Rangers coach remembers his father through football

Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Forest Park head coach Ross Fuhs tears up after winning the football game in Ferdinand on Aug. 30. Forest Park defeated Perry Central 30-20.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

FERDINAND — For as long as he can remember, Forest Park football coach Ross Fuhs has always had two constants in his life: football and his father, Charles Fuhs. In fact, Ross looks back fondly on many a weekend growing up where he and Charles would do nothing more than challenge themselves to see how much football they could take in over three days.

“That’s where I started to get my passion for football, always being around him going to all those games,” said Ross. “I went with my mom and dad to every Southridge Raider game on Friday night that I can remember from second grade on. On Saturdays me and my dad and (Southridge offensive coordinator) Brad Ohanian and his dad would go to Evansville and watch a game, it didn’t matter who was playing. Sunday we would go to church at 10, and sometimes we would tell mom she had to get us home by one because games were kicking off; she’d have to do her grocery shopping later.”

But this year Ross had to say goodbye to one of those constants. In June, Charles was hospitalized with a heart attack and wound up having to undergo open heart surgery. After the surgery, he endured complications with his lungs before passing away on July 19 at the age of 68. Losing his father a little over a month before the season weighed heavy on Ross, so much so that he couldn’t find the words to share with his boys in the post game huddle after the Rangers won their first game over Perry Central.

Jonathan Saxon/The Herald
Forest Park football players have a decal honoring Charles Fuhs on their helmets.

“I just kept crying. My mom was waiting for me afterwards and I couldn’t talk to her, I just kept crying. It meant so much to me and the team just to get that first win without him here. We all said ‘Dad was helping us win that one.’”

Charles was a lot more than simply “Dad” to Ross. Charles was his best friend, someone who Ross would call up on Sundays while watching the San Francisco 49ers so they could both share their excitement over whatever big play they just witnessed. Charles was also Ross’s greatest mentor in football, imparting on him his 20 years of coaching the Southridge youth leagues and inspiring him to get into coaching himself.

“I would go with him to practice all the time. I was always trying to be a sponge, just soak everything up he talked about,” said Ross, who is in his eighth season as the head football coach at Forest Park. “A lot of times I would sit there and watch games with him, listen to his buddies talk games and terminology. We would always get out a piece of paper and he would draw up all kinds of plays and say ‘This is what this means, this is what that means.’ That’s what made our connection special.”

Ross credits his father’s influence with how he went about developing his own coaching style. He says Charles was more conservative on the field, favoring a run heavy approach and more likely to punt or go for field goals instead of pushing his luck in late-down, short yardage situations. But the greatest coaching asset Ross has always tried to model is the patience his father displayed when he was on the sideline. Ross says he never really saw his father get too excited over anything that happened on the field, and he’s tried to adopt that same attitude, though he confesses he’s still working on it.

“He was one of the most calm and patient people I’ve ever known,” he said. “I try to be like that, I’m a little more high strung than him when it comes to Friday nights. After we lost I would say things like ‘Dang it, I wish this would have happened’ or ‘We made this dumb mistake.’ He would always be the first one to say ‘Hey they’re high school kids, they’re going to make mistakes.’ He was always the one to put it in perspective.”

But even as Ross was dealing with such a close family loss earlier this season, he had the benefit of support from his extended football family to help him through the mourning process. Friends reached out in the immediate wake of Charles’s passing to express condolences and share how he influenced them to get into coaching, and the Rangers football team honored him by wearing decals that featured his initials “CF” on their helmets this season. Ross in his own way still communes with Charles by visiting his resting site on Fridays to talk out some last minute things before games.

“He’s always on my mind. A lot of times guys will say throughout the year ‘Hey your dad was helping us out tonight,’” said Ross. “It’s been special in that regard. The parents say stuff like that too. We definitely feel his presence at some of these games.”

Being around football and the team has helped Ross still feel close with his father, even though Charles isn’t with him physically any more. He says that this season is the most fun he’s ever had coaching at Forest Park, and while a lot of that has to do with improving by four games over last season’s record, some of it goes back to feeling that Charles is looking down on him, proud of the man he’s become and the work he’s been doing in the sport that connected them so deeply while he was alive.

“I just kind of feel his presence a lot, during games I’m thinking ‘What would Dad do,’” said Ross. “It’s been special. 5-4 was a goal and hopefully he was one of the reasons we reached that goal. Hopefully we can keep it going.”




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