Clem Caraboolad Award: Archbishop Hoban’s T.K. Griffith earns Coach of the Year award

By Michael Beaven
Beacon Journal sports writer

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T.K. Griffith leads a discussion of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger in his tenth grade English class at Hoban High School. Griffith is the 2013 Clem Caraboolad Award winner. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)
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Teaching and coaching are opportunities Timothy Kirk “T.K.” Griffith never takes for granted.

Griffith learned to strive for success from his parents, Tim and Penny. He was immersed in school and sports as a youth, and still is, at age 41, at Archbishop Hoban High School. Living with morals and values might sound cliché to some, but to Griffith, they are important attributes that he instills in the children he mentors at home and at Hoban.

Griffith’s leadership and organizational skills allow him to direct five English classes a day at Hoban and serve as the Knights’ boys basketball coach. His hard work has led him to be the 25th recipient of the Clem Caraboolad Memorial Coach of the Year award from the Akron Beacon Journal and the Touchdown Club of Greater Akron.

Griffith smiled when he found out he was selected for the honor, which is named after Caraboolad, a former teacher and coach at Hoban and Walsh Jesuit.

“This is a huge honor,” Griffith said. “That is the highest honor that I will ever get in coaching. Coach Caraboolad was my hero and represented everything I wanted to be like when I got into coaching. … It is just very special because of the Hoban connection.

“I start class every year with a talk about coach Caraboolad and about the song On The Turning Away by Pink Floyd. I talk about the lyrics. I had coach Caraboolad in geometry class the day he passed away on a Friday [Jan. 29, 1988, at age 43].”

Griffith was a junior at Hoban then. He said Caraboolad had the song lyrics on his desk, and they were passed out to students after his death for inspirational purposes.

Griffith recalls Caraboolad’s PVC pyramids hanging from the middle of the classroom with Christmas lights attached, and the two Matchbox race car tracks and a dartboard.

He recalls the old street signs from around Akron in the classroom, the four speakers that blasted rock ’n’ roll music for the first five minutes and the final five minutes in class that would irritate traditional teachers. He recalls seeing Caraboolad ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles and in sports cars, and most important, he remembers Caraboolad’s home telephone number written on a tack board if any student needed assistance.

“He was totally off the wall and his own guy,” Griffith said. “He was all about weird and wacky stuff, and having fun. He was a great man.”

From student to coach

Hoban Principal Mary Anne Beiting was one of several people who nominated Griffith for the award. She has watched him evolve from a young student to a “compassionate and inspiring teacher and coach” who won his 300th game in his 20th season Feb. 16 against visiting Chardon Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin.

“T.K. was influenced by Clem Caraboolad,” Beiting said. “He has also been influenced by his father and his father’s friend, Tom Goodall. From these men, T.K. learned the importance of hard work, persistence, values and compassion. T.K. models these characteristics in his family life, in his teaching and in his coaching.”

Beiting said Griffith “preaches teamwork and pride” and “introduces students to the beauty of writing and of literature.” Her sons, Tony and Jake, played for Griffith.

Griffith was a senior reserve on Hoban’s 1989 boys basketball team that won a Division III state championship with Dan Heideman, Aaron McGhee, Beau Sloan, Derrick Owens and Anthony Stewart playing starring roles on the team coached by Vince Gross.

Griffith holds the school record for points in a quarter with 17 against visiting Lorain Catholic on Dec. 16, 1988. He earned two letters in cross country and one in basketball.

“I have heard T.K. give Clem’s message,” said Hoban Athletic Director Michael Del Medico, a 1973 graduate of the school. “It really resonated with T.K. as a teenager, not just the athletic part of it, but everything. The life lessons are obviously something T.K. has taken with him through high school, college and into his life as a teacher and coach.”

Ohio to Texas to Ohio

Griffith, who is 6 feet tall, grew up in Stow and attended Holy Family. His brothers Shaun (39) and Kevin (35) also graduated from Hoban. T.K. coached Kevin from 1994-1996.

Griffith met his wife, Amy, at Hoban and they started dating their senior year. Both went to St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and returned home in 1993. Griffith earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Edward’s and later received a master’s degree from Kent State.

In between, he landed his dream job in June 1993.

Griffith coached the St. Michael’s Catholic Academy boys JV basketball team in Austin, Texas, for two years while in college and then returned home.

“My dad urged me to apply for the Hoban job,” Griffith said. “I was, like, ‘Dad, I’m 21. They are not going to hire me.’ He kept bugging me and bugging me.”

Initially, Hoban was not going to interview Griffith, but Beiting decided to call him in.

“I will never forget this, I walked into our chapel and said a couple of prayers and went into the Holy Cross room and had the interview,” Griffith said. “There were six people across from me. I had prepped myself and every question they asked me, I had lined up on my sheet. Everything flowed. I had the greatest interview of my life, really the only job interview of my life. I ended up getting the job at 21.”

