Together, Diebler brothers Jake, Jon celebrate HOF induction

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
L-R: Jake, Keith and Jon Diebler pose as Jake and Jon prepare to be inducted into the Upper Sandusky High School Athletics Hall of Fame on Sept. 16, 2022.

UPPER SANDUSKY, Ohio – They stood together, all three of them centered on the 45-yard line.

Nearest to midfield was Jake Diebler, Ohio State associate coach and primary recruiter on what are shaping up to be back-to-back top-10 classes. On the other side of the 45 was younger brother Jon, Ohio’s all-time leading prep scorer and now the director of recruiting for Butler.

Sandwiched neatly in between was the man directly responsible for getting them there. As the Diebler brothers were welcomed into the Upper Sandusky High School Athletics Hall of Fame, it was their father, Keith, handing them their plaques. Together, the three led the Rams to an undefeated 2005 season culminating with the Division II state championship.

Seventeen years later, their playing careers have wrapped but the lessons learned while playing for Keith Diebler continue to pay dividends.

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“They believed in relationships,” said Keith, who has accumulated more than 300 wins at eight Ohio high schools. “To be successful at any level, even to the highest level, it’s about establishing relationships, caring and wanting to move people in a positive direction. They were around it all their life, so it was kind of like a calling, I think. I think they saw the value of being around people and making sure that you have some kind of a positive impact on them.

“That’s what draws them both.”

On the evening of Sept. 16, it’s what drew them back.

A community celebration

It was the good kind of loud as the entire Diebler clan entered the high school’s weight room. Decked out in orange and located adjacent to the locker rooms, a table with meatballs, potato wedges and other snacks was being picked over as the reminiscing began. Jon, who had to miss Butler’s practice in order to attend, watched as his son, Jayce, reached for a blue medicine ball while twin daughter Ava gave high-fives to everyone within sight.

They ran laps with their cousins, Jake’s daughters Jaymes and Jessa, and each came up with a cookie from the table. Looking on was K.K. Solacoff, the 93-year-old former team doctor whose daughter, Kathy, was also being inducted into the hall.

“They’re terrific people,” Solacoff said. “When we’d come to Ohio State games, Jon would come over and hug like we were old friends from way back.”

Other stories are told. One woman recalled how, even as he chased Jay Burson’s all-time prep scoring record, Jon was kind and generous with his time when little kids would approach him. Most of the conversation had to take place in close proximity to be heard over the cacophony of sound that followed the Dieblers around.

"I tell people all the time, my favorite basketball moment was winning the state championship with that group of guys," Jake Diebler said. "Obviously with my brother and dad a part of it, but a big part of why it was so special was just the community here."

They headed to the football field and the pregame ceremony. On the way, the brothers were greeted by the girls’ soccer team, and Jake shared a few words of encouragement. A group photo was taken with the orange goalposts in the background. Nearby, their kids played on sets of Ohio State cornhole boards.

When the ceremony began, Jake was the first Diebler to be inducted. When the announcer introduced the younger Diebler, though, he inadvertently stepped right into some good-natured sibling rivalry.

“He was undeniably the best basketball player in school history,” the voice called out, and as the words sank in, Jake Diebler gave the emcee a side-eyed glance as his younger brother turned and smiled at him. Later, as they walk off the field, Jake razzed the announcer, “There’s more to the game than just scoring…”

“Those two, when they’re together they’re always kidding each other,” their dad said. “I don’t know whether he was taken aback by that, but Jon just got a big smile on his face: ‘I told you a long time ago…’ ”

A common theme emerged as former teammates, teachers or total strangers approached either of the brothers or their dad.

“You’ve got people coming up and saying just how proud they are of us,” Jake said. “We’ve been taught this since we were young: We’re representing something greater than ourselves in everything that we do. Both of us graduating from here, we certainly take pride in that. That was really humbling for people to say that.”

Living up to those ideals hasn’t always been easy, but it comes with the last name.

In the room where it happened

After Upper Sandusky and Bucyrus trade touchdowns, the Dieblers made their way to the parking lot with three minutes remaining in the first quarter to head just up the road and back in time. Parking from the adjacent Wyandot County Fair bled over into the school parking lot, but a side door was unlocked so the honorees could clamber back into their old gym together. It was home base for the 2005 team that went 27-0 with Keith in his first season as coach, Jake as a senior and Jon as a sophomore.

Here, Jon’s son dribbled the ball while his grandpa played defense. At the other end of the court, where their jersey numbers hang in the rafters, Jake Diebler’s daughters laughed and ran toward the baseline. The memories are thick here and some take on lighter hues as the years have passed.

For instance, there’s the time Jon Diebler wasn’t practicing up to his dad’s standards, so Keith Diebler gave him a two-word command: Start running. Then, 45 minutes later, one of the assistant coaches gave their boss a reminder.

“He looks and I’m still trotting around the gym,” Jon Diebler said. “Wasn’t going very fast at that point. I was like, ‘Yeah, he forgot about me.’ Could’ve been walking by that point. He was like, ‘Jon, get back in.’

“It was good for me. I needed it. I deserved probably having to run around the gym for 45 minutes.”

It’s an example of Keith Diebler’s demanding standards that extended well beyond the court and part of what both his sons hope will be remembered as his legacy. He retired once before only to jump back into the profession, and while there’s a chance this could be his final season as a coach, the possibility of more always exists.

The wins matter. So do the points. But not as much as the relationships formed in the process.

“We were taught and held accountable to live life a certain way and to treat people a certain way,” Jake Diebler said. “The basketball stuff was always secondary in our house, and I know that’s probably hard to believe because I felt like we ate more dinners in the gym than maybe we did at home, but that was always something my mom and dad instilled in us at a very early age: Basketball is a team sport.

“There’s a way and an expectation to treat people and always try and leave something better than it was when you got there. There was pressure to carry that.”

On this night, the only pressure was to enjoy the moment and the time spent together. All three Dieblers arrived separately from their respective cities and before long would be headed back to them as well.

They’ve all got coaching futures to continue to work for. When he was 18, Keith Diebler said he knew he wanted to get into coaching and see where it would lead him.

All this, though? Having two sons carry on the family name in the profession?

“I’m blessed with the fact that I’ve had a number of great athletes,” he said, holding one of his granddaughters. “I’m blessed with the fact that this night occurred, because as a father I couldn’t be happier. Back when I was 18 years old, would I have envisioned this happening? No.

“But, I’m glad it did.”

So is the next generation of high school players who might get to play for a Diebler.

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