When Jim Chapman became Case Western Reserve’s head football coach in 1982, the Spartans had not only suffered losing seasons in 10 of the previous 11 years—they also hadn’t managed a single win in the last 22 games.
But as the coach of an area high school team that won five conference championships during the 1970s, Chapman wasn’t the least bit daunted—not even after his new team dropped its opener at Oberlin by 13 points.
His confidence proved well-placed: In Chapman’s third year, the Spartans went 9-0, achieving the program’s first undefeated season in 46 years.
Last month Chapman, 84, died peacefully in North Carolina. This Saturday, players and colleagues from that storied team and dozens of others he coached can join friends and family at a celebration from 3 to 6 p.m. at Willoughby Hills’ Firehouse Grille and Pub. The event also honors Chapman’s wife, Flo, who passed away last year.
Quarterback Fred DiSanto (WRC ‘85; MGT ‘86) played for Chapman during the team’s remarkable turnaround, setting multiple team records and twice earning All-American honors for his play. He said Chapman’s ability to turn a team that hadn’t won a game into one that won them all came down to two critical factors: motivation, and education.
The coach’s intense drive for excellence lifted the performance of every player. But Chapman also knew that inspiration alone was not sufficient to triumph. It also required painstaking research and practice run-throughs to ensure that players understood their responsibilities for each game.
“Coach was fiercely competitive and so well prepared as it related to the game plan,” said DiSanto, now a university trustee. “He was a true winner.”
Chapman’s undefeated season was so impressive that, later that year, it put him in the running for the head coaching job at his alma mater, Division I Ohio University. He emerged as one of four finalists, but withdrew his name because of concern about the search’s timeline.
“In effect, I have really been laying recruiting groundwork for two different schools over the past two weeks,” Chapman told The Columbus Dispatch at the time. “At this point, I don’t think it is really fair to either school for me to continue…”
After two more seasons in which Chapman’s teams went 14-3-1, the coach left to accept an athletic director position at another area high school where he would also coach football. He went on to coach at Division II Mercyhurst University and later became an assistant coach at Geneva College, both in Pennsylvania.
In 2010, Chapman was inducted into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Eight of the players on that undefeated team—including DiSanto—have been inducted into the Spartan Club Hall of Fame. And, in 2014, Case Western Reserve recognized the entire 1984 team as the first-ever recipients of the University Award for Athletic Excellence at the annual Spartan Club Hall of Fame ceremony.
Chapman and his wife of nearly 60 years will be laid to rest together in a private ceremony at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Seville, Ohio. Find more information about the “Celebration of Life” on Saturday, Nov. 2.