NEW PALESTINE — If there’s a middle- or high-school home football game in the Southern Hancock school district, rest assured Mike Baugh will be watching from a birds-eye view in the press box.
That’s where Baugh helps keep an eye on the game clock as an official timekeeper for the district, despite having had a stroke a few years ago.
Baugh, a 1980 graduate of New Palestine High School, has volunteered for the job for more than three decades, along with his good friends, John Kottlowski, 70, a 1965 New Palestine High School graduate, and John Biersdorfer, 74, of New Palestine.
The trio, who used to work the signal poles on the sidelines in their younger days, are local mainstays. Together they keep the official time, down, distance, quarter and play clock for all seventh- and eighth-grade, freshman, junior varsity and varsity football games.
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For Baugh, who turns 56 in early October, the games are truly a life-saver, keeping him active and involved supporting the athletes, something he did when he was a student-manager for various sports in high school.
Baugh had a life-altering stroke in 2013, affecting some of his mobility and leaving him unable to be on his own to deal with daily life tasks, his family said.
After spending two and half years in a rehabilitation facility, Baugh now lives in an assisted nursing home on the south side of Indianapolis.
Still, in the past three years he has not missed a middle- or high-school football game.
His sisters, Terri Haynes and Kristy Baugh-Willhelm, along with Kottlowski, take turns getting Baugh to all the football games to work, making sure the official timekeeping team stays intact.
Dressed in a Doe Creek Middle School baseball cap and team shirt, Baugh marched up the bleacher steps at the middle-school field for a recent game with one of his sisters closely behind.
His family knows how much Baugh looks forward to football season and being able to contribute to the games, particularly since his stroke.
“It means everything to him,” Haynes said. “It gives him some purpose.”
Baugh’s mind is sharp: he knows who’s playing, team records and the importance of the matchups.
“He’s just got a fighting spirit and never misses a beat,” Kottlowski said. “He’s so reliable.”
Sitting in the press box before a recent seventh-grade football game, Baugh was relaxed with game announcer John Alter, a Doe Creek Middle School teacher. The two drank a few sodas, munched on some popcorn and joked with each other waiting for the other timekeepers to arrive.
Alter joined the group as the announcer for the middle school games a few years ago and noted how people such as Baugh, Kottlowski and Biersdorfer help make the football program a success.
“We can’t do it without people like Mike,” Alter said. “That’s what our community is — people like Mike who step forward to help.”
Baugh is always game-ready, his press box friends said. He focuses on the officials on the field and the task at hand once the game starts, keeping the down and distance, both key components of making sure a football game runs smoothly.
Baugh, Kottlowski and Biersdorfer have done just about every volunteer job for every sport in the district for many years but take special pride in working together to keep the game clock for football, something they’ve done together for nearly 35 years.
All three earned their state championship rings when the Dragons football team won the state championship in 2014.
Prior to his stroke, Baugh worked in retail and distribution but always made sure he had the time to volunteer for the district sports programs.
His volunteer work has now become his all, with football being his favorite sport, he said.
Following the stroke, Baugh had to work extra hard in physical therapy and even demanded extra work to make sure he would be able to get up and down the bleacher steps, so he could get to his job in the press box, his sisters said.
As he stood on the top step of the bleachers at the middle school gazing at the football field, watching the opposing team warm up, Baugh flashed a wide grin before heading into the press box.
The smile prompted his sister to point at her brother as she, too, smiled and said, “This is his passion.”