MEDINA, Ohio — Medina High School's longtime cross country coach Milt Place died suddenly on Sunday, according to the school district.
“Coach Place had a unique love and passion for running. Very few people had the knowledge of training and running that Coach Place possessed. His work ethic was second to none. He will be greatly missed by this staff, the City of Medina, the larger community of running, and the multitude of people that he impacted throughout his life," said athletic director Todd Hodkey.
Place was the head coach for the boy’s cross country team. He was well-regarded in the community.
School officials met with the team during first period Monday to share the news of his death and to provide counseling support and resources.
“We will provide support for your children at school whenever they need it through our school counselors and prevention staff,” the school said in a letter to parents and staff.
Place had a long career in cross country, one that first started as a runner under the renowned national coach Joe Vigil of Adams State. Place was part of the 1971 National Championship team in cross country, according to the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches.
In 1980, he started the women’s cross country program at Tiffin Columbian High School and guided them to a regional runner-up title and directed the Tiffin Cross Country Carnival, which became one of the biggest high school events in the nation.
Eventually, he ended up in Medina in 1992 where he began the Medina Festival as a way to promote cross country in Northeast Ohio.
"Those kids benefited from his forethought and his perseverance and his energy to start those meets. Literally, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people run in these two meets that he started," said Scott Van Fleet, the women's cross country coach for Medina High School.
As the boy's head cross country coach, his teams won numerous district and regional titles, including a state championship under his leadership. In 2007, Medina was invited to compete in the Nike Team National Meet where they finished 12th in the country.
Donny Roys was a big part of that 2007 state championship team. He went on to run for Ohio State University. He said in all of his years of competitive running, he's never had a coach quite like Place.
"There was some really great people a part of the program that came out just to be a part of something a little bit different," said Roys. "He’d get to know them their history, who they were, and he’d make them a part of the group, even if they didn’t feel a part of the group."
In 2017, Place received the special “Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award” from the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) at the annual coaches clinic in Columbus. He was also recognized at the State Cross Country Tournament at National Trail Raceway on Nov. 4, 2017. That same day the boy's team took home third place in the Division I race, according to Medina Athletics.
Van Fleet said his hard work, made the kids want to put in the work and trust that it would pay off.
"Sometimes you get lucky and you get a group of great kids and they last 4 years, well he’s been doing this every year since he started," he said. "It was relentless. I mean just everyday same face, same voice, same attitude, same enthusiasm, every day-no matter what."
A retired teacher, he is a ten-time Medina County Gazette coach of the year and a member of three halls of fame including the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Ohio Association of Track & Cross Country Coaches, and Adams State University. He was inducted into the Medina City Schools Hall of Fame in 2017. Place received the very special, “Sportsmanship, Ethics, and Integrity Award'' from the OHSAA.
But while his accolades are impressive, Van Fleet and Roys said it was his ability to genuinely care about every kid that will be his lasting legacy.
"Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care, that's why nobody cared as much as he did," said Van Fleet.
Roys said that caring nature continued long after students graduated from Medina High School.
"He was the person you could pull aside, like 'Hey I need someone to talk to about this because things are not well at home, or maybe Im not feeling too well, or schools not going too well,' he would take you aside or take you to the bleachers behind us and say 'Hey, let’s figure this out,'" said Roys. "A lot of the alumni went out for runs and dedicated those miles to him and I think all of us had to stop because we had to tear up."
Van Fleet said he will be deeply missed by many.
This is a developing story. News 5 will update this as more information becomes available.
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