A powerful, uniting sentiment encircles the No. 66 in a commemorative logo found on every football helmet in Avon Lake this year.
The image is the branded rally cry to honor the memory of Mike Medders, a former All-Ohio football player at Avon Lake and captain in the U.S. Army who died in the line of duty in 2008. Medders, a talented lineman, wore the No. 66 when he played for the Shoremen before graduating in 2001.
This season’s effort builds on the previous dedications of Medders Lane behind Avon Lake Memorial Stadium and his memorial locker in the varsity locker room, says Michael Stuewe, president of the Avon Lake Football Club, which encompasses the full spectrum of football play in Avon Lake from flag to Friday Night Lights.
“Our goal was for every kid to know the story about Mike Medders — to make it bigger than football,” says Stuewe. “That was always in the back of the football program’s mind. Our players get it now. They know who Mike Medders was and what he did on and off the field, giving back to serve in the military and that he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.”
The renewed effort started as a special uniform — in this case all black — but a “tidal wave” of support grew to create the 66 logo, yard signs and special flags, one of which was presented to the Medders family during a football game. They also received a commemorative No. 66 black jersey. “The Medders family has been very supportive and appreciative. Before we did this we made sure they were comfortable with everything we wanted to do to honor Mike’s impact on our football program and our community,” Stuewe says.
At 6’3’’, 220 pounds, Mike Medders was a standout on the high school football squad and beyond. He was also first team All-Southwestern Conference.
“He was a very, very good offensive and defensive lineman,” says Andrew Dlugosz, a close friend and fellow teammate of Medders. Dlugosz is now in his eighth year of teaching at the high school and is the defensive coordinator for the Shoremen. Dlugosz’s father, Dave, was a Hall of Fame coach who led the football program for more than 30 years. “Mike could move very, very fast and he was very, very strong. So that definitely helped him to be able to push people around in both the trenches on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.”
Medders originally attended Walsh University after graduation, then transferred to Bowling Green (BG), where he enrolled in ROTC. Following graduation from BG, he joined the military, was stationed as a troop leader at Fort Hood, Texas, and served at FOB Caldwell in Iraq. He was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 24, 2008, in Baquba, Iraq.
“After the events of 9/11, he pretty much knew that he would be going somewhere to defend his country,” Dlugosz says.
In addition to featuring Captain Mike Medders’ story in its fall and winter programs, there is a list of all fallen soldiers from Avon Lake.
“This is about Mike’s legacy and the legacy of anyone who has made the ultimate sacrifice for the country,” Stuewe says. With that in mind, each football helmet worn by kids from third grade to high school has an American flag on the back “serving as a constant reminder to honor all of our fallen. When the kids are on the sidelines, that American flag is facing the stadium fans. It’s a pretty powerful image.”