Cincinnati when I beat the hometown Reds.” Joe spent the 1998-99 season pitching in Japan.

After his playing career ended, he went into coaching.

His first stop was with the Bridgeport Bluefish. He served as their pitching coach for two seasons (2002-03). Before the start of the 2004 season, he was hired by the Brewers, working on their coaching staff until last year when he took the job with Willard High School. Joe remarks that “I have countless stories and memories about my playing and coaching days. The two I mentioned earlier about my playing days and the fact that I got to coach in the NLCS in 2011 against the St. Louis Cardinals are the three that really standout.”

What led you to leave your career in major league baseball to become the Athletic Director at Willard?

Joe’s wife, Kara (Christoff), whom he met while at Kent State, is a native of Willard. Because a career in professional baseball requires a lot of travel, it was natural to put roots down in Willard. Joe says, “Once we had kids, it was very easy to live in Kara’s hometown. Her parents were a great support for her while I was away.” Willard had become home for Joe and his family, so when Willard offered him the job, it was pretty easy for him to “come home.” “Coming home to spend time with my family was the right thing to do at this time in my life,” explains Joe. “I have one daughter in college at Heidelberg University, and one in high school at Willard. Spending these years with them and my wife is so important to me. Pro baseball will always be there. If I choose to return someday, it will be there, but time with my family is now. If I miss it, I can never get it back; I am where I am supposed to be. I am glad I made the decision I did,” says Joe.

Which sports do the Crimson Flashes compete in?

Boys sports include Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Football, Golf, Soccer, Swimming & Diving, Tennis, Track & Field, and Wrestling this year.

The girls compete in Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Golf, Softball, Swimming & Diving, Tennis, Track & Field, and Volleyball.

What do you like best about being an Athletic Director?

“I love being at the games and being around the kids. Seeing kids work hard and find success is the best part of my job,” explains Joe.

What do you like least about being an Athletic Director?

There are three things Joe finds most troublesome about being an AD. Scheduling football games, scheduling football games, and scheduling football games. Joe says, “If you have ever been an AD with a football program, you will understand.”

In the time that you have been at Willard, what is a memory that stands out?

“Going with the girls’ bowling team to the state tournament, watching them compete and make it all the way to the championship match. We came up a little short, but being the OHSAA State Runner Up was really cool. I am so proud of the team.”

Can you share some Willard High School sports history with us?

During the 1980, 1981, and 1982 seasons, Coach Robert Haas and his boys won 69 consecutive regular season games, an OHSAA record at the time. Coach Haas served as the boys basketball coach at Willard for 22 years. His teams were 441-74 during that time. His winning percentage at Willard was 85.6%.

Willard also has a few other notable alumni:

Charlie Frye, who at the time of his graduation from Willard held 17 school football records. His senior year, he led the Crimson Flashes to a 10-2 record, earning Northwest District Player of the Year, as well as being named First-Team All-Ohio. Frye also excelled on the basketball court his senior year, earning First All-Northwest District and Honorable Mention All-Ohio Honors. The Crimson Flashes went 22-3, were league champs and made it to the Sweet 16 in the OHSAA tournament. Frye continued his football career at the University of Akron, winning the MVP award at the 2005 Senior Bowl. He was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2005, and played for the Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders.

Sean Swarner, a Willard alumni and two-time cancer survivor, became the first cancer survivor to complete the Seven Summits when he reached the summit of Mount Everest on May 16th, 2002. The Seven Summits are the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Reaching the summit of each of these mountains is regarded as the greatest achievement for a mountaineer. Sean also received the Don’t Ever Give Up Award, presented by the Jimmy V Foundation and ESPN in 2007. At the age of 13, Sean was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease and later with Askin’s Sarcoma. He was given just two weeks to live in 1990 and is believed to be the only person in the world to ever been diagnosed with both deadly cancers. He once told ESPN Radio’s Bob Valvano, brother of Jimmy Valvano, that he would have been more likely to win the lottery four or five times than to have survived both of these cancers.

How are you connected with The Ohio Floor Company?

The Ohio Floor Company sanded and refinished the wood floor in Haas Gymnasium. Joe asked the Board of Education if he could oversee the floor renovation in Haas Gymnasium. They gave him their blessing, and he began plans to make the floor a showpiece for Willard High School. After getting in contact with Kevin Miller of The Ohio Floor Company, they begin to put Joe’s vision on paper. Joe is an Ohioan at heart, and his love for the state is what inspired the center logo. Ohio Floor was able to use stain to create an outline of the state in the center, and add the Willard “W” to make the center logo quite a sight.

The other main vision Joe had for the floor was the crimson stained border that surrounds the playing surface. As Joe and Kevin worked on finding just the right mixture of stains to create the rich crimson color, Joe admits that he was very nervous. “I wanted to get it just right. If this color did not turn out, I would be responsible for messing it all up,” Joe remembers thinking. Kevin and the guys at Ohio Floor were able to find the perfect stain mixture, and the results are breathtaking. The rich crimson color shows off the character of the wood in a way that paint cannot. “With the help of The Ohio Floor Company and their great work crews, Robert Haas Gymnasium is something the whole Willard community can be proud of,” says Joe.

Besides the renovation to the gym floor, are there any other projects you have in the works for your athletic facilities?

“Willard is blessed with great athletic facilities,” explains Joe, “but we are always looking for ways to make them better.” Other projects in the works include installing field turf at the football stadium and redesigning our throw pits at the track facility. We are working on the tennis courts, as well as signage at the baseball/softball complex. If you have a chance to watch a game in the Haas Gymnasium, make sure and check out the new state-of-the-art scoreboards that have just been installed.

Joe also wanted to make sure people are aware that the Willard City School District is investing in the improvements of the school board offices, as well as building a new bus garage.

Final Thoughts

Willard High School has a great tradition of excellence, both in athletic competition and the building of quality students. With the leadership of Joe Crawford, the Willard Crimson Flashes are posed to have a very bright future.

Check out the Willard High School website for team schedules, and come out to support the Crimson Flashes.