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Long-time coach Madison coach Opron honored by former players at 90th birthday celebration

Apr. 22—GENEVA — The bonds between a coach and an athlete are often lifelong relationships initiated on the athletic fields but continue into the life.

George Opron had the opportunity to share some of that love on Saturday when well more than a dozen of his football and baseball players at Madison returned to celebrate his 90th birthday.

The Geneva-Madison Knights of Columbus Hall was the place where they came together but it could have occurred anywhere the men touched base after all these years.

Opron was the Blue Streaks' baseball coach from 1960 to 1987, and touched the lives of hundreds of athletes. He was also assistant and head football coach during part of that time at Madison.

Opron greeted each of his players as they walked into the hall and connected with their teams and special memories they shared.

Eric, John and Steven Opron, George's sons, were in attendence. Mary Opron, their sister, couldn't make the event. Mary Beth lives in Avon Lake and has been an elementary school teacher since 1993.

Eric Opron said there were a lot of players that couldn't make it back to the area but sent messages to be read.

The Opron family had a unique experience as George coached at Madison, while the boys — Eric and John — went to Saint John and Geneva, respectively.

Players came home to share stories and some time to brag about a victory over a fellow family member.

Opron started his love of sports in West Virginia and had a chance to meet one a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer.

"I shook hands with Honus Wagner," he said.

Derek Judd, class of 1987, was on Opron's last team and the coach remembered him well.

"He played two sports for me and he was good at both of them," Opron said

Judd was not only a player but a neighbor.

"I've known this man since I was a toddler. ... I used to eat peanut butter sandwiches at his house," he said.

Even on the field memories came to light. Judd needled Opron about making him bunt ... often. He did, however, have a little bit more choice on the base paths.

"He gave me the green light to steal, till I got caught," Judd said with a laugh.

Bill Bukky played for Opron in the 1970s and learned a lot from the experience.

"He [Opron] was the type of a guy who was more than a coach, he was a mentor," he said

Mike Dotson also played for Opron, and is now using some of those skills in the second year of coaching the baseball team at Warren Harding High School.

"I started [coaching] at the same age he retired," Dotson said with a laugh.

Tom Bukky, who played on two of Madison's undefeated football teams 1960 and 1963, that Opron coached, said he was an excellent coach.

Opron was given a book with memories from the players with his picture on the cover to capture the special memories.