Four years after being part of Ironton’s 1979 state championship football team, Tim Hodges was still filled with pride.
So much so that Hodges never took off the championship ring he was awarded, along with the rest of the Fighting Tigers.
He slept with it on.
He showered with it on.
He worked with it on.
That’s how much it meant to him. It was a constant reminder of what a special team accomplished in 1979.
But one fateful day in 1983, he and a girlfriend were camping at Lake Vesuvius when they decided to take a swim.
For some reason, Hodges carefully took off the ring and put it underneath his towel.
When he got back from the dip, the ring was missing.
“There was no reason to do what I did,” he said. “I can’t remember taking that ring off since I got it in 1980. I left that thing on for everything.”
Except one time.
Hodges and his then girlfriend looked frantically for the ring but came up, huh, emptyhanded.
“I was torn up about it,” he said. “It’s hard to describe. It meant so much to me because that team meant so much to me.”
Hodges was a fullback-linebacker on the ‘79 state champions that shocked Ohio with a 7-6 victory over heavily favored Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the Class AA finals at the Akron Rubber Bowl.
Ironton scored with 31 seconds to play and kicked the extra point to finish off a 10-0-1 record. It was only the third playoff appearance for Ironton. The first was 1973 when the Tigers were state runners-up after losing 38-13 to Cleveland Benedictine.
In 1975, Ironton lost to Cincinnati Wyoming 27-6 in the semifinals.
Hodges remembered losing two games in fifth grade, having played tie games in sixth grade and eighth grade and then going undefeated as a junior and senior. He didn’t play football as a freshman or sophomore because of concentrating on basketball.
“I was a 6-2 point guard and even though I was fairly quick, I wasn’t going to have the size to play in college,” he said. “I kind of disappointed Coach (Bob) Lutz but he forgave me.”
Hodges came back out for football and eventually earned a scholarship at Akron University, where he played on the same Rubber Bowl field with far different results.
“We lost seven games my freshman year,” he said.
Ironton football was never far from his mind even if his hand didn’t have the same ring to it.
“My friend and teammate, who recently passed away, knew I was upset about losing the ring and he couldn’t understand why,” Hodges said. “I said, ‘John (Moritz), we both walked off that field together state champions. It’s something we’ll never forget.’”
With time, the lost ring finally left Hodges’ mind though. “I thought I’d never see that ring again,” he said.
It turns out Hodges was wrong about the ring.
Back in 1983, Dorothy Savage and her husband, who were from Indiana, were traveling through and stopped for a picnic at Lake Vesuvius.
They’d stopped at a roadside park near the beach where Hodges thought he’d lost the ring.
She dropped something by the table and when she went to pick it up, there was a ring with Ironton Fighting Tigers and 1979 on it.
She surmised it was somebody’s class ring. Dorothy called the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office to see if anybody had reported one missing. But she never received a call back.
“I didn’t report it missing,” Hodges said. “I just lost it.”
Dorothy tucked the ring in her pocket and the couple returned home to Rochester, Ind.
Fast-forward to 2012, nearly 30 years later.
Dorothy, who is now 82, was moving in with her son, Fred Savage, and his wife, Rita. They had packed away several boxes.
Fred and Rita were going through some of the important documents and items when they came across this ring.
They looked at it closely, even under a magnifying glass, and learned it was somebody’s state championship ring.
“My wife suggested we do an Internet search and see what we could find,” Fred said.
They searched Ironton, Indiana, with no luck but then hit paydirt after typing in “Ironton state football champs” on Google.
“The whole story popped up,” Fred said. “We went to a website that had all the Ironton (Tribune) newspaper articles attached to it. I read a couple of stories and came across Tim Hodges. I was even able to see a picture of him.
“It shows you the power of the Internet. It was like Bam! Bam! Bam!”
Fred emailed Jim Walker, the longtime Ironton Tribute sports editor who had written the stories in 1979, to ask him about Hodges.
“I said ‘I’ve got this guy’s championship ring. Do you know him?’”
Walker assured him he knew Hodges very well, that he lived in Flatwoods, Ky., which was nearby.
Walker sent an email to Hodges, who almost couldn’t believe what he was reading. The ring he had lost 30 years ago was coming home.
Savage offered to mail the ring to Hodges but he wanted to pick it up personally.
He drove to Warsaw, Ind., last weekend where he met Fred, Rita and Dorothy Savage. Hodges must have thanked them over and over again.
“He was really nice,” Fred Savage said. “He spent some time with my mother, which was great of him to do.”
Hodges said if he hadn’t already committed to spending some time with his sons in Columbus, he could have talked with the Savages all weekend.
“We had so much in common,” he said. “We shared the same music taste and everything.”
Savage said the Ironton ‘79 team that was a big underdog reminded him of Warsaw’s 1984 state basketball championship season in Indiana.
Warsaw stunned the Michigan City Rogers in the semifinals and then defeated Vincennes in the state finals.
Several players from the Warsaw team, including star Steve Hollar, were the basketball players in the movie “Hoosiers,” Savage said.
“It’s always nice to see the underdogs win,” Savage said. “Not only is it a state championship ring, but it’s a hard fought-for ring. That makes it pretty important.”
Hodges says the ring still fits, although a little more snugly than 30 years ago. He’s not planning on removing it anytime soon.
When he does, it will be passed down to his youngest son Daniel, who is 14.
Kind of has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.