GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Alex Smith remembers the day he wanted to quit wrestling at Oak Hills.
He’d just won his season-opening match of his senior year in December 2007, but the Highlanders lost as a team to visiting Mason.
The grind was getting to be too much. Smith’s passion for the sport started to fade.
Then he spoke with Dick Roche. Everything changed.
Roche, the longtime former Oak Hills wrestling coach and teacher, wouldn’t accept Smith’s reasons for quitting. This was no way to set an example for himself and others.
Word got out to the entire school of Smith’s impending decision. Roche pulled him out of his fourth-bell class and into the hallway. He urged the student to reconsider. Smith eventually agreed.
Smith finished with a 28-5 record and was a district qualifier his senior year. It was a life lesson Smith thinks about to this day as Covington Catholic's head wrestling coach.
“He talked about how (quitting) would be one of the worst decisions of my life,” Smith said. “That you need to stick with wrestling through thick and thin. Needless to say, I went back to practice.”
Roche had that type of impact for decades at 3200 Ebenezer Road. He was one of Cincinnati’s wrestling icons.
Roche died suddenly early Wednesday morning. He was 73.
Roche, a Delhi Township resident, taught physical education and health from 1974 to 2010 and coached wrestling from 1974 to 2000. Inducted into the Oak Hills Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013, he worked as a hall monitor at the high school since his retirement in 2010.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
Roche is survived by his wife, Theresa, and their three children: Cara, an Oak Hills senior, Matthew (Class of 1997) and Amanda (Roche) Biser (Class of 1997), who teaches English at the high school.
“Oak Hills loved him,” Athletic Director Tony Hemmelgarn said. “A rock of the school.”
Counselors were available at the school Wednesday in what was a very tough day at Oak Hills. The school learned of Roche’s death during the first bell Wednesday morning.
“He was very well known and very well respected in his 42 years in the district,” Oak Hills Superintendent Jeff Brandt said. “His fellow teachers and colleagues all across the Southwest District had the utmost respect for what he did.”
Roche, a Pennsylvania native and exercise enthusiast, was instrumental in starting the longtime annual Oak Hills Athletic Boosters Sports Stag. He supported all the teams and students throughout the building, said Oak Hills boys’ basketball coach Mike Price.
“He had strong convictions and high expectations,” said Price, a 1975 Oak Hills graduate. “He expected to be their best. He was consistent in everything he did.”
Roche was a longtime wrestling official and some estimates from the Greater Miami Conference say it was for 50 years.
He adored Oak Hills so much he wouldn’t have the heart to officiate its matches with a chance to raise an opponent’s victorious arm.
“His teams were always well prepared and disciplined,” said former Moeller coach Jeff Gaier, who was recently inducted into the National Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame - Ohio chapter.
“You knew that you were in for a battle wrestling an Oak Hills wrestler," Gaier said. “Although it’s tough to do, Dick made a successful transition from coaching to officiating. He was a successful official because he was consistent, knew the rules and was confident in the decisions he made.”
Oak Hills wrestling coach Joe Campolongo, a 2003 graduate, competed as a freshman for Roche.
“His name is everywhere around school,” Campolongo said. “He kind of set the standard of what is expected as a coach and as a human being through dedication and hard work. His impact is tremendous.”
Roche was definitely old-school and no-nonsense. But he earned the respect of the students and staff. He wanted students to be set on the right path at all times.
“Mr. Roche was my dad’s old wrestling coach and my dad had a lot of respect for him,” sophomore Ryan Johnston said. “I don’t think that there is anything bad people can say about him because he was always very nice and willing to help.”
Oak Hills is scheduled to host its own duals meet at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and there will be a moment of silence for Roche.
The high school hosted an alumni night Dec. 2 and Roche attended that with other former wrestlers and coaches. Scott Zang, a 1991 Oak Hills graduate, was happy he connected with Roche that night.
"Besides being a great mentor, he was a great father," said Zang, a former Oak Hills head wrestling coach. "He loved his family. He treated everyone with respect."
The Southwest Ohio Wrestling Coaches Association Coaches’ Classic tournament Dec. 17 will also recognize him. Roche was scheduled to officiate that annual tournament.
Area coaches are expected to honor Roche’s legacy next weekend at that prestigious event.
“As a person he was first class,” Gaier said. “Cincinnati wrestling just lost a good man.”
Visitation for Dick Roche will be at Shiloh United Methodist Church: Sunday, Dec. 11 from 3 to 7:30 p.m.
Service at Shiloh: Monday, Dec. 12 at 10:30 a.m. (burial to follow at Spring Grove)
Information from Oak Hills for those interested in contributing to a Dick Roche Scholarship Fund.
Checks made payable to:
Oak Hills Local School District
Attention: Katie Hunter / Dick Roche Memorial Scholarship
3200 Ebenezer Road
Cincinnati, OH 45248