Moritz's life was helping others
He was a force behind the Josh Hephner tournament, which raises money for the Fitch wrestling program.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- The funny thing about writing a newspaper article about John Moritz is that he would have hated the idea.
"He would never take any credit for anything," said Fitch High wrestling coach Brett Powell. "He'd get mad if people tried to give him any accolades. Even when they just said thank you.
"He was a very humble person."
Any story about Moritz, who passed away at age 59 on Nov. 22 after battling heart problems, is bound to include the word "humble."
Moritz was one of the guys who worked behind the scenes, doing things like raising money for Austintown sports teams, helping out as a coach and, most famously, developing the Josh Hephner memorial wrestling tournament.
This weekend's tournament, now in its 14th year, honors the former Fitch wrestler who died in a car accident in July of 1993. Moritz's son, Jeff, was one of Hephner's teammates and closest friends.
"John didn't want Josh's memory to fade," said Powell. "He wanted to do something for him and his family."
So Moritz, together with Kevin Krieger, Lou Chine, Dick Kenney and others, formed the tournament in the winter of 1994. But they tweaked the typical tournament format, placing a greater emphasis on the team, rather than the individual.
It's typically the last major tournament before the postseason and the event raises money for the Fitch wrestling program and for college scholarships for individual wrestlers. (They've raised more than 24,000 over the years and spectators can donate at Fitch High this weekend.)
Moritz battled a heart condition for more than a year -- he wasn't feeling well at last year's tournament -- and Powell last saw him during the week of the Ohio State-Michigan game. They talked about -- what else? -- the Hephner tournament.
Strong to the end
"He was a rock, right to the end," said Powell. "He suffered complication after complication and he never pitied himself."
The tournament, which started out with about eight teams, now has 25. The tournament organizers named the MVP trophy after Moritz and they'll show a slideshow of him this weekend.
His loss will be felt this weekend in more ways than one.
"He was the kind of guy who didn't delegate very well," his wife, Shirley, said with a laugh. "He wanted it done right and he just knew how to do it. It's taken us 10 people this year to do what he would do."
In the weeks since his father's death, some of Jeff Moritz's closest friends have told him stories of John's generosity.
"They'd tell me about how he did something to help them in the past and I just had no idea," Jeff, who is now the head wrestling coach at Austintown Middle School, said. "And these were my close friends. He'd done that his whole life.
"As long as I can remember, he was the most generous man I knew."
Moritz was a vice-president at Victory Water Works, managing the Mineral Ridge branch. He coached Jeff's baseball teams for more than a decade and served as president of both the College Park Baseball Association and the Mats Fans Wrestling Association.
"He helped so many people with so many different things," said Shirley, who was married to John for 33 years. "If you were his friend, you were his friend forever.
"[The attention] probably wouldn't be something that he'd want, but I'm sure it would give him joy."
Earlier in the week, Fitch junior Tony Jameson, a two-time state wrestling champion who regularly gets interviewed, asked Powell to make sure that he's out of the spotlight this weekend so that Hephner's memory can take center stage.
"He told me, 'This weekend is about someone else,' " said Powell.
It's a safe bet that Moritz would have said the same thing.