Although he won’t be coaching at Piketon any more, don’t think that Steve Chester is walking away from the dugout or the sidelines anytime soon.
In mid-November, after Piketon’s football playoff run came to an end, Steve Chester, wife Cheryl, and son Jacob moved to the Newark/Zanesville area to be closer to their daughters Whitney and Hannah, who are Jacob’s older sisters. By the time spring arrives, Chester will likely be back in the baseball dugout at a high school in the Licking County area.
Chester, a 1974 Unioto High School graduate and standout catcher, was a low draft pick for the New York Mets that year, according to a 1985 article written for the News Watchman by Doug Kimsey. Chester opted to go to school and play college baseball at Miami University. At Miami, Chester played for Bud Middaugh and was a teammate of Waverly’s John Shoemaker for four years.
After college graduation, Chester began his coaching and teaching career at Paint Valley where he was the head football and baseball coach.
“I wasn’t ready. I was young, but they didn’t have anyone,” said Chester of starting his coaching career as a fresh-out-of-college teacher at Paint Valley.
It wasn’t long until he found his home for the next 40-plus years at Piketon High School.
Chester likely has one of the most unique starts to a coaching career of anyone around after being hired on the back of a pickup truck between football blocking dummies in the summer of 1980.
“Ron Hinton is a friend of mine, and he was the Piketon football coach at the time. I was driving with him down to Piketon. He said, ‘Why don’t you come down to Piketon and we can work together?’ We came down here to Piketon and got some blocking equipment that we were going to store,” said Chester.
“I was in the back of the pickup truck with the blocking dummies when Sam Smith, the superintendent, came out and Hinton said, ‘I want this guy hired.’ At the time, they had a special education opening.
“Ron said, ‘I want this guy hired for high school special education. He’s going to be working with me on the football team.’ Sam said, ‘Okay. You are hired.’ At the next board meeting, I was hired. That was 1980. I’ve been here ever since.”
So after being hired on the back of a pickup truck, Chester’s coaching began at Piketon as an assistant football coach and head baseball coach in his very first year with the school.
Ironically, Hinton was only at Piketon one year after Chester joined the staff. He left to go to Amanda-Clearcreek the next year. Hinton asked Chester to go with him to Amanda-Clearcreek to coach football, but Chester declined.
“I just liked it here, and decided this is where I would like to stay,” said Chester of the choice to stay with the Redstreaks.
In 1981 after Hinton’s departure, Chester became the Piketon High School head football coach and coached the first two weeks by himself before assistant coaches were hired.
“I didn’t apply for either (Piketon coaching) job. There was nobody else to take it,” he said. “They just came to me and asked me if I would take the job because I was the only assistant left. I said, ‘I would really rather not.’ But I took it.”
Chester remained as the head football coach for the next five to six years before resigning when another coach expressed interest in the position. A few years later, Chester became the head football coach again.
In summary, Chester has served as head baseball coach twice and head football coach twice at Piketon High School. In the winter months, he served as Piketon’s powerlifting coach, leading the girls team to 12 straight state championships before retiring as a teacher in 2013, which was the same year he was inducted into the Southeast Ohio Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Chris Pfeifer began coaching the powerlifting team the next season.
Chester continued his coaching duties as a football assistant and has served as a substitute teacher even after retiring in 2013. Summers were also full with Chester serving as an American Legion baseball coach.
The largest highlight of Chester’s baseball coaching career was a run to the state baseball tournament in 1985.
“In 1981, I took some of my baseball players to Columbus to watch the state tournament,” said Chester. “Paul Goode and Jamie Ritchie looked me in the eye and told me, ‘Coach, we will be here one day.’ And I thought, ‘You’re crazy.’ Low and behold, we were there in their senior year playing Fort Loramie in the state semifinals.”
Ultimately, the Redstreaks lost that state semifinal baseball game to Fort Loramie by a score of 4-1.
“They were undefeated. They hadn’t lost a game that year,” said Chester of Fort Loramie.
However, Fort Loramie didn’t stay undefeated, losing its first game of the season in the Class A state final. In that title game, Graysville Skyvue defeated Fort Loramie 9-2 to become the 1985 Class A state baseball champions.
Looking back at the run, Chester knew he had a talented team, but the 1985 season didn’t start well.
