By Garth Shanklin
Former Williamsburg coach, administrator died August 10 at 82
The high school sports community in Clermont County lost an icon this past week.
Former Williamsburg High School coach and administrator Ken Osborne died on Friday, August 10 at 82 years old. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2011.
Osborne prowled the sidelines for the Wildcats for over 30 years, coaching his first team in 1962. He retired in 1994, only to come back for stints at Goshen and Batavia. Osborne returned to Williamsburg to coach the Wildcats for a second stint in 1998, and retired for good in 2001.
Under Osborne, Williamsburg recorded over 200 wins and won eight league titles. The Wildcats also posted four undefeated seasons.
Rex Parsons, Batavia Township Administrator and Osborne’s son-in-law, played against Osborne while in high school in 1976. He said the way the team presented itself stuck with him.
“I remember the discipline of the team,” Parsons said. “We would go to play them, and everything was structured. They were very uniform in what they did, they weren’t running around with their helmets off. The uniforms looked sharp and clean. They were deliberate in what they did.”
Parsons said his team lost that game, thanks in large part to the quality of the players on the field for the Wildcats.
“It was a foggy game, the fog came in and we were ahead for a while,” Parsons said. “They just had so many athletes we just couldn’t compete against them. That was the thing about Coach too, he was planning for everything. Everything was written and ready to go. He was always prepared.”
During his second tenure with the Wildcats, Osborne coached Jason Banium to a then-record 8,216 rushing yards. The record has since been broken twice, most recently by Canal Winchester Harvest Prep’s Daniel Bangura in 2017. Bangura finished his career with 9,650 yards.
Banium still holds the state record for rushing yards in a game, having tallied 532 yards against Clermont Northeastern in September 2001. He also rushed for 498 yards against Hillcrest in 2000 and 475 yards against Western Brown that same year.
Parsons said Osborne spent the majority of his playing career as a quarterback, and as such he had a soft spot for the signal callers. However, he wasn’t afraid to adapt to the personel he had available.
“He was a quarterback at heart,” Parsons said. “He loved to get a guy that could throw. If he couldn’t get a guy that could throw, or if he had a good player then he’d try to highlight the player by changing his offense or his defense around that player. That was one of his strengths. He was hard to prepare for, you never knew what he was going to come up with.”
Darla Scott’s son played for Osborne, and she said he made sure he checked in with parents when their player wasn’t at practice.
“If they didn’t show up for practice he would call the house and want to know where they were,” Scott said. “[They] better have a good reason why they were not there or you would know if they lied and said they were there. He cared about his players.”
Parsons also had memories of Osborne that were more personal. Parsons said he was fond of traveling with Osborne and that his preparation extended beyond the gridiron.
“I loved to travel with him,” Parsons said. “We loved to go out west, drive and take what we’d call road trips. He was a great co-pilot. Everything was the same way, planned out. We knew about how many miles we were going to drive per day, where we were going to spend the night, what we were going to do the next day, and we pretty much stayed to that schedule.”
Parsons recalled a specific trip where the pair went to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Osborne pitched the idea of walking up the mountains, and they packed two backpacks full of supplies for the trip.
“I’ll never forget picking up my backpack and thinking, ‘Man, this thing’s kind of heavy,’” Parsons said. “We get about halfway up there, and we stop, sit the backpacks down and I accidentally pick up his. His was a lot lighter than mine, and I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?!’ He said ‘It’s one of the pleasures of being the father-in-law here, I can tell you what to do. You carry the heavy backpack, I’ll carry the lighter one.’ It was a joke, he was always a good guy.”
Parsons also recalled Osborne’s fondness for detours, saying his father-in-law would often find other things along the route of interest.
“He would look around and say, ‘There’s a drive over here, and it’ll take us by this monument to this guy who did something in 1810,’” Parsons said. “He’d take you off the path, and this was before GPS. You had maps and that kind of stuff. Sometimes you would go a different direction and see something that was out of the way.”
Not every detour was for monuments or things of that nature, according to Parsons.
“If we’d go by a college football field or a high school football field, we’d stop,” Parsons said. “He’d see how it looked and say, ‘Maybe we can do this back home’ if he saw something he liked or was unique about how it was designed.”
Later in life, Osborne continued to follow football and still attended games when he was able. Parsons said Osborne would talk about the games after they finished, and added a story about how he continued coaching his grandson, current Batavia senior Kaleb Moell.
“Back when Kaleb was playing pee-wee football, [Osborne] would always go over with him what he learned in practice,” Parsons said. “He said, ‘Well, they’re telling me how to run and carry the ball.’ Ken said ‘Look, when you feel pressure from the left side, you want to move the ball away from where you think you may get hit.’ Kaleb looked up and said, ‘Gramps, you’re not my coach.’ He was six or seven years old, in his second year of pee-wee. True to his spirit, Ken just laughed about it and went on to the next lesson.”
Teaching lessons seemed to be one of several things Osborne was good at. In addition to his football coaching, Osborne coached volleyball, baseball and golf at Williamsburg. Parsons said he helped athletes become better people.
“Boys would come in to play football and grow into men,” Parsons said. “He always saw in other people the qualities they maybe didn’t see in themselves. He always tried to bring them out. He was really good about that.”
Parsons added that Osborne had a quote that he lived by, and he tried to help others abide by it too.
“He just loved being around young people and trying to show them how they could make a better life. His favorite quote was ‘Sometimes when things are down, you have to suck your gut up and keep pushing forward. You’ll be successful if you keep your head up and make right decisions.’ That’s one of the things I think he always lived by, and he wanted other people to live by that too.”
The recent outpouring of support from the Clermont County community is “heartwarming,” according to Parsons.
“It’s heartwarming to know people feel that way about him,” Parsons said. “He was one of those guys who would help out in any way he could, he didn’t care. Even the opposing coaches, after he quit coaching, would come to him and ask for advice, and he’d be more than happy to share what his vision was of things. He was just a really good guy.”
Williamsburg named their football field Osborne Field in September of 2012. The final game at that field will be played on Friday, August 17 against St. Bernard. Current and former band members, along with cheerleaders and drill team members and an alumni chorus will take part in pregame festivities, with alumni coaches leading former players on the field for the tunnel.
Halftime shows consisting of past and present drill team and band members along with the cheerleaders will perform. The school will also honor Osborne at halftime, and there will be more events after the game.
Williamsburg will open Abrams Stadium with a game on August 24 against Batavia. Parsons said seeing the school leaving the field leaves him with mixed emotions.
“It’s sad, in a way,” Parsons said. “They have a real nice football field that they’re going to be moving to, but it’s kind of the end of an era, Osborne Field not being used for varsity anymore. I remember going there when I was in school, playing there. They always had the grass kept really nice, and he was proud of that field. It’s good to hear the community is moving on, I hope they can continue the tradition of football they have at Williamsburg. He helped get that tradition rolling, and I think we’d all like to see it continue.”
In addition to the jamboree game, Williamsburg is also hosting a celebration of life for Coach Osborne on Saturday, August 18 at 1 p.m. The event will be held in the Williamsburg High School gymnasium.