City names athletic fields, complex after beloved community members

by Melissa Martin

The historic Stadium Drive football field and the surrounding athletic complex, along with two fields at Blossom Hill, have new names courtesy of the city administration and Brecksville City Council.

Mayor Jerry Hruby said the city for years has attempted to honor the only coach to guide the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Bees to a state football championship, along with the city’s winningest eighth-grade football coach. But the school district, which owned the Stadium Drive fields, prohibited naming properties for individuals.

Now that ownership of the Stadium Drive property has passed to the city, Hruby said the policy can change.

Accordingly, the Stadium Drive field, which served as the high school football stadium from 1944 through 1986, is now named the Ralph DeSantis Field in honor of a standout teacher and coach who served the district for nearly four decades.

DeSantis, Hruby said, was a language arts, reading, social studies and gifted-curriculum teacher before becoming a high school guidance counselor. He was also the broadcasting voice over the loudspeaker during the Bees’ boys and girls soccer games and served as an assistant basketball and track and field coach.

Among DeSantis’ credits are coaching the eighth-grade football team to more than 800 victories and being twice named district Educator of the Year. He was an inductee to the district’s Gallery of Achievement in 2019.

“The minute we took title to [this property], I remembered how important he was to all the young athletes, many of whom attended his funeral. … In Brecksville, [Ralph] is and was a sports legend,” Hruby said.

Equally deserving of such recognition, Hruby said, is the man who mentored DeSantis, Joe Vadini.

Vadini, who began working for the Brecksville schools in 1957, was a star player for the U.S. Army and Mount Union College football teams. He also wrestled and played on Mount Union’s baseball team.

“He was so good at baseball, he probably could have played pro baseball if he wanted,” Hruby said.

But for Vadini — a physical education and history teacher and later a guidance counselor — his greatest passion was working with youth. In addition to pioneering the Brecksville wrestling program, he served as head football coach from 1959-1983, leading the Bees to four undefeated seasons, eight league championships and their only state championship during his final season.

NFL player and former Brecksville Recreation Director Tom Tupa was one of Vadini’s star athletes and played on the championship team, Hruby said.

Vadini was named 1983 Ohio High School Football Coach of the Year and Greater Cleveland Coach of the Year in 1972, 1975 and 1983. He was inducted into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1987.

Like DeSantis, it’s what Vadini did off the field that made him a community hero, Hruby said, noting that he was known for assisting and redirecting the community’s most at-risk youth.

“I can’t tell you how many of his former students and players over the years have told me that it if it weren’t for Mr. Vadini, they would probably have been in prison,” Hruby said. “But because of him, they ended up being great citizens and went on to lead successful lives.”

Consequently, Hruby said, the Stadium Drive complex has been renamed the Joe Vadini Stadium Drive Athletic Fields.

“Upon his passing, we received hundreds of letters and phone calls from former students and players asking that we [memorialize him in some way],” Hruby said. “And that’s why we think it’s appropriate to name the entire complex after him.”

The city has also elected to name Fields E and F at Blossom Hill after lifelong Brecksville resident and former City Councilman Mike Harwood, who passed away in 2022 at the age of 59.

“Mike, too, deserves this recognition because he did so much for this community in so little time,” Hruby said.

In addition to his 12 years on city council, Harwood functioned  as a member of the city planning commission. He was also a founding member of the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Organization, where he “fostered sportsmanship, leadership and integrity amongst the youth in the community,” Hruby said.

“He gave much of himself giving back to the city he loved,” Hruby added. “Mike truly knew the meaning of public service.”

Hruby also credited Harwood for being “instrumental” in planning the recent natatorium expansion, the construction of the outdoor waterpark and new police station.

“He is truly missed and truly revered and thought of so fondly by each one of us that when this opportunity came, there was no question in anyone’s mind that Mike should be honored in some way,” he said. “The difficult decision was deciding in what way.”

And so Blossom Hill Fields E and F will be known as the Mike Harwood Fields at Blossom Hill.

Harwood’s widow, Deborah, said her husband would have been “so honored and humbled by this.”

“He would have been honored to be recognized with the other two guys that he knew so well from school and from the fields,” she said.

Members of the administration and city council presented her family with the sign honoring her husband that has  been installed at the fields. The families of the other two men received similar accolades by city council April 18. Signs honoring them have been installed at the Stadium Drive complex. ∞