Young at Heart: 87-Year-Old Mathews Coach Energizes Football Program

VIENNA, Ohio – Bill Bohren emphasizes instructions written on whiteboards in clear view of the more than two dozen football players who are intently listening to him.

The Mathews High School players eventually migrate from the team’s indoor facility to a practice field on the other side of the Mustangs’ stadium, where Bohren still holds their attention. 

“I like how much he cares about the sport and us – putting effort into it,” Mathews rising senior Austin Barnes says of Bohren, who is 87 years old. 

Despite his age, Bohren’s power is quite evident, including to Kevin Haynie, the team’s offensive coordinator.

“He has more energy than any coach and any player in this room,” he says.

Bohren was hired to helm the Mustangs in December. His previous coaching stops include Ottawa-Glandorf, Steubenville, Portsmouth, Lakeview, Boardman, Butler (Pa.), Salem, Niles, LaBrae and Southington.

Bohren’s longevity as a coach is matched by only a few. John McKissick of Summerville (S.C.) High School is the only coach who showed up in an internet search with more time than Bohren. McKissick retired in 2015 at age 89 after 63 years.

Bohren has a record of 295-171-6, but states he’s not hellbent on getting 300 wins. That’s not why he took this position.

“If it comes, it comes,” he says. “If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Bohren, who spent the last three years as an assistant coach at Niles McKinley, said he yearned to run his own program again. The last time he was head coach was 2017 at Southington. 

At Mathews, he replaced John Protopapa, who spent five years with the Mustangs’ program.

“It was the idea I wanted to coach again,” Bohren says. 

The veteran coach is optimistic about the 2021 season, saying he has about 30 players, including 15 freshman – five who will likely play on Friday nights this fall. There’s five varsity coaches on staff with three at the junior-high level, stating his program has some good, young kids. Mathews begins the 10-game 2021 season Aug. 20, hosting Steubenville Catholic Central at Mathews’ Booster Field in Vienna.

“I think they’re going to have a winning season every year,” Bohren says.

The season began as Haynie, the school’s physical education instructor, had the players lifting weights in January, soon after Bohren was hired.

Bohren says his teams have a reputation for running the football, and that won’t be changing as Mathews seeks to win the small-school based Northeastern Athletic Conference with teams from Trumbull and Ashtabula Counties.

“If you’re rebuilding a program that hasn’t had much success for a few years, one of the easy ways to run the clock is to run the ball,” Bohren says. “All this spread [passing offense] stuff you go bang, bang, bang and you took 15 seconds off the clock.”

Bohren’s career started in 1963 as a graduate assistant coach for the Illinois State University football team. Prior to moving to Illinois, he played for Ambridge (Pa.) High School – a place he revered. 

He says open enrollment in most school systems, which allows players to transfer to other teams, makes it near impossible to retain athletes at their home institutions like Mathews.

“Kids just jump all over the place,” Bohren says. “There’s no loyalty. I wanted to play in Ambridge with all the kids I grew up watching, playing in that stadium. That’s what you want here. You want kids who want to play for Mathews High School.”

That school spirit does not begin with pep talks before games. Motivating players starts with the preparation the week before, he says. It has to be one cohesive unit taking the field on Friday nights.

“You got to treat the kids like they’re your own kids,” he says. “There has to be that esprit de corps in your football program. That comes for them all the way down from the coaches, captains on your team, your senior leadership and the community. “

That unity starts with the team’s coaching staff.

Haynie works in tandem with Bohren. The two live near each other in Cortland and seem to tag team the coaching responsibilities at Mathews. 

Bohren does not have a cellular phone or email. All he has is a landline, which means Haynie attends to any online materials needed to keep the team functioning.

“He’s worried about football,” Haynie says of Bohren. “That’s all he cares about.”

Pictured: Bill Bohren, head football coach for Mathews High School, meets with the team before a practice.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.