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A class act

June 11, 2011
By MIKE MATHISON - Sports editor ( , The Herald-Star

The family was touring Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. when my phone rang Monday morning. I was not in a place to answer it, but the person left a message,

"Mike, this is John Mihalyo from Madonna. I have a story for you. Please call me when you get a chance."

And, he left me his cell phone number.

I returned the call while we were heading to lunch.

"Coach Kramer is stepping down."

The first time I covered Madonna was the final game of the 2006 season. The Blue Dons were 4-5 heading into a game with rival Bishop Donahue to John Marshall High School.

I believe it was a 27-0 win by Madonna, keeping Kramer's streak alive of never having coached a losing season while on the sidelines at the school.

What a class man.

He was kind, courteous and made sure I got everything I wanted.

Kramer's teams won a Class A state championship in 2009 and were runner-up in 2004 and 2008. The Blue Dons have been in the state playoffs the last four years in a row and made it to the elite 16 in seven of Kramer's 13 years.

Kramer did not win 110 games in 13 years by accident - he was 110-35, a .759 winning percentage.

After that 5-5 season, the Blue Dons, of course, then went on that amazing three-year run that ended in a dominating 14-0 performance and a 27-7 win over Man High School to claim the West Virginia Class A state title.

That team allowed 45 points in 14 games and was the best defense in the state.

I hear people claim all the time that anyone would have won the state title with that team two years ago.

That's a lie and you all know it.

Some coaches would have messed that up.

That 14-0 team got its roots on that 5-5 team when they were freshmen.

Those freshmen got valuable playing time on that .500 team.

Not all coaches would have done that.

That team made it to the state semifinals a year later and were whipped by Wheeling Central.

No one saw a march to the semifinals coming.

And, don't tell me you did.

I really liked Madonna's chances to win back-to-back state championships the next year, but injuries to key players derailed their chances.

I liked the Blue Dons chances against Williamstown on an even field, both teams being injury free.

But, that's not how sports are played.

That senior-loaded team, that team who had a ton of playing time behind them, was a wrecking ball the next year.

They buried teams.

They hated when teams got first downs, let alone touchdowns.

Kramer led them the whole way.

Not every coach gets that out of those kids and you all know that.

I saw him kick kids in the butt and pat them on the back. I saw him frustrated with the offensive execution and then smile one series later when a simple call went 79 yards for a score.

The Blue Dons went 38-3 during that three-year stretch.

Kramer is a class act who resurrected Madonna football.

The team was on the verge of extinction when he was hired to find a way to keep the football program afloat.

They had 14 kids and Kramer knocked on doors to get kids out.

There will be 17 lettermen returning this season, including 13 seniors. The Blue Dons also have an outstanding group of sophomores who were undefeated as eighth-graders.

This is a big hire for Madonna because, unlike when Kramer was hired, there are a lot of expectations with this football program.

The stands are filled with people who always think they can do better.

But, while they were talking about it, Kramer did it.

He led groups of young men through 13 seasons at Madonna.

And, he did it with class.

He had parents mad at him for solely selfish reasons.

He had players mad at him for solely selfish reasons.

But, it didn't matter to him.

Sports are greased in selfishness.

Parents want their kids to play regardless.

Kids want to play regardless.

Coaches want to win.

I have stood on the sidelines the past six football seasons and listed to Kramer interact with his players.

I have stood on the sidelines and listed to parents in the stands complain their kid wasn't getting enough playing time.

I have roamed the sidelines and listed as kids in pads bellowed they weren't getting enough playing time.

I talked to Kramer one day about his reasoning behind playing time during the big blowouts and what he did during those times.

He sat down and told me his reasoning for why he did what he did that he felt was in the best interest of his team.

I am not going to explain that here because the discussion was off the record and I told him I would never print it.

But, I listened and once coach was done, I fully understood what he did and why he did it.

We started doing video preview interviews last season for our web site and I talked to Kramer twice.

Both times, once at his home and once at his office at school, he was completely cordial and a pure gentlemen (as were all the coaches who were interviewed).

"You need anything else, Michael, let me know," coach would say.

"Yes, sir."

I have been on the sidelines for many Madonna football games with Kramer pacing up and down the field, home or away.

At some point in time, he would put out his hand to shake mine, "Hello, Michael."

I never expect a coach to acknowledge or say hello to me while we both are at work on the sidelines.

Some do. Some don't.

Kramer always did.

"You know, he's not a saint," one parent told me.

I never said he was.

I never expected him to be one.

If a football coach never made a parent or player mad, something would be wrong with the universe.

We've all just seen one really good football coach get railroaded out of his position.

By the sheer nature of being a football coach, the head coach, you will make a lot of people mad.

Kramer did.

And, so what?

Parents and players got over it.

You cannot tell me that some other coach, some other guy, some other man who wanted to coach football his way, was better for the Madonna football program for the past 14 years than Bob Kramer.

Not a chance.

You may think so, but you would be wrong.

Bob Kramer was put in that position for a reason.

The reason was to bring a football program back from the way of the dinosaurs.

And, this dinosaur did so.

He did so with a lot of love - tough love.

He did so with a lot of time away from his wife.

He did so because he felt a calling to lead a bunch of young teenagers to do things they never thought possible.

He did so because God said so.

He taught your kids to be better football players.

He taught your kids to be better teammates.

He taught your kids to be better people.

He taught your kids to allow a community to be proud.

He taught your kids that it is OK to be the head coach and empty the garbage.

He taught your kids that it is OK to clean up after all of them.

He taught your kids how to represent God, their families, their school and their community with respect, dignity and class.

And, you're still going to tell me there was someone better for that job at that time?

Not a chance.

Bob Kramer, you are a class act.

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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