XENIA — Mike Ungard could recall just about anything and everything sports in Xenia and Greene County without hesitation.
Whether it was a state championship team in the 1920s, or the all-time leading scorer in girls basketball, Ungard could remember it all.
Now coaches and athletes are remembering the former Xenia Daily Gazette and Beavercreek News-Current sports editor, who died Nov. 25 at 85. He was a fixture at Xenia High School sporting events, and then when he moved on to the weekly Beavercreek Current — which eventually merged with the Beavercreek Daily News to form the News-Current — he rarely missed the Beavers play.
“He had a tremendous memory about Xenia athletics,” said Dave Wedderburn, former XHS athletic director. “I knew him when I was in high school. He covered every game. The night before a game, he would write an entire preview of the game, writing about players on each team and strengths and weaknesses of each team. After the game he did interviews and wrote details of the game.”
They were details Ungard — affectionately known as “the Nude Knob” would always remember.
“He didn’t forget a dadgum thing,” said former Xenia boys basketball coach Phil Anderson. “He would bring up something that happened back in the ’40s or ’50s and it was right on target. Just bring all kinds of different thoughts in.”
That’s part of what made Ungard unique, according to Anderson.
“There’s nobody else like him,” Anderson said. “His personality and his style of writing. Everything he did was very unique. It’s hard to describe. It was just unlike everybody else you ever dealt with.”
Ungard’s style made an immediate impression on former Xenia football coach Jack Harbaugh — father of Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh — who had fond memories of Ungard despite only coaching here one season.
Anderson was an assistant coach on the 1966 team and recalled when Harbaugh returned to Xenia years later to speak at a St. Brigid event. While complimenting his former assistants, Harbaugh said that he never met a sports writer better than Ungard, according to Anderson.
Ungard was definitely a throw-back type, telling it like it was, as he saw it, and never sugar coating anything.
“The ‘Knob’ was awesome,” said former Beavercreek football coach Jim Place. “He took a great personal interest in high school sports. It was great when he used to speculate on new hirings and other high school news. He didn’t just write the story, sometimes he was the story. ‘Did you hear what the Knob said today … smile.’ I truly enjoyed Mike. What a character.”
Ungard also had the proverbial nose for the news, often knowing things before coaches.
“I remember he told me Joe Gaines was going to transfer from Carroll to Beavercreek before I had ever heard about that,” former Beavercreek coach Larry Holden said. “I was amazed he heard that before I had. Even though he was from Xenia, he wrote as if he was a Beavercreek writer.”
A member of the Xenia and Beavercreek athletic halls of fame, Ungard was well-respected by the athletes he encountered.
“When I signed at UD the first person my dad made me call was Mike Ungard because Mr. Ungard, even though writing for the Xenia Gazette at the time, was extremely fair to myself and Beavercreek,” BHS girls basketball coach Ed Zink said. “My dad felt he was extremely complimentary of me and our team and he felt that I owed that to Mr. Ungard to tell him first. And I agreed with him. I always felt Mr. Ungard was extremely honest but also extremely fair in his articles. I always liked Mr. Ungard and had a lot of laughs with him as he also covered my coaching for a lot of years. He will be missed.”
Ungard always told both sides of a game, many times receiving thank you cards in the mail from opposing teams about whom he was complimentary, particularly the Springfield South softball team — which had a fierce but friendly rivalry with the Beavers in the mid and late 1990s.
“He covered thousands of young athletes and gave their accomplishments the attention they deserved and wouldn’t get elsewhere to that level,” said Tom Mitsoff, former editor of the Beavercreek News-Current. “He touched thousands of lives in a positive way.”
Former Beavercreek and University of Dayton basketball standout Stefanie (Miller) Landis always looked forward to speaking to Ungard after games.
“Mr. Ungard was genuine and caring, he had a passion for the game and was truly supportive of Beavercreek girls basketball,” she said. “He had a way of putting a smile on your face, whether interviewing you after a game or reading his article the next day about the team. He always brought out that energy and excitement. He was definitely a special person. He will be greatly missed.”
Sarah (Schaeffer) McKitrick, another Beavercreek girls basketball standout, said Ungard had a “genuine interest” in the team.
“Mr. Ungard was so much fun to talk to after games,” she said. “Mr. Ungard also used the best adjectives when describing players and games, it was a treat to read each week. I always looked forward to the next article.”
In addition to writing about sports, Ungard also played them quite well. He was an accomplished golfer, a good football player for XHS, and a solid track and field athlete, winning a Miami Valley League shotput title as a junior.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.