Ohio State coach Urban Meyer co-hosted a free football camp for 225 area children at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio, on July 5 and gave a publicity boon to his hometown county that it sorely needs.
Meyer grew up in neighboring Ashtabula, Ohio—my own hometown as well. He hosted the camp alongside Eastern Kentucky coach Dean Hood.
This story is heartening for a number of reasons. Ashtabula County is an area that can use this type of attention from a high-profile hometown guy like Meyer. The city Ashtabula itself has been featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as "a city that cries despair."
The county experienced a huge loss of manufacturing jobs between 1954 and 2002, upwards of 50 percent. Between 2005 and 2010, the total number of jobs across all industries in Ashtabula County decreased by 4,277.
But there are those out there who are doing their best to switch the script, and Meyer gave them a nice boost today. He showcased the SPIRE Institute, the project of another Ashtabula County native—Geneva's Ron Clutter.
So what is the SPIRE Institute?
Developed in 2009, it's "one of the largest indoor, multi-sport, training and competition complexes in the world," according to its website. It is more than 750,000 sq. ft. of Olympic-grade indoor training and competition facilities. It also features acres of outdoor facilities.
"And as a non-profit, every dollar we earn is reinvested into developing athletes – whether it's growing the facilities or offering financial assistance – so the opportunities are always expanding," Clutter says of it himself.
"And SPIRE isn't just reserved for star athletes. We invite athletes at all levels, in all sports, from all backgrounds to join us. From high school students to active seniors, from Paralympians to Special Olympians, from Wounded Warriors to weekend warriors—our only criteria for acceptance is a love of sports and a desire to strengthen your mind, body and character."
I don't need to take Clutter's word for it.
I toured the facilities myself last fall. They were massively impressive, to say the least. Everything you'd expect when you hear the term Olympic-grade: gigantic swimming pools, full state-of-the-art football fields—indoor and outdoor—track and field facilities, basketball courts, gymnastics training and so much more. Forgive the gushing, but growing up in Ashtabula County, this isn't the type of thing you expect to see when you come home for a visit. But it sure is nice.
And that's the point.
Urban Meyer came home, and he brought a lot of cameras with him. He gave a news conference on Ohio State Football hosted at the SPIRE facility. Meyer's the hometown boy making good, and I don't think I'm being presumptuous when I say that Ashtabula County is thankful, and proud, to have one of our own leading the Buckeyes. O-H....