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By MICHAEL BURWELL
BOWLING GREEN — For the second straight day, a Mid-American Conference school announced cutbacks in its athletic program.
And for the second straight day, area prep standouts have been impacted.
On Friday, Bowling Green State University announced that it has eliminated its baseball program, effective immediately, due to financial reasons caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Caught in the fallout of that decision were North Baltimore’s Levi Gazarek and Kalida’s Owen Recker.
Gazarek signed a National Letter of Intent in December to continue his baseball and football career for the Falcons. Recker, a 2019 Kalida graduate, was a freshman pitcher for the Falcons’ baseball team before the remainder of the 2020 campaign was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gazarek said in a phone interview Friday night that he was “just absolutely shocked” by the announcement.
“I never really saw it coming, just kind of came out of left field,” Gazarek said. “Definitely took a while to sink in.
“It’s hard because first the high school season being taken away, the only thing that kind of kept me from getting too down on that was looking forward to playing in college. I was like ‘OK, at least I still got college.’ And now, after I heard this today, I was like ‘wow, really took that away too.’ Just makes you really want to cherish everything more, every moment you get on the field, anything because you never know.”
Gazarek said that BGSU’s baseball coaches — head coach Danny Schmitz and assistants Kyle Hallock and Ryan Shay — reached out to him via telephone to inform him of the news. Falcons head football coach Scot Loeffler and tight ends coach Chris Hedden also talked with him to express their sorrow, which Gazarek said meant a lot to him.
Gazarek, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound multi-sport standout, said he will stay with BGSU to continue his football career. He will play tight end for the Falcons.
“Just gonna go into it totally focused on football now,” he said. “If I’m meant to play baseball again, I’ll play and that’s how I’m trying to look at it. Hopefully it comes back in a couple years while I’m still there or something, maybe an opportunity will present itself. If I’m meant to play again, I’ll play but right now, just trying to really focus on football and go full-go there.”
Gazarek, who is also North Baltimore’s boys basketball career leading scorer, was a first-team all-Blanchard Valley Conference selection for baseball in each of his first three seasons.
In 2019, he batted .412 with 12 doubles, two triples, 18 RBIs and 27 runs scored. On the mound, he went 2-2 with a 1.11 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched.
Gazarek’s pitching stats in his first two high school seasons were impressive as well. As a sophomore, he had a 1.65 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 462/3 innings pitched in posting a 5-2 record. As a freshman, he went 5-3 with a 1.69 ERA. He tallied 62 strikeouts in 492/3 innings.
Gazarek helped North Baltimore win a Division IV district title in 2018. The Tigers topped Carey 10-3 in a district final and fell to Plymouth 2-1 in a regional semifinal.
In the final game of his prep basketball career, Gazarek passed his father, Marty, to become the school’s all-time leading scorer at more than 1,500 points. Gazarek was the BVC’s leading scorer and a first-team selection each of the past two seasons. He was also the BVC player of the year as a junior.
On the football field, Gazarek earned second-team all-BVC, first-team all-Northwest District and third-team all-Ohio honors at the athlete position in 2019. He eclipsed more than 1,100 passing and rushing yards, 200 receiving yards and accounted for 23 touchdowns as a senior.
Gazarek has had to get used to numerous schedules throughout the school year, and although his final prep baseball season was canceled due to the pandemic, he has been keeping busy with school work and alternating between specific football and baseball workouts.
“It’s just been crazy with the schedules. It’s been good, though, taking on that challenge and I was looking forward to continuing it in college and seeing how it would go,” he said.
Meanwhile, Recker was a two-time first-team Division IV all-Ohioan and a two-time Putnam County League Player of the Year for the Wildcats, who won outright or shared four straight PCL titles and reached the Division IV regional finals in 2016 and 2019. As a junior, Recker went 8-0 and allowed just one earned run with 91 strikeouts in 461/3 innings pitched.
A 6-4, 228-pound right-handed pitcher, Recker started two games for the Falcons (2-11 record) before the rest of the 2020 season was canceled. He went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA and had five strikeouts, four walks and allowed seven hits in 71/3 innings pitched.
BGSU’s decision to drop its baseball program is part of a plan for a $2 million reduction to the operating budget of the intercollegiate athletics department, according to a school release.
The move affects 34 student-athletes and three coaches, and will leave BGSU sponsoring 17 NCAA Division I sports (six men’s, 11 women’s), according to the release.
“This was a very difficult, but necessary, decision,” BGSU Director of Athletics and former Falcons’ baseball player Bob Moosbrugger said in a statement. “As a baseball alumnus, my heart breaks for the families affected by this decision. We will ensure the student-athletes in the program have support during this challenging time. We will honor their scholarship agreements through graduation and, should they pursue their collegiate baseball career elsewhere, we will assist in the process of finding a new home.”
Added BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers in a statement: “This decision was not made lightly, and does not reflect the rich history of the program, including five Mid-American Conference championships and four NCAA regional appearances.”
On Thursday, the University of Akron announced it was discontinuing three athletic programs — men’s golf, men’s cross country and women’s tennis — at the end of the 2019-20 academic year due to financial reasons caused by the pandemic. Upper Sandusky senior Brett Montgomery, who had signed in November to continue his golf career at Akron, said Thursday afternoon that he would be entering the transfer portal to find a new school to continue his golf career.