His first season as Hoban coach was 1993-1994, when he was finishing his master’s degree and doing student teaching. He and Amy got married in 1994 and now live in Green.

Griffith was the director of alumni his second year and taught three classes. Since then, he has taught English and religion classes, served as the freshman adviser, the director of admissions, the public address announcer for Hoban home football games and the boys golf coach for in 1995.

“To be called Coach is pretty special,” said Griffith, who has four children Allie (18), Austin (16), Abby (11) and Andrew (7).

Allie is a senior at Hoban who plays on the girls basketball, soccer and track and field teams. She is Hoban’s student body president and is headed to Notre Dame. Austin is a Hoban junior who loves theater and piano. Abby and Andrew are students at St. Francis de Sales. Griffith has coached his children’s CYO and AAU teams.

Griffith loves to speak and write. His quirkiness, randomness and sense of humor lighten the mood when things get too serious. A passion for English and basketball are constants in his life, filled with friendships that have been built from those avenues.

Hoban girls basketball coach Scott Callaghan marvels at how Griffith coaches.

“It is both humbling and inspiring to watch a coach who is always in control and who is always in tune with the pulse of his student-athletes,” Callaghan said. “For T.K., practices are an extension of the classroom. He challenges, encourages, explains and demands.”

Dealing with tragedy

Griffith has struggled through tough times that have included the recent deaths of his father, uncle Bob Griffith, Goodall and close friends Tim Heil and Dick Rinella.

Hoban senior Andy Udovich recalls conversations before and after practices and games that included life events outside basketball.

“Coach would talk to us about the necessity of working hard, the rewards of enduring suffering and the importance of perseverance,” Udovich said. “Before every game, we would have a chapel talk given by a current player or coach, a guest or coach Griffith himself. These talks would include a current news event, a past Hoban player, a meaningful poem or something similar.”

Brother Kenneth Haders said Griffith’s coaching goes beyond a dry-erase board.

“In the classroom, T.K. is an inspired and dedicated educator,” Haders said. “His love of literature combined with his skill in writing provides daily motivation to his students. In the gym, T.K. is the kind of coach parents want for their sons and daughters.”

A 20-year run of fun

In 20 seasons, Griffith has a 301-142 record with 17 winning seasons.

The 1998 team was 22-5 and a Division II state semifinalist led by seniors Ron Powers, Chris Unton and Mike Golden. The 1999 team won the AP Division II state title and went 21-1 with seniors Tony Beiting, Lin Chatman, Ryan Daisher, Jerron Crockett, Sean Millhouse and Andy Hipsher leading the way.

“What makes T.K. different is that he is not just a coach,” Powers said. “He loves to teach. He is a Hoban guy through and through. He believes in the kids on the team and the kids he teaches. He is about improving people and helping people grow.

“He was a completely different coach from when I started high school to when I finished high school. He grew astronomically. He was kind of emotional and wild on the sidelines. We grew as players as he grew as a coach.”

Hoban assistant coach Jason Horinger is a 2003 graduate who played on a 20-2 team his senior year that included Jun Wilder, Anthony Hurt, Dan DeCrane and Tom Heil.

“What I have come to appreciate the most about T.K. is his honesty,” Horinger said. “His authenticity in every relationship allows him to cross any boundary society has set up. He connects with so many individuals because he is a lover of the human condition. Basketball is his passion, but life is his medium in which he paints his masterpiece.”

Horinger and other assistants Mike Considine, Adam Cestaro, Chris Kestner and Billy Clark regularly see Griffith discussing current events and lyrics to rock and rap songs with students.

The 2008 team went 20-4 and won a Division II district title guided by Kyle McMillen, Devaujhn Boddie, Will Fleming, Theo Barnes and Brian Slack.

“T.K. really lets his seniors be leaders on the team,” Powers said. “He gives you the opportunity to dictate how things go and I like that about him.”

Former Hoban players Tim Lucey, Tom Heil, Dan Decrane, Kevin Arway, Andy Hipsher and Rory St. Jean are coaching elsewhere.

Hoban seniors DeAllen Jackson, Jaelen Hollinger and Saadiq Muhammad are expected to decide soon where they will play college basketball.

“It was a really great experience playing for coach,” Hollinger said. “We really learned a lot on the court, and there was a lot off the court that we learned that nobody got to see. He used to take us outside and give us speeches all about Hoban. He loves Hoban.”

Hollinger said Griffith will use quotes such as “Transcend beyond your limits” and “Carpe diem” to motivate.

“After he won his 300th game, I started thinking about him getting 600 wins,” Hollinger said. “I just don’t see him stopping anytime soon.”

Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or mbeaven@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.


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