The Tressel Family: A Launching Pad for Fields of Dreams

Honoring their parents, sons Dick, Dave and
Jim Tressel (pictured l-r) provided the lead gift
to replace the turf on the BW football field. It
was later named Tressel Field in recognition
of the family.

One vision.
Two parents.
Three sons.

The Tressel family legacy isn’t so much about statistics or play-by-play logistics as it is about optimism…and passion.

From the focused demeanor of father Lee ’48, who led BW to its NCAA national football championship in 1978, to the spirited bleacher cheers of dynamic mother Eloise ’72, the legendary family is best known for their love of football.

But beyond the winning seasons and championships, their most important record is the lasting impact they brought to generations of young men. It was a model of personal and professional success that shaped sons Dick ’70, Dave ’73 and Jim ’75. To them, their family was a team—a winning one at that.

From farmland to football

Having grown up in the farmlands of Ada, Ohio, Lee Tressel originally planned a football career at Ohio State University. Recruited by Paul Brown, he was determined to become the Buckeyes’ next great running back. But, then came World War II. Tressel left the university, enlisted in the Navy and became part of the V-12 program at BW. It was a game-winning move for all concerned.

As a fullback for the Yellow Jackets in 1943 and 1944, Lee led the nation in scoring and finished his career with a (then) school record of 201 points. After a stint in the service, he returned to campus and graduated.

He married his high school sweetheart, and moved to a trailer park that stood next to where Finnie Stadium would eventually be built. In 1958 he became the BW football coach, thus beginning a family legacy—a legacy built on dreams, dedication and community…and passion.

A street, a “streak” and a scoreboard

As youngsters, the Tressel sons were immersed in a life of education, football and community. Their home was down the street from former National Football League Hall of Fame kicker Lou “The Toe” Groza. 

“The house was not only next door to the stadium, it was right across the street from the athletic center and my father’s office,” Jim Tressel recalled. “As a result, I got to watch what my father did every day, to see the impact he had on young people’s lives, and to witness how much people enjoyed being a part of the collegiate football experience.”

But no one enjoyed watching Lee Tressel more than Eloise, who never missed a game in the 23 years before his retirement in 1980. Energetic and supportive, she was the unofficial “team mother” who had the players over for Sunday dinner, mended their torn uniforms and sewed their names on jerseys.

For the Tressel family, passion combined hard work, determination and vision. Under Lee’s guiding hand, BW began a 37-year span of winning seasons that are fondly referred to as “The Streak.” It culminated in his leading the Yellow Jackets to its first NCAA Division III National Championship.

In the scoreboard of life, the 1996 College Football Hall of Fame inductee who centered his life on building character and instilling values summed up his own passion when he said to a reporter in 1978:  “I like to win football games, but my main concern and greatest pleasure is seeing people, students, players I have coached going on to be outstanding in their field.”

Coaching the next generation

Today sons Dick, Dave and Jim have taken their parents’ vision, values and fire into the world, each has created in making his workplace and community a better place.

Dick, the eldest brother, followed his father into coaching. After playing football and baseball at BW, he went on to become head coach at Hamline University (St. Paul, Minn.) in 1978.

He guided the team to 124 wins and two conference titles during his 23 seasons there before leaving in 2001 to join Jim at Ohio State University. But, passion also has to meet with practicality.

“I emphasize to the players the importance of thinking long term,” he explained. “One day football will end. If a player can accept that fact, he can see the value of his education. The most rewarding thing for me is to see someone later in life who tells me that what I said really made a difference.

“My father’s passion helped shape me, and a lot of other guys,” he noted. “I try to do the same for the young men I work with today.”

That precedence includes his three sons, who followed the family career path of working in education. Two are teachers and another is an assistant coach at Michigan State University. 

Teaching students about life

“Our parents were concerned for an individual beyond sports,” emphasized Dave. 

“They taught us that things learned from sports and other activities should be transferred to other parts of life and worked together to shape the whole person,” he explained.  “Values like being on time, building teamwork, setting goals, having good sportsmanship and maintaining a solid work ethic could help make a person successful in a career.”

It was a passion that he took through 35 years in the classroom for the Berea City Schools, a firm belief that “education is a vehicle for teaching students about life.” He was recognized by BW as an outstanding educator in 2007 and serves today as a member of school district’s Board of Education. Dave also supervises student teachers at the College.

For Dave, passion includes the concept of mentoring. He believes it is invaluable to support and guide young people in their personal lives and to assist them in preparing for a career.

In his own family, three of the children are in the field of education and the fourth one is a strength and conditioning coach for the New York Yankees.

Helping athletes learn to win

The most visible of the three brothers today clearly is the youngest, Jim, who has built an exceptional football coaching record, including national championships at Youngstown State and The Ohio State University. Beyond the enormous pressure to win on the field, he continues to be deeply committed to delivering “the full learning package” to his charges.

“It was the only model we knew,” Jim recalled. “Both my mom and dad were all about education first and athletics second. They were all about helping young people grow and establish themselves in productive careers. That was the satisfaction in their total existence. It followed naturally that in watching the personal satisfaction that it brought to them, that the same things became the things we would prize, too.”

While the experiences continue to play themselves out in different ways for each person, he finds that the recurring themes revolving around things like attitude, discipline, excellence, faith and belief, work, handling adversity and success, love, responsibility, teamwork and hope.

“It really shouldn’t matter whether a young person is in Division I, II or III,” he added. “The primary reason that they should be in college is to learn, to grow, to graduate and to become prepared to succeed when they encounter life’s challenges,” he said. “It’s our job to help them become that truly well-rounded person and that is what we thoroughly enjoy doing.”


NOTE: The above feature ran in the Spring 2010 edition of the Baldwin Wallace University Synergies magazine. Contributions by Norm Weber, George Richard and Joyce DeGirolamo.

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