“I had a good baseball team. We had a lot of good pitchers, not necessarily one outstanding pitcher. We started off slow — nothing spectacular. Our record was not great to start the season. We played Zane Trace and lost the game on errors,” said Chester.
“After that loss to Zane Trace, we were coming home, and one players looked at me and said, ‘That’s it. No more. This losing is going to stop.’ Boom! We go on a 16-game winning streak and end up in the state semifinals.”
The tournament run began when Piketon won its first sectional baseball championship in two decades. First, the Redstreaks beat New Boston, the defending sectional champions, 7-6, in the sectional semifinal round. Then they defeated the hosting Portsmouth Clay Panthers 11-2 to take the sectional title.
The district championship came in the form of a 4-3 victory over the state-ranked-fifth Class A Valley Indians at Unioto High School, the place where Chester played his high school baseball.
Piketon went on to defeat Mt. Gilead in the regional semifinal, which was played at Portsmouth’s Branch Rickey Park. In the regional final, the Redstreaks survived a scare.
“It was a fun and incredible ride obviously. We were down in the regional final 7-0 in the fourth inning and came back to win the game 8-7 in extra innings over Cardington Lincoln. When we were down 7-0, I thought that it was the end. Then that same winning attitude took over, and we beat them in extra innings to go to the state tournament.”
In the state semifinal game, Piketon lost 4-1 thanks to some “two-out lightning” by the Shelby Countians of Fort Loramie, which scored all four of their runs with two outs, according to a News Watchman article written by Craig Dunn.
Fort Loramie scored two runs in the first inning and one in the third to go up 3-0. Piketon’s lone run came in the fifth inning, trimming that lead to 3-1. Fort Loramie plated the final run in the seventh to take the 4-1 win. Graysville Skyvue then defeated Fort Loramie 9-2 in the state final to claim the championship.
“I stayed two more years after that,” said Chester of his first stint as Piketon’s head baseball coach.
“I stopped coaching (in 1987) because I wanted to get my master’s degree. I came back again around 2000 or so and coached baseball for another six or seven years. Then I stopped again to watch my daughter Hannah play her senior year of softball, because I hadn’t been able to watch. Then I didn’t coach baseball at Piketon again until Jonathan Teeters started coaching in 2018.”
Chester remained on staff as an assistant football coach during all of those years.
In the summer months, Chester coached American Legion baseball, returning to his Ross County roots to coach with the Chillicothe Post 757 Colts for approximately 15 years.
“I started at Post 757 as a 15-year old player on the very first team,” said Chester. “That’s when they got that field on Douglas Avenue.”
During his time as a coach for Chillicothe Post 757, Chester had the opportunity to coach his son Jacob, who played for Post 757 just like his father did. Then Steve Chester followed that up by coaching two years with the Waverly Post 142 program under Jonathan Teeters. In all, Chester has coached 18 years of summer baseball.
“I’ve had a long career. In a nutshell, that’s me,” said Chester.
Before leaving Piketon in mid-November, Chester had applied to be an assistant baseball coach at Granville High School. At the time of the interview, he had not been officially hired since the head baseball coach is an assistant coach for the Granville football team which is set to play in the Division III state football semifinals this weekend.
“He said, ‘I would love to have someone who has that much experience on my team,” said Chester of the Granville Baseball Coach Brock Bolden. “If that doesn’t happen, something will come up. Licking Valley’s head baseball coach (Adam Arcuri) already told me they’d love to have me on the coaching staff.”
On the sidelines and in the dugout, Chester always strived to be the best example he could be.
“You don’t do anything as a coach without the players. I hope I was a role model to the players I coached. I tried to do everything the right way,” said Chester.
A student in the Piketon High School library, who was listening to this interview spoke up, saying, “Hey, Coach Chester, you did. I’m going to miss you.” Chester thanked the student and told him he would miss him, too.
Speaking about leaving Piketon, Chester was emotional, saying, “I would like to thank the Piketon community for everything they have done for me and my family. It has been 41 years. It’s tough to leave. I’m two and a half hours away. I’ll come back to visit and will probably come to some basketball games. I’m not going to be a stranger. I’m going to come back and visit these people, because they have been so good to me and my family.”