WHEELERSBURG — For those that didn’t know, Dave Watts was a lover of golf, strawberry milkshakes, getaways to Las Vegas every April, and life.
But perhaps, Watts was the biggest lover of Wheelersburg Pirate football.
And now, instead of along the Ed Miller Stadium sidelines, he will be watching his beloved Pirates from high above.
That’s because Watts, an integral individual with Wheelersburg’s program for exactly half-a-century, passed away on Sunday at the age of 86.
Watts’ passing was immediately announced on social media, including the official Wheelersburg football Twitter page @BurgFball — which even altered its profile picture with Watts’ likeness.
The post reads: “The Wheelersburg Football Family and so many others are mourning the loss of a great man. Dave Watts became a staple part of the program with his service and dedication. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to all those who have been touched by his love and devotion.”
Watts was also a former coach in the Pirates’ Pee Wee and Junior High programs, and from 1995 through this past season —sans the Pirates’ first state championship season in 1989 when he was away caring for his ill wife — was the dedicated varsity equipment manager, who was honored by not only Wheelersburg’s program but also by the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Southeast District Board and the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association.
He started in 1969 under head coach Bill Boyer, and served under eight head coaches —including Ed Miller (1972-1982 and 1984-1991), Larry Hall (1992-1998), Tony Lewis (2002-2007) and current head coach Rob Woodward (2008-present).
Tributes have poured in since Sunday on social media and elsewhere about “Wattsy” — from former Pirate players and coaches and even community members.
What Watts did daily, weekly and yearly as a team manager wasn’t likely noticed by fans, but those past players and coaches sure appreciated what Watts did not only on gamedays, but also in practices and even in the offseason.
And remember, what Watts did was on a volunteer basis.
Woodward, who was an assistant on Lewis’ staff from 2003 until he became head coach, consistently mentioned Watts’ “consistency” when reflecting upon him during a telephone interview on Monday.
“His professionalism with which he did his job, and with incredible consistency for so many years, is what I will remember most,” said the coach. “He always was willing to go above and beyond and do whatever needed done because he had the best interests in the student-athletes at Wheelersburg first and foremost. Whether it was unlocking the fieldhouse, getting the water ready, getting our coaches’ headsets ready, getting the footballs ready, washing jerseys, cleaning, setting up things for practice and games, making sure the other managers were on top of things, just all the everyday workings with the program, he did it all and made our jobs as coaches so much easier. You’ll never meet a finer person either. I can’t say enough about him. The biggest thing was his relationship with kids. He invested himself in the program and could communicate with them. He touched a lot of players’ lives, and developed a lot of special relationships.”
Many Wheelersburg football alumni agreed with Woodward — whether they played in the past four seasons, in the late 1980s under Miller, or in the mid-1990s for Hall.
Makya Matthews was a senior on the most recent (2019) Pirates’ club, a three-time all-Ohioan including a two-time first-teamer, and a member of the 2017 Division V state championship squad.
“Everyone loved ‘Wattsy’. He always brought the team up with his positive energy. He loved life and probably loved Wheelersburg football even more. It was never a bad day when he was around, he would make the worst practices better just from one of his comments or jokes,” said Matthews. “I’m honestly lost for words still, but he is a legend and will never be forgotten.”
Matt Miller, the current East head coach and backup quarterback on the 1989 team who was listed as “Matthew” Miller in the team program, played for Ed Miller from 1988 thru 1991.
He was happy to talk about “Wattsy”, “for he was a great man”.
“I’ve known Coach Watts my entire life. Not just because he was a coach, but he was a close family friend. I was around him a lot through the year and even as I got older, I would go golfing a couple of days a week with him and a few others. He was a very special person. He always had a way to pick you up,” said Miller. “Even when you weren’t necessarily down, his energy still gave you an extra pickup. He was someone you looked up to and someone that you always trusted would be there for you through thick and thin. It’s a sad time because he was loved and appreciated by so many.”
He was appreciated so much so that the OHSAA Southeast District Board recognized him last season with its Friend of Youth Award — for 50 years of volunteering with Wheelersburg’s program.
He was a United States Army veteran and had been employed at the former Empire Detroit Steel plant as a coal handler, and was a member of the Wheelersburg First Church of Christ and the American Legion.
Woodward said Watts was rightfully recognized by the OHSFCA at its February banquet, although he wasn’t able to attend in person.
Watts was a junior high coach in the early 1990s, as his first season with the varsity program was with Hall in 1995.
Jason Mantell, whose father Tony was Wheelersburg Middle School principal at the time, transferred to the Pirates from Notre Dame —and graduated in 1997.
He went on to coach for three years at Wellston and two stints at Manchester, and is now the assistant superintendent in the Piketon district.
“Coach Watts took his job seriously, and whenever it came to equipment, if anybody legitimately needed something, he was right there for them. He was out there in the summer heat, for two-a-days, he got there early in the morning and was there all day, he gave so much of his time to the program,” said Mantell. “And he was a volunteer, so that tells you right there he wanted to be there. It’s not like he had to be there, he wanted to be there every day. He was always positive, the players trusted him, he was just somebody you count on all the time. He cared about the program, and never sought out recognition. To be part of the same program for 50 years, that is just unheard of. His being there spans generations — with grandfathers, fathers, sons and now grandchildren in the program.”
Andy Hall, the Jackson High School head coach of the past 11 seasons, played for the Pirates from 1986 thru 1988 — and coached with his father at Wheelersburg in 1993.
“Coach Watts has been a huge part of Pirate football. He would do anything to help out the coaches and players. He was committed to the program and never asked for anything in return,” said Hall. “Even now that I am on the opposite sideline coaching against Wheelersburg, he always made a point to come up to me either before or after the game and ask me about my family and congratulate me for our successes at Jackson. Dave was a great man and will be sorely missed in the Wheelersburg football program and in the entire community.”
Woodward said the Pirates’ 2020 team motto will be “Be The Best” —and that the Pirates of the upcoming campaign prepare to play in Watts’ honor.
“Dave Watts was the standard of what ‘Be The Best’ meant. I’ll never forget after the (2017) state championship win. Everybody else was down in the end zone celebrating and taking photos and Dave was over there on our sideline quietly picking up the towels and footballs and headsets,” he said. “I was so happy for him that we won the state. But even then, he was doing his job and being the best at it. Just the consistency with which he did it — before, during and after every practice and before, during and after every game. We love him and we will remember him and miss him.”
Indeed, Watts was the best because he loved Wheelersburg football — even more so than golfing, milkshakes, Las Vegas trips and life itself.
Arrangements are under the direction of the Harrison-Pyles Funeral Home in Wheelersburg, as graveside services will take place at Sunset Memorial Gardens.
Due to Ohio’s in-place order restricting mass gatherings, a celebration of life will be held at a later date — with information on memorial contributions and/or donations to be announced at that time.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved