Editor’s note: This is the first of a six-part series of stories about the 2016 Crawford County Sports Hall of Fame inductees.
The late William “Bill” Durtschi gained recognition for his life and athletic career from the Ohio county he was born and raised in.
The Galion native will be inducted into the Crawford County Sports Hall of Fame this month.
“It’s really nice to see him gained recognition from the county,” Durtschi’s oldest son Bill Durtschi said.
Durtschi’s parents were immigrants from Oberheffen, Switzerland, and had nine children. He was born in Nov. 22, 1922, and was the youngest in the large family.
Durtschi participated in numerous clubs and sports, but it was football that would define his legacy. He played halfback for the Galion football team since his sophomore year in 1937 averaging 8-yards per carry. He was repeatedly recognized by the North Central Ohio League, while his team were league champions during his sophomore and junior years.
He continued to play football as a halfback and punter for The Ohio State University, coached by legendary Paul Brown, in 1940. His high school rivals Cecil Souders of Bucyrus and Robert Frye of Crestline also joined the team.
“He was a fine gentlemen,” Souders said.
During those years, the Bucyrus football team never defeated Galion, the 95-year-old former athlete said.
Durtschi played only three games for the Buckeyes but a knee injury in the 1942 game against Southern California ended Durtschi’s playing career. He was replaced by his teammate, Les Horvath, a third-stringer who won the first Heisman Trophy in 1944. The 1942 team became the first national title team in Ohio State football history with a 9-1 overall record and a 5-1 mark in the Big Ten. It was also Ohio State’s sixth conference championship.
Bill said his father was a humble man and never talked much about his time playing football at Ohio State. But during reunions, Bill and his wife Donna were often told by Horvath that his father would have won the Heisman Trophy if he didn’t injure his knee.
Brown had great influence on Durtschi’s treatment of football. While many fans now stand and cheer wildly at a Galion or an Ohio State game, Durtschi preferred him and his family to sit and quietly watch the game.
“That was the Paul Brown way,” Bill’s wife, Donna Durtschi, said.
Durtschi along with a majority of his teammates entered military service in 1943. He medically discharged after he re-injured his knee.
After he graduated from Ohio State in 1948, Durtschi took on several coaching and teaching roles at the high school level. He taught physical education, while coaching football and basketball at Newcomerstown – the early home of Woody Hayes. He became the head football coach in the following year and led the team to become league champions for the first time in twenty years. He coached for four years at Cuyahoga Falls as a backfield coach, and in 1956 he replaced Earl Bruce as assistant coach for football, basketball and baseball at Mansfield Senior.
Durtschi came back home when he became the head football coach at Galion in 1957. Prior to taking the job, the team had a 3-6 season the previous year. Durtschi and the team also faced other challenges such as a severe flu outbreak that postponed games and the school’s field house burning down along with the team’s uniforms and equipment.
But under Durtschi’s guidance and coaching, the team broke out with an 18-game winning streak and sporting two consecutive league championship wins in the Northern Ohio League. They were the first undefeated team for Galion since 1944.
The rivalry between Bucyrus and Galion was so strong back then that Durtschi had secret practices at a vacant field (now South Park) in preparation for one of its rivalry games with Bucyrus, which ended with a Tiger victory. Galion finished the season with an 8-1-0 record and outscored its opponents 222-78.
“I’ll never regret coaching. I met a lot of wonderful people and I saw a lot of boys grow up to be fine young men. That itself is reward enough,” he once said.
Durtschi retired from coaching in 1961 and later became athletic director. He was inducted into the Galion Hall of Fame in 1979.
Durtschi ultimately retired from education in 1982 after 34 years of teaching. He and his wife Betty moved to Florida several years later.
But Durtschi stayed connected with the 1942 OSU team, which had reunions every five years in Columbus with coach Brown. The late owner of the Cincinnati Bengals would stay in touch with Durtschi and see that he attended Bengals games.
Durtschi’s made a final reunion appearance at an Ohio State game in 1992.
He passed away on July 13, 1994.
Durtschi two other sons Bob and Dave and a total of five grandchildren.
The Crawford County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2015 Induction Banquet takes place at the Trillium Event Center, 1630 E. Southern Ave., in Bucyrus 5 p.m. March 19.
Information submitted by Carolyn Helbert.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the incorrect record of the 1956 Galion High School football team before William Durtschi became head coach. We apologize for the confusion and inconvenience.