Dick Heller’s basketball has never been said to be the same.
In what would be an important reason, Napoleon was one of two retiring coaches of the year honored by the Northwest Ohio District 7 Basketball Coaches Association as a region all-star game on March 16.
“It allows me to have great times with the kids of Lakota, Oak Harbor and Danbury,” Heller said. “The victory is theirs.” I am only as good as my players, but those who deserve respect make me humble.
“A lot of great coaches deserve this award. It’s important to be polite, but the most important thing is to have relationships. Treat the kids right, be nice, develop them and see what we can achieve.”
Heller, 68, 339-216 was a varsity girls head coach. He spent 24 years at Lakota, including the girls varsity coach from 1991-2002.
He won three conference crowns, nine sectional championships and one regional trip with the Raiders.
He won two conference championships and seven sectional crowns at Oak Harbor from 2002-2021. The Rockets were 20-0 twice in the regular season.
He capped his run at the helm at Danbury from 2017-2022. He was a former varsity assistant at New Riegel.
“It’s always a challenge to buy girls,” he said. “Lakota, that’s where I grew up coaching. I started with the junior high boys. It was fun to ride. In Oak Harbor, the kids used to ride at Lakota.
“It took them a year or two to adjust. It was a year of adjustment, times change and you learn the kids and what to take. It took a lot of effort to get the coach to take them to the level they said.
“Believing in what we do and developing key skills into a perfect player for the success of the team.”
Heller didn’t hesitate to push.
“We asked for hard work, dedication to the summer program and open rounds,” he said. “It was a big ask of us to buy it. For the staff we always felt strongly about the defensive aspect of things.”
Heller graduated from North Central High School in 1972 and began coaching CYO as a student at the University of Toledo in 1977.
Heller coached with Larry Bruce, Tom Rettig, Dave Worstein, Paul Gnepper and Steve Lucius.
“I looked back at the coaches,” he said. “I had a new man with Cardinal Stritch’s boys with Tom. This is a huge influence. Summer camp in Oxford. I did a Steve Mix camp in Toledo. Trained with great people.
“I tried to have an open mind and to take things with influence and mixture. It was a process. The main thing is, I like the interaction with the kids and coaching. I tried to make documents of life to carry with him too.”
A Woodmore girls varsity assistant and former Heller assistant at Danbury, Ryan Beam is one branch on his own coaching tree. Trabs played for Heller at Lakota, and coached Erin Foos of the girls.
“I love to coach players and the potential is alive,” Heller said. “I had great assistants. Coaching staff. Former players are coming back and the coach is with us. The girls and the staff, it’s a ward too.
“At Danbury, we worked so hard to rebuild the system. We had two lean years. We knew the new juniors and two seniors would be good. I was happy to see that success. We followed through and tried to see a special one to help him create.
“Buckeye was Central’s nemesis. I’m very happy and proud.”
Foos guard Heller was the program’s only trip to the regional in 1977. Lakota narrowly missed the return visit and Danbury got its first victory.
“It meant luck, and we added friendships,” Heller said. “Lakota did a nice thing, brought back the regional team. The students back. They recognized the lambs and the girls and showed the staff.
“Erin gave Toledo Christian a run for his money. We stayed in touch. I played against this coach in Danbury. He beat me every time. It hurts, but if someone does that to you, I’m glad. It was Erin.
“I hope it helped me to do that with our very interaction.”
During his career, Heller earned the Ohio Award for sportsmanship, integrity and ethics. He was the Division II coach of the year in the state.
“There is a connection with each school, it is difficult to distinguish,” he said. “We formed a strong bond at every school. Great kids.
Heller attributes his longevity and success to the support, sacrifice and understanding of his wife and children. He is grateful.
“I’ve always been into sports,” he said. “My parents told me that there were too many sports. I love basketball and baseball. When I went to Toledo, we played basketball all the time and went to all the games we could see.”
“I wanted to be a coach. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I knew I wanted to be a varsity coach. The girls’ job opened up at Lakota and I jumped at the chance.”