What are the odds a tour guide in Budapest, Hungary, would recognize a Tiffin University shirt and announce that he played high school football for Roger "Buzz" Kirkhart?
The guide was Dr. Jeff Taylor, who moved to Tiffin from Michigan his sophomore year when his father was transferred to Clyde's Whirlpool plant. The 1986 grad left for the Peace Corps in 1989 and has been living and studying in Hungary ever since.
Jeff's most impressionable memory of Tiffin was playing under the regime of Buzz Kirkhart's school of hard knocks and in-your-face discipline. Buzz welcomed Jeff to the Calvert program with a spirited lecture reminding him he wasn't in Michigan anymore and he better learn to play Ohio-style football pretty darn quick.
Well, Jeff remembered that inspiration and has been playing Ohio-style football ever since. He currently plays quarterback for the Budapest Titans, one of 12 semi-professional teams in the MAFSZ
American-Hungarian Football League. "Amerikia Futball" has grown in popularity throughout Europe and plays under rules most closely aligned with the NCAA. The MAFSZ league is part of the European Federation of American Football.
In Hungary, there are two primary divisions with 28 teams and a junior development program. Several upper division teams compete in the Regional Central European League with Serbia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Ukraine. In the winter, 7-on-7 arena football games are played on basketball courts.
Beyond playing semi-pro football, Jeff's life in Budapest includes a Hungarian wife, a 4-year-old son, and employment as an assistant professor of art management. On the side, he is a business entrepreneur
working as a transportation specialist and an art dealer. Jeff is leaving Hungary after 22 years for a job in the states as a professor at SUNY-Purchase. He said Buzz's influence has shaped his personal and professional work ethic. In the classroom, his teaching style commands little tolerance for excuses.
Jeff's knowledge of Hungarian history seems almost more than an encyclopedia can fill, and Calvert High should be proud of an alumnus who remembers his roots while making a mark on the cultural scene in Europe.
Intermixed with stories of Vikings, Mongols, Turkish armies, aristocrats, countless revolutions, the Black Plague, Nazi occupation, Jewish persecution and the KGB were stories of the priests, nuns,
teachers and teammates he remembered from good ol' Calvert High.
Jeff's genuine appreciation for being re-connected to Tiffin was commendable. A small group attending a European Business Education Conference received a three-hour bonus tour of the most random off-the-beaten-path places on the Pest side of the city through synagogues, churches, merchant centers and ghetto hot spots that were among the hippest bars in central Europe.
Jeff made a point to seek out the plaque of Alfred Hajos, a former captain of the Hungarian soccer team who also won the first Olympic gold swimming championships in Athens in 1896. Hajos, who began swimming after his father drowned in the Danube River, became a famous architect who designed churches, stadiums and schools.
Hajos also designed the "Sportuszoda," which are magnificent competition pools, spas and public baths occupying over 20 acres on Margeretiz (Margaret) Island which hosted the European Council of Business Education Conference.
Margaret Island, in the middle of the Danube River, is 550 yards wide and 1.4 miles long. Named after the daughter of a King Bela IV, who fiercely battled the Mongols in the mid-1200s, the island is surrounded by a 5K rubberized track. It includes a tennis stadium, athletic complex (soccer, football, and track), sport clubs for kayak, water polo and swimming, a zoo, medieval ruins, monasteries, beer gardens, a casino, towers, gardens, restaurants and a resort. In the middle of the island from end to end are numerous open green areas populated from dawn to dusk.
Imagine four-or-five Hedges-Boyer Park ovals stacked end to end and separated by trees, fountains, or historic ruins. In the middle of each oval can be a hundred sun worshipers - some playing badminton or tennis without a net, many doing soccer drills, a pair boxing in full gloves, stickball games and a host of others practicing various martial arts.
Who knew Buzz Kirkhart's legendary coaching career would reach around the globe to Budapest, Hungary? While the NFL labor dispute rages on and Ohio State's athletics world is turned upside-down, the borders between Europe and the U.S.A. seem a bit closer thanks to a little fate and a shirt bearing the insignia for Tiffin University.
Stay tuned for more inspiring and amazing sport stories from our small community in northwest Ohio to around the globe.
Bonnie Tiell is Tiffin University's faculty representative to the NCAA.