FRANKLIN, Ohio — Pete Ehrlich, the emotional leader behind Fenwick High School’s state volleyball championship, died Tuesday after living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, for two years. He was 58.
“Lost my precious husband this morning,” his wife Jamie wrote. “He is free from the chains of ALS. He will be greatly missed. Life well lived. As he told his players ‘I have great hope. I will be dancing, singing, and playing volleyball again. There is great hope in Jesus!'”
Ehrlich led the Fenwick Falcons on a magical run to the Division II boys volleyball state championship in June despite dealing with severe challenges from ALS. After the Fenwick players received their state championship medals, they walked over and hugged Ehrlich near the sideline inside Pickerington Central High School's gymnasium.
The coach received his medal to enthusiastic cheers. His wife embraced her husband in his wheelchair as Fenwick fans chanted "Play for Pete." There wasn't a dry eye inside the gym.
Players, coaches and fans dedicated their season to the 58-year-old, who was diagnosed with ALS in April 2019. The team and school community adopted #PlayforPete. Everything had a purpose within the program.
"It wasn't for any one individual, it was a bigger cause," said Jamie Ehrlich when the team won the championship. "And I think that's what spurred the kids on, the families on, everybody on. And so in the end, it's kind of like a trophy that lasts instead of one that you work so hard for and then you put it on a shelf and it loses its gloss."
People in the community said 'Coach Pete' had a massive impact beyond his excellence in athletics, playing a big role in shaping young lives and setting an example through his faith.
Ehrlich formerly worked with Athletes in Action at the University of Cincinnati and drew on that experience to inspire the student-athletes with positive messages that beyond the sport.
"We're not defined by whether we win or lose," Pete Ehrlich said. "We are defined by the creator that made us."
Ehrlich reminded the Fenwick players of that faith message on a daily basis. The team became his ministry. The student-athletes gained a perspective on life through the former volleyball player, official and longtime coach.
"Intertwining God and faith into boys volleyball, making the kids understand that it's not just the Xs and Os, the wins and losses — it's bigger than the game," athletic director Kyle Sasala said.
And his student-athletes listened.
"Seeing that strength and courage through this terrible illness on him is really inspiring for all of us," said Fenwick volleyball player Will Richards, a 2021 graduate, after the state championship. "It impacts me through my faith. It just makes me appreciate life and relationships and the people around me."
"He was a man of few words, but when he said something, he meant it — and it was deep, and you listened and you learned," head volleyball coach Tina Gustely said.
Those lessons are the ones Ehrlich's players and countless members of the community said they will carry on, making sure his legacy lasts at Fenwick.
"You are champions — he said that to every person," parent Paul Richards said. "It had nothing to do with the record, it had nothing to do with individual statistics. Everybody was a champion for who they were and what they represented and how they walked with God hand-in-hand."