For the first time in nearly 30 years, the students at Lancaster High School didn’t have Jack Greathouse there to greet them when they start school. Greathouse, who has served as a phys ed teacher, head basketball coach, assistant principal and finally principal instead is greeting a different group of kids to a different building.
Standing in assistant principal Jon Spires’ office in late July, Greathouse walked me through his time at LHS over the din of a massive box fan. His old office had a much more effective portable air conditioning unit, but the office now held sports trophies, family pictures and memorabilia for someone else: newly minted principal Scott Burre.
The trademark charm was still ther, but the typical Greathouse buzz was replaced with an air of uncertainty – something foreign to the former LHS principal.
“You’re never prepared for this because it’s uncharted waters,” Greathouse said. “When I came here I could never envision this. I’m kinda at a loss for words here.
“Me, at a loss for words.”
Greathouse started his educational career as a means to coach basketball. After coaching as an assistant at Marshall University, he began climbing the ladder through West Virginia, starting at Spencer High School. He soon found himself rebuilding Marietta High School’s struggling hoops program, starting 0-and-5 but then rattling off 13 wins in the next 18 games. After one season in black and orange, the head coaching job at Lancaster came open, and the rest is Gale Force history. The only hitch is that we don’t even know who to thank for Greathouse’s time here.
“The Lancaster job opened up and I got anonymous letter, I think three, asking me to come and apply,” Greathouse mused, still baffled 30 years later. “They were postmarked from Columbus, but to this day we have no idea who sent them.”
As unbelievable as that may sound today, maybe just as unbelievable is his initial goal for the Gale Force team.
“I came in here and, man, I was climbing. Three-to-five years – that was the goal,” he says, shaking his head. “Thirty years later we’re still here and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Three-to-five years actually turned into 15, with the Golden Gales averaging 15 wins per season during that stretch. Following the 2003 season, Greathouse resigned as head coach to allow him more time to watch his son, former Lancaster great Kyle, play basketball at Western Carolina University.
“We had a really good run that year and we left the program in great shape, but it was a family decision to get out,” Greathouse said. “My son’s playing down in Carolina on Saturdays and I would’ve been up here scouting some insignificant game, and my assistants said they would’ve covered for me, but then I wouldn’t be doing my job. I wouldn’t be giving 100 percent, and that’s important.
“When you see that ‘Gale Force 100’ that’s what that means. So I had to step away.”
Even without knowing who who initially invited him to Lancaster, Greathouse does know who were his biggest supporters during his time here.
“Most immediate was (superintendent) Steve Wigton,” he said. “I came in as an assistant principal for Steve and he has been a great friend and mentor to me, and he’s done just an incredible job here.”
Greathouse collects himself before saying the next name, and I know what’s coming. That familiar lip-pursing and hard-swallowing, choking back what would surely be a flood of emotions from a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve. He finally continued.
“And Gary Mauller. It’s gut-wrenching to even think about him not being around.”
No question Jack’s biggest supporter was the one who started cheering him on as a student in West Virginia’s Parkersburg South High School: his high school sweetheart, wife, and retired General Sherman Junior High math teacher Sandy.
With both of their children now living outside of Greenville, South Carolina, the two began planning for a post-retirement life living in the Palmetto State. With just one year remaining at LHS, Sandy made the move to prepare their house while Jack stayed in Lancaster, travelling down south on occasional weekends.
“I mean we dated in high school and to be apart from each other…” Greathouse trails off and the distance from his family becomes palpable in the room. For the first time you can tell that his passion for Lancaster High School is going to be topped, but for the worthiest cause imaginable.
“We want to be active grandparents.”
A recent visit put Greathouse in an unfamiliar scenario: being pampered.
“Our oldest granddaughter is six, and I really owed her a day,” Greathouse grinned. “So I took her and said ‘come on, we’re gonna go get a pedicure.’ Man, she was in seventh heaven… and so was I!”
Picturing the man who once stormed Lancaster’s sideline shouting instructions at the Gale Force team transitioning to a salon chair having his cuticles tended is jarring, but the change is well worth it to Greathouse.
“Both of my grandkids who are in school asked me ‘Papaw, are you going to be able to come to our school for Grandparents Day?’ and for the first time I was able to say ‘Yeah, that’s the plan!
“There” has meant Ohio’s Glass City for a long time, but trading FroshFest for family cookouts seems like a pretty good deal, and nobody has earned it more than the Greathouse family.