Legendary Hiland coach Dave Schlabach goes out a champion


DAYTON — There was really only one appropriate way for Dave Schlabach to end his career as Hiland girls basketball coach.

A champion.

The longtime Hawks coach called it a career after guiding Hiland to its sixth state title with a 45-25 victory over Ottawa-Glandorf in the Division III championship game Saturday at the University of Dayton.

Schlabach finished with an incredible 689 wins and 99 losses and made 16 state appearances over 30 years at Hiland.

"I am very appreciative of this time," Schlabach said. "I'm sorry it's over, but it's time for a new chapter. I've got a daughter playing college basketball and I don't want to miss any more of her games. When you're a 30-year coach, you sacrifice a lot, and one of those things are time with the family. I want to focus on them."

All six of Hiland's championships will be something Schlabach remembers, but this one was extra special for him.

"I told the players thanks in the locker room," Schlabach said. "Winning this one is going to make whatever that next thing is for me an easier transition. They're all special, but with these six seniors being with me for so long — most of these kids I've had since third grade. It was just something we did together and I'll relish that forever."

Getting to share a moment with his daughter Gabby Schlabach — a senior who didn't play basketball as a sophomore or junior — was one of the highlights of his final game for the Hawks. The coach visibly broke down emotionally before giving his daughter a long hug.

"For me it was a blessing," Schlabach said. "I got a chance to spend this final season with her. She's a great kid. She's great energy for us. She keeps it light in the locker room, too. She brings a different personality, and I love that about her. I told her I envisioned taking her out at the end of the state championship game at the end and she was going to get a big hug. That's how I saw it happening. I was very glad that got to take place."

Gabby only played 46 seconds in Saturday's title game, but it was still a season well-spent for the senior.

"It was unbelievable to be able to experience this last season with these seniors and especially my dad," Schlabach said. "To come off that court and be able to give my dad a big hug was awesome."

Ottawa-Glandorf coach Troy Yant also expressed his admiration for the job Schlabach has been able to do over 30 years at Hiland.

"He's the envy of anybody who's coaching a program," Yant said. "Anybody that strives to do it right, anybody that strives to build a program, he's done it. He's done it and he's done it well. ... I have nothing but respect for the program he's built."

Also leaving the Hiland bench will be assistant Dave "Cousy" Borter, who has shared his basketball wisdom and passion for the game he loves with his Schlabach, his longtime friend, for the past 20 years.

Borter, a 1985 Garaway graduate, started on Schlabach's staff at Hiland in 2000, the year the Hawks won their first state championship. In his first year he coached the seventh grade team, which featured Lindsay Stuckey and Krista Beechy — who went on to win three state titles during their careers at Hiland.

"Great players make great coaches," Borter said with a laugh.

Borter noted that Schlabach has established a special culture at Hiland during his three-decade career. The assistant coaches have seen the work Schlabach has put in over the years. They live it. His philosophy is work hard and trust the process. And all the coaches have done that.

"Dave is my best friend. We spend hours and hours talking basketball, talking about the kids, and what works best for the team," Borter said. "We have a great time on our summer trips. Last year with everything shut down, we made four trips to Indianapolis. It's an amazing staff.

"Dave and the entire staff (which also includes Jason Mishler, Seger Bonifant and Karli Mast) are in it for the right reason," he continued. "Dave says all the time — he's not in it for the wins. He coaches for the kids."

Borter said it was a special feeling taking home that sixth and final title, because they had spent so much time with this senior class.

"These kids have been chasing this dream for as long as I've been with them, so it's really a special feeling," Borter said. "We've said all year they deserved it, but they had to go get it. It's a special feeling knowing we're going out like this. For Dave and these seniors, this is the ultimate ending. He deserves to go out with a state championship."

Senior Morgan Yoder, Hiland's point guard extraordinaire, said the win was special for the seniors and their coach.

"I think this was a collective effort. We all wanted to win it for him, but we also wanted to win it for ourselves," she said. "We deserved it, after all the years we've been working. This is the high point we wanted to go out on for all of us seniors and for Coach."

Hiland Superintendent Erik Beun commended the time and work Schlabach and his staff and put into the program.

"We are proud of the work Dave has done and all the experiences he has created for the kids," Beun said.

Coach Schlabach's daughter Kennedy, a junior at Ohio Dominican, said it was extra nerve-racking for her to watch his final game because she couldn't do anything to help.

"It's really something special, having my little sister here and seeing him go out like this," Kennedy said. "Knowing this was his last game."

Schlabach's wife, Tonya, is happy to get her husband back.

"It's exciting. [It will] be fun to try new things, explore new things together," she said. "When you watch somebody you love do what they love, it makes the sacrifice a little easier. But there are times I miss having him around."

Note: The Daily Record's Alex Tichenor contributed to this article.