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The Keeper Of Verona’s Sports Statistics
The 1958 graduate of Verona High School started gathering data on Hillbilly football when he was 12, and has never stopped. And as the roster of sports at VHS grew, so did Wickham’s data gathering. So now, when anyone, anywhere, has a question about Verona sports, the first call that they make is to Jack Wickham. The quiet man with the bookcase full of notebooks is one of six people who will be honored this Thursday night at the Verona High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame dinner. The 1957-58 boys soccer team will also be honored and yes, Wickham has the stats on them.
“It’s a silly hobby,” Wickham says humbly, “but I’ve kept it up.”
Though Wickham had been collecting Verona sports data since he was in middle school, it wasn’t until 1987, at the last of the original string of Verona-Caldwell football games, that he began to become famous for it, when the Fifth Downers called to ask him to write a retrospective of the match-ups for the program. Then more calls trickled in, from places like Texas and Kentucky, from former VHS football players wanting to know if anybody had beaten their records.
Wickham keeps all of his data by hand, in notebooks separated by sport and year. There are game scores, of course, as well analyses of coaches and players, like Mel Behney, the 1965 graduate of VHS who went on to play for the Cincinnati Reds. There are clippings of newspaper headlines and photos. And for those of you who can’t imagine how you would find a sports trivia answer without Google, Wickham’s system of organization means that, when the inevitable call does come in, he knows exactly where to look for the answer.
Football was and is Wickham’s favorite sport, so when Jay Curtis and Lou Cortese were gathering material for 75-0, their documentary on the VHS football team that had the worst loss and the worst record in school history, they came to Wickham for the details. Wickham played for the 1957 VHS team (his twin brother Gordon was the quarterback), but he doubts he would make the Hillbilly team if he were playing now. “I was 5’6″ and 126 pounds,” he recalls with a quiet chuckle.
The size of the players isn’t the only thing that’s different about Verona football now. “We used to get six or seven thousand people at a high school game,” Wickham says, of the throngs that once came to Doc Goeltz Field. (The late Paul “Doc” Goeltz, one of VHS’ early football coaches, will also be honored at the VHSAA event.) He still makes it to every home football game, and just about every home basketball game.
Wickham, who worked as a Verona school custodian and crossing guard, confesses that he has sometimes wondered “what the heck I’m doing” with all the statistics. But then the phone rings and he is reminded, once again, just how much Veronans love their high school sports. “It has,” he agrees, “become valuable.”
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