JACKSON TWP. The Neitzelt family does father-son time a bit differently than most during the spring.
Whereas a lot of fathers watch a game on TV, play catch with or take a vacation with their sons, Rick and David Neitzelt spend theirs devoting hours of practice and competition time to their respective girls track and field teams and at some point late in each season, squaring off in the annual Jackson-Hoover meet.
Rick Neitzelt has been the head coach at Jackson for more than four decades and the school’s track/soccer stadium is named for him. His son has helmed Hoover’s girls team for the past six seasons, meaning there have been a half dozen Neitzelt family duels so far.
David leads 4-2, a result he describes as in favor of "the good guys," while his father characterizes those numbers a bit differently.
Rick got the upper hand this year as Jackson toppled Hoover 84-53, giving the Polar Bears a rivalry win and momentum.
"David and I are pretty competitive when it comes to track meets. Neither of us wants to be on the short end of the score, but we have always had a friendly rivalry for our meet," Rick said. "Neither wants to lose, but at the end of the meet, regardless of the score, it's a handshake and congrats to the winner. This year I felt going into the meet that I had a slight advantage. In the end, we did."
David, who said entering the season that his young roster would face the challenges that come with an inexperienced team stocked largely with underclassmen tends to face, noted that because of the wild spring/winter weather that blanketed Ohio, the meet was pushed back from its originally scheduled date.
"My thoughts this year (were) to have the girls fight through the whole meet. With the reschedule due to the snow, our girls had back-to-back meets with GlenOak on Tuesday and Jackson the next day," David said. "This was quite a daunting task for our young group of girls to try to perform at their best two days in a row. The meet ended up close to what I expected. I always try to do a mach meet and see where I think we'll score points and how close it'll be. Sometimes it works, other times the meet is full of surprises."
This time around, Jackson had the edge, but David admitted that winning against his dad is a favorite accomplishment during a track season. When he was younger, the two would play video games together and compete there, but now that he’s older, his dad is an encourager and advisor as he runs half-marathons or plays softball.
"We are definitely a team more than competitors," David said.
"We both have a competitive nature," Rick added. "When we visit my sister in Florida, they always have cornhole tournaments. If we are on opposite sides, it's game on."
The family, the two men admitted, doesn’t shy away from talking about the meet itself. Rick noted that they tend to root for David, a development he takes in stride. Though games, meets or matches featuring two family members or close friends competing on opposite sides can sometimes compel those involved to talk less in the days leading up to the event, Rick and David said they continue to talk during the week of their meet against one another.
David pointed out that they each drop a hint or two about which events they’re most confident about heading into the big day, although if the meet is especially close, they tend to stay away from one another until the outcome is decided.
"This year there was a little gamesmanship. Neither giving away any secrets, but hinting at what might be … a little, ‘I think I can beat you,’" Rick said.
David, who attended neither Jackson nor Hoover, is a GlenOak graduate who said he also has an interesting experience when he coaches against his former head coach, GlenOak’s Scott Ferrell.
Although he has ties to two other Federal League schools, David said there was no hesitation on his father’s part in reacting to him being hired to work and coach in the district of Rick’s biggest rival team.
"When I took the job at Hoover, I knew my dad was happy. Rivalry aside, I know he wants what is best for me as an individual and North Canton Schools is a really nice place to be," David said. "Once I took the job at Hoover, I was able apply for the girls cross country head coach which then led to the track position. It was a crazy first year of teaching and coaching at Hoover, but it has led to some great experiences and allowed me to meet some amazing people."
The two also faced off in a way at the league championship meet earlier this month, with Jackson again getting the better of the battle, outscoring Hoover 79-42. It doesn’t count as an "official" win the family’s standings because it wasn’t a dual meet, but Rick will take all the victories he can get in the friendly rivalry. If nothing else, it will give David some extra source material to pen the message for his Father’s Day card next month.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB