NEW BOSTON — While football has long been king in Scioto County, Don Lewis’ legendary coaching career — especially with New Boston soccer — was a crown jewel all its own.
And this week, following Lewis’ passing last Friday night, he is fondly being remembered for his pioneering exploits in the sport —while also mentioned for his dedication and support of Scioto County’s youth in other activities.
Lewis —long remembered for his coaching school sports at New Boston, Wheelersburg and Clay —passed away at the age of 76, as confirmation and a pouring of tributes spread Saturday morning across several social media accounts.
By day, he was a pipe-fitter for Local 577 and retired following three decades of service, but by night, he was a committed coach who deeply and genuinely cared about his student-athletes.
Current New Boston boys basketball head coach Adam Cox, who was a Tigers’ team manager and ballboy for Lewis before playing for him from 1992 thru 1994, said “he meant a lot to the village”.
“He was well-loved and I think if you ask, most players will tell you they really loved playing for him,” said the coach. “He belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Scioto County soccer. In the 1960s and 1970s, New Boston had some of the best football teams in the area. So soccer was a big change. But he really built the program up into one of the more dominant ones in the area. And being one of the first schools in the SOC to start soccer, we had a jump on experience playing in the late 80s and early 90s. He brought to light the impact of kids playing soccer at the elementary level and learning soccer all the way up to high school. He was one of a kind and impacted a lot of kids’ lives in New Boston.”
Several other New Boston soccer alumni, and even alumni of Wheelersburg and Clay, collectively consider Lewis “a legend”, a pioneer”, and a “great community man”.
“He was a community guy who leaves a legacy everywhere, not just New Boston. He was a great coach and great human being who cared for everybody and kept everybody accountable,” said Jason Risner. “He mentored a lot of kids, not just in soccer, but in other sports too. He touched a lot of lives for sure. But I will always remember how much he cared about each individual player, whether you were the star of the team or the last one on the bench. He had a great personality and he could joke with us and laugh with us, but when it came time to playing soccer on the field, it was serious and all business. He treated all his players the same.”
Risner, like fellow Tiger alum Anthony Maynard, played soccer for Lewis in the 1991 and 1992 campaigns.
Risner had actually played for Lewis as part of New Boston’s Biddy League Basketball program in the 1980s, and coached soccer in the county for 14 years —including as West head coach for six seasons.
Maynard, in Lewis’ final season at New Boston in 1994, served on his staff — and is currently an assistant coach for the varsity Tigers and head coach of the junior high program, which is actually not affiliated with the school.
Maynard, of course, holds Lewis in the highest of regards.
“Coach Don Lewis was one of the most influential people in my life and if you played for him, you know what I am talking about. Coach Lewis was not only a great coach, but a mentor to a lot of young men that played for him at New Boston. Coach Lewis was a pioneer of his time and in my humble opinion, he was the dean of the Southern Ohio Conference in the early days of soccer,” said Maynard.
Lewis was instrumental in starting the Scioto Soccer League in New Boston, and in 1985 took over the Glenwood High School program after one season as an assistant.
Under Lewis’ leadership, the Tigers quickly became a Southern Ohio Conference powerhouse prior to the split of the conference into two divisions —capturing four consecutive SOC championships from 1986 thru 1989.
The 1988 campaign was quite the magical ride — as the Tigers won the district championship and advanced to the regional championship match, as that club remains the only in program history to ever reach the Elite Eight.
After a year away to coach at Shawnee State University, Lewis returned to New Boston —and coached the Tigers again from 1991 thru 1994.
Maynard recalled Lewis being a staunch supporter — and defender — of his players.
“My senior year (1992) after a hard-fought and bizarre ending to the tournament game against Northwest, a newspaper reporter tried to interview myself and the two other seniors in our locker-room. Coach Lewis said to the reporter, ‘Not now. My boys are hurting.’ He was right there with us with his hands on our shoulders telling us that we will be okay. That’s what kind of man he was and I was proud to call him COACH,” he said.
Lewis — beginning in 1995 and a believer in defense and discipline— then moved eastward along U.S. Route 52 to Wheelersburg, where he assisted the legendary and longtime head coach Paul Boll.
Soon enough, Pirate players got to experience the legendary Lewis like the Tigers had before them.
“Coach Lewis was a great coach, but an even better human. He was a calming presence on the sideline and genuinely cared for others,” said Joe Hayden, a 1997 graduate of Wheelersburg and former Pirate player. “Coach Lewis connected with the players in a way that the other coaches didn’t. Not to say we didn’t have respect for the other coaches, but it was different with Coach Lewis. He was someone we could take ideas to. Style of play and personnel ideas and he would approach Coach Boll. His knowledge of the game was unrivaled at the time.”
Lewis’ last stop was at Clay, although Maynard said his former coach always looked after him.
“I would move on to coach at other schools, but every time he would see me, Coach Lewis would always ask me how I was doing. Win or lose, he would say to me to keep working for your team is improving and if you need anything, you know I’m here for you,” he said.
Lewis was certainly there for individuals of all ages —from when Clay’s Pee Wee football program was shuttered to his unwavering support of Tiger soccer to this very day.
“Coach Lewis coached at Glenwood before my high school years, but I got the pleasure of playing for him at one of our alumni games. In just that one game, I got a feel of what made Don so special as a coach. Don loved the game of soccer, he knew the game very well, and he had respect for those that played the game, ” said current New Boston soccer coach Greg Mauk. “Once I started coaching soccer at Glenwood in 2015, I learned how supportive he was of our program. Him being in the stadium to root us on over the years has meant a lot to me. The impact he made here at Glenwood definitely lives on.”
Marc Cottle said Lewis allowed five or six players from Clay, including himself, to play for him at New Boston.
“It was in the early 80s when Clay shut down their team. But he (Lewis) treated us like we had been there from day one. He was just a great man who treated us with respect, but demanded your best effort daily,” he said. “He taught me toughness at a young age which I needed at that time. He will be missed.”
Indeed, as it was not New Boston only, but all of Scioto County having benefited from Lewis’ legacy.
“He was a very smart guy, and the way he coached made a lot of young people better people, plus better soccer players. He laughed and had a sense of humor and we could cut up with each other, but he definitely instilled a lot of hard work and dedication into whatever he coached and where-ever he coached at,” said Cox.
Lewis’ survivors include his wife of 52 years Sue and his son Richie.
Funeral arrangements were under the direction of the D.W. Swick-Nelson Funeral Home in New Boston.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved