VERSAILLES – John Lantz, who helped lay the foundation for one of the state’s most successful football programs, will return to Versailles Friday night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tigers’ first state championship.
Versailles will honor the 1967 Tiger football team on Friday night, which went 10-0 and was named the state champion by the United Press International. The team’s coaches and dozens of former players from the era will be honored on the field prior to Versailles’ season finale against New Bremen.
“That’s really nice to have something like that,” said Lantz, who was named the 1967 state coach of the year after leading Versailles to the state title. “That’s kind of exciting to see some of your players.”
Along with the 1967 team, Versailles also will recognize some of the teams that preceded it and put the Tigers in position to win a state championship. If there had been Ohio High School Athletic Association playoffs in the 1960s, Lantz thinks his program could have won multiple state championships.
“We would have,” he said. “Yeah, I think so. A lot of teams we really beat bad.”
Lantz is a Greenville native and a 1955 graduate of Greenville High School. He was part of the Green Wave’s undefeated football team during his senior year.
“We cleaned everybody’s clock,” Lantz said.
After high school, Lantz attended Taylor University in Indiana and played four years of college football.
He went on to become a school counselor and football coach at Versailles, marrying his wife, Jean, the same week he began coaching the Tigers. She passed away last year after 53 years of marriage.
Versailles went 1-8-1 in Lantz’s first season leading the program but then turned it around, ultimately winning more than 80 percent of his games in six years with the Tigers.
Lantz credits his assistant coaches including Joseph Allen, Ralph Francis, Mike Gant and Al Hetrick with helping make his program successful.
“I had really good assistant coaches, too,” he said. “In football, one guy can’t coach the whole thing. You’ve got to have a good staff when you’re coaching football.”
After leading Versailles to 29 consecutive wins and a 1967 state championship, Centerville hired Lantz as a school counselor and football coach.
“I told them I’ve got a heck of a deal here at Versailles,” Lantz said. “They said whatever you want, we’ve got. So they gave me a pretty big raise.”
Lantz tried to get Hetrick to join him at Centerville, but he declined the offer and became the Tiger head coach, winning state championships in 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2003.
“I couldn’t get him to come to Centerville with me,” Lantz said. “He liked to live in the country.”
Lantz coached at Centerville for four years before deciding to retire from coaching so he could spend more time with his wife and three sons, Barry, Doug and Dan. Together the family traveled across the United States and to Canada and Mexico.
“That was a very important thing for me to do,” said Lantz, who still lives in Centerville. “But that was a hard thing for me to do if I was a head football coach.”
Lantz said he’s extremely proud of his children and what they’ve accomplished. Barry is a CPA in Cincinnati, Doug is a producer for ABC News/Good Morning America in Orlando, and Dan is a mechanical engineer in Orlando. He’s also proud of his two granddaughters, Kelly Lantz and Candace Lantz.
In addition to his family’s success, Lantz said he’s proud of the work he did as a school counselor and encouraging students to attend college.
“I had a chance to impact a lot of kids over the years,” said Lantz, who retired from his counselor position 28 years ago.
Some of the first students Lantz influenced will join him Friday night as part of Versailles’ state championship celebration. An on-field recognition is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Friday at H.B. Hole Field prior to the game against New Bremen.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.