The Athens Bulldogs played a tournament baseball game on Tuesday, and Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire blared through the speakers at Rannow Field after the top of the first inning.
“It was awesome,” Athens head coach Todd Nuzum said. “Once they played that song up there, I heard that hundreds and millions of times. It felt like Tom was back up there, doing the music again.”
Rannow Field is the home of the Bulldogs, but it was also a home-away-from home for Tom Metters. He was such a fixture at the field that the press box was named after him. Tom announced games for Athens in the spring, and Post 21 in the summer legion season.
He was also the DJ, and Johnny Cash was his favorite.
Metters, a sports writer at The Athens Messenger for 45 years, passed away last Friday at the age of 80.
Tom was a giant in the business, a sports-writing legend who started covering Athens County sports in the 1960s. He is a member of three different hall of fames and helped to create the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association.
The first time I stepped foot in the Messenger building, Tom was there. I took over as the sports editor in 2006 when I was only 22 years old.
I soon learned that Tom was my unofficial assistant sports editor of sorts. At the time, he was only covering games as a stringer, but he still showed up at the office daily to help get the next day’s paper out whether I assigned him anything or not.
I saw Tom six, sometimes seven days a week. At times, it was a lonely job spent sitting in front of a computer in the middle of the night, but I could usually count on Tom being around. If he didn’t show up for a couple days, I would worry that something was wrong.
For better or worse, Tom always had a way of livening things up in the office. Let’s just say that Tom was sometimes reluctant to embrace modern technology.
It was common to hear Tom slamming a computer mouse against his desk, yelling at the machine in front of him that wasn’t doing what he wanted. Tom waged a nightly battle against computers and the systems we used, a fight that usually ended with him proclaiming things were done better back in the day.
There was another night where Tom had disappeared from his computer for some time, so I went to investigate. I found Tom at the office printer, the machine seemingly taken completely apart as he tried to fix a paper jam.
Tom and I spent a good portion of the rest of the night frantically trying to put the printer back together before the morning shift came to work.
Even as he was in his late 60s, Tom didn’t want to slow down. He always had a project he was working on.
Tom had his favorite events that he loved to write about, as I soon found out. He always covered the O’Bleness Hospital Charity Golf Tournament every June. He would always handle coverage of the Athens Marathon, spending the weeks after the race typing up the agate results.
An avid bowler, Tom would also hand-deliver recreation league bowling results every weekend to be printed in the paper.
Tom never missed a high school basketball tournament game in the Convocation Center. He would sit along press row for every game, no matter how many were on the schedule. It was one of his favorite times of the year, as he got to visit with so many of his long-time colleagues.
Tom also loved to go to the boys state basketball tournament in Columbus, as he told tales of watching LeBron James and other great players who played in the event. He continued to attend the Final Four until he was no longer able to drive himself to the Schottenstein Center.
But first and foremost for Tom was his love of legion baseball. Tom would come in every night in the summer with a report on the latest legion game regardless of where it was played.
Tom played a large role in organizing the Fourth of July legion baseball tournament, hosted annually by Athens. I remember one summer he had conversations going on simultaneously with three different people on three different phones in the office, trying to figure out a revised schedule after rain had interrupted the tournament.
It was a glimpse into what undoubtedly made him so good at his craft. Tom truly dedicated his life to covering high school sports in Athens to the point where he had a hard time transitioning into retirement.
As Tom moved closer to his 70th birthday in 2009, he started to lose some velocity on his fastball, to borrow a baseball reference. Quicker sports like basketball and football became more difficult to keep up with.
Tom still wanted to cover everything the same way he once did, but his body wasn’t allowing it.
It was a difficult position to be in, trying to communicate to a living legend like Tom that he should scale back the amount of writing he does.
In the summer of 2010, Tom gracefully transitioned into his official role of retired sports writer. After countless stories written, his final writing clip for The Messenger was covering the Athens Athletic Hall of Fame ceremonies in September of 2010.
With Tom no longer coming to the office daily, my encounters with him became fewer as the years progressed. At first, he was still a fixture at home games for Athens football, boys’ basketball and baseball even if he was no longer covering them.
Slowly though, Tom would be seen less at these games. It started to become more common for him to miss home games. The Bulldogs eventually needed to find a new PA announcer for home baseball games. A regular question I would get would be, ‘How is Tom doing these days?’
Tom was in the press boxes at Hamilton Township and Reynoldsburg High Schools for Athens football playoff games in 2012. By the time Athens made its run to the state championship game in 2014, Tom would stay home and listen to most games on the radio.
Tom eventually transitioned into the Hickory Creek Nursing Home. The last time I saw him at an Athens event was when the Bulldogs’ baseball team won the district title at Bob Wren Stadium in 2017.
As news of his passing spread on Tuesday, condolences poured in on social media not only from around Ohio, but around the midwest. It always seemed like every sports writer I met knew who Tom was, and reaction to his passing only backed that up.
When I found out the news on Tuesday, a flood of memories came back. Memories of Tom telling stories from yesteryear, memories of watching Cincinnati Reds games in the office together, memories of seeing him find a way to push through when trying to get a story done.
The start of my sports writing career coincided with the conclusion of his. We were as opposite in a lot of ways as two people could be, yet we sat together in the office night after night, month after month for four years.
I always hoped I helped Tom as much as I could in his later years at the paper. I know he helped me tremendously as I got my start.
Thanks for all the stories and the memories, Tom. You won’t soon be forgotten.
Kevin Wiseman is the sports editor at The Athens Messenger. Send him an email at email@example.com.