By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
Longtime Oxford Wildcats track and field assistant coach George Schraut died unexpectedly on June 24. He was 68-years-old.
Graduating from Naperville Central High School in 1970 and Illinois State University in Normal in 1974, Schraut moved to Oxford in 1975 and lived in the same house he originally purchased on Davis Lake until his passing.
Schraut started his Wildcat coaching career in 1980, meaning the 2020 season would have been his 41st with the program. As with all other spring sports, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the cancellation of the most recent track and field season.
Working with Oxford’s throwers, Schraut’s list of accomplishments is impressive.
“In his 40 years, George coached 25 All-State athletes and was an assistant coach for 17 league championships,” head athletic trainer and fellow assistant track coach Andrew McDonald said.
“We were in three different leagues during his tenure, the North Oakland Activities Conference (NOAC), Flint Metro League (FML), and Oakland Activities Association (OAA), and he coached 27 boys champions in either the shot put or the discus, and 13 girls champions.”
McDonald served as the Wildcats’ head coach from 2004-09, before stepping back due to starting his family, and knew the asset he had in having Schraut on his staff.
“It was wonderful, as a coach, going into a dual meet knowing, ‘Guess what? We’re going to sweep the shot put and discus because we have the best coach in the room,’ he said.
“George would always have his throwers ready to go for the big meets, and that’s a testament to his skill. What he was able to do with kids in just four years was pretty impressive. He was definitely someone who understood the event and he had high expectations for his kids.”
Schraut’s support of Oxford athletics was not limited to the track and field program, either. Regularly seen at all types of extracurricular activities, two of his throwers, Chris Gambol and Eric Ghiaciuc, went on to play football at both the collegiate and professional levels.
A 1982 graduate, Gambol played on the Iowa Hawkeyes’ offensive line under iconic head coach Hayden Fry and spent three seasons in the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions, and New England Patriots from 1988-90.
Ghiaciuc, also an offensive lineman and a member of the Class of 2000, attended Central Michigan University, spending his first four years in the Chippewas’ program under Mike DeBord before now-Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly took over the reins in Mount Pleasant. Selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth-round (No. 119 overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft, Ghiaciuc lasted six years in the league, also playing for the Chargers and Miami Dolphins.
The most accomplished thrower Schraut mentored, however, was 2016 graduate Connor Bandel. Now competing in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) for the Gainesville-based Florida Gators, Bandel won consecutive state titles in both the discus and shot put as a junior and senior, becoming the first student-athlete in MHSAA history to do so.
Bandel’s 67-foot, 5.75-inch effort in the shot put as a senior shattered an MHSAA record that had stood for 17 years by more than three feet.
“George cared about the kids, he really cared,” McDonald added. “He would show up at a soccer game for Bandel during his junior and senior years, he was at a dive competition last fall for one of his throwers, sitting out in the pool lobby watching him dive.
“He really felt like that support was always needed for the kids. He talked a lot about going to weddings and graduation parties, and I’ve worked here for 20 years and been able to get to know a lot of his former throwers because they would come back around and keep in touch with George.
“He understood I’m not just training these guys to be better athletes; I’m training them to be productive adults. That’s one of the benefits of extracurricular sports.”
Jordan Ackerman, Oxford’s Director of Athletics, also spoke to Schraut’s love for his town and what he meant to all the Wildcat programs.
“George was that guy you looked forward to seeing at the end of the day. He would come in pretty much every day and the kids always loved seeing him, there was something special about the way he interacted with kids, they were just drawn to him.
“He was such a great mentor, not only to the kids, but also the young coaches. He was very supportive of all Oxford athletic teams. He was at all the football games, working the gate, he would make it out to the basketball games and sit in the same spot every time. If he didn’t show up, it was like it was an off night for everyone. You expected George to be there and looked forward to his warm conversations and great sense of humor.”
Establishing himself as one of the best throwing coaches in the state throughout his four-decade run, Schraut was never one to speak about himself, always giving the young men and women credit for their successes, despite the invaluable role he played in the developmental process.
This humbleness and down-to-earth nature presented itself in his home life, too.
“It’s comforting and painful at the same time hearing from so many people who loved him,” Schraut’s stepdaughter, Danielle Collins, shared.
“We know George was a special, special guy. We’ve been enjoying hearing stories about him and spending time together as a family.
“He was a history enthusiast, he liked to build tanks and have model ships, things like that. He was a big Tom Clancy fan, read all the time, but he didn’t love anything more than his grandkids. He lived on the lake and loved spending time with his grandkids. We would travel to North Carolina every other summer as a family and that was really important to him, too.”
A funeral Mass is scheduled for today (July 1), 11 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lake Orion, with visitation beginning one hour before.