COLUMBIA CITY — It’s the little things that count. Michael Loper takes that phrase to heart when it comes to Columbia City athletics.
Loper isn’t a player on the football field or the baseball diamond, but his behind-the-scenes work is making a difference, not only in the success of Columbia City athletics, but for the community as a whole.
Loper was hired in July as the groundskeeper at Columbia City High School, and he’s given his new position his all.
“I think he lives here,” Columbia City head football coach Brett Fox said jokingly. “I think they lock him inside the gate when we leave.”
Keeping up with the outdoor maintenance is more than mowing the grass once a week.
“Even during the week when there’s not a home game, I easily spend two hours on the field — mowing, picking up trash, blowing off the track — I’ll do anything to keep everything nice and clean,” Loper said.
A winning record, increasing crowds at football games, peaked interest in the youth football program and a beautiful field — it all works hand-in-hand for the program.
“When you mix in the crowds we’ve been getting and Michael taking care of things the way he has, it’s helping us to build what we want here at Columbia City,” Fox said. “Our players see the pride he has taken in the field.”
In three years there will no longer be high school football games on the Max Gandy Athletic Field, but that doesn’t deter Loper from putting his all into his work.
“It would be easy to say, ‘who cares?’ I understand we’re getting a new school, but we still need to maintain this place as best as possible,” Loper said. “Everything that happens on Friday nights, whether it’s on or off the field, is a reflection on our community.”
Before the homecoming game, Loper mowed the field three times and took up a unique project — a partnership between his work outdoors and the CCHS art program.
For the first time, Columbia City’s logo is painted large in the center of the field. Loper worked with art teachers and students to create a large template, which he used to paint on the letters, “CC.”
Loper has had Columbia City Pride since he was in high school. He was a four-year manager for the basketball team, where he also excelled. Loper is a 2007 graduate of CCHS.
“Michael was very much appreciated by the basketball players and staff,” said Columbia City head basketball coach Brett Eberly. “Michael would look for things to do. He was never one to wait to be told what to do — he found ways to help. Those are traits that are hard to find these days. He’s just a selfless person — always putting others in front of himself.”
That work ethic is evident in Loper’s work at the school, such as on Fridays after the games.
“I’ve been here since 6:50 a.m. today and I haven’t gone home since then,” Loper said after Friday night’s football game. “My dinner was two jalapeño pork burgers from the girls basketball team. I love my job and I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”
Fox appreciates Loper’s interaction with the players, and Loper loves the way the players treat him and his 8-year-old son.
“My son looks up to the players like they’re Andrew Luck or Lebron James,” Loper said. “This isn’t just work — it’s more than that. I’ve never had a job that I’ve looked forward to coming to every day and not wanting to go home. I wouldn’t trade this for the world.”
While excited for the new school, Loper is a little disappointed that he won’t be spending as much time working on the football field, as the new field will be made of artificial turf. However, with multiple practice fields and the addition of softball diamonds and tennis courts on-site, Loper will have plenty of work to keep him busy.
“I’m torn about the new school. It’s awesome we’re going to have a new school and the turf field will be good to have, but I will miss it because I look forward to coming out and painting and mowing,” Loper said.
In addition to the football field, Loper takes care of the baseball diamond, practice soccer fields and all outdoor work at the CCHS campus.