“Stay. Right. There.” WHIO-TV sports director Mike Hartsock retires

He’s the man who brought us “Stay right there” as he tossed to commercial breaks and “Hi again, everybody!” as he kicked off another Touchdown 7 segment.

And now the inimitable Mike Hartsock is bidding farewell to Channel 7 viewers and entering the land of the eternal 7th inning stretch, aka retirement.

Hartsock became WHIO-TV’s Sports Director in 1989, but his broadcasting career--and his love of sports--began many years before.

Mike’s father, Dave Hartsock, was a basketball star at Waynesville High School and was recruited by renowned University of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp.

Phyllis Hartsock, Mike’s mom, still has the telegram inviting her late husband to try out, but Dave was “kind of on the short side” and ended up playing instead for NCR in Dayton’s old Industrial League.

Watching his dad play and later referee the games formed the foundation for Mike’s passion for sports. He had two older sisters, Sandy and Susan, but didn’t need company to shoot hoops outside the Hartsock home.

“I could make a game out of myself. And would do play by play and make up names. It wasn’t names of guys playing then. It was just names: Tommy Thompson, Johnny Johnson.”

Though not quite the scoring champ his dad was, Mike made his mark as a point guard at Waynesville and for many years held the school record for assists.

After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University, Mike started his career in radio news--first at WPFB in Middletown, where he started broadcasting high school games on weekend nights.

He moved to WHIO Radio in 1979--again covering news. But he jumped at the chance to do Friday nights’ “Game of the Week” with another guy just starting out, Larry Hansgen, who remembers it well.

“The very first sports broadcast I did at WHIO was Mike and I working together at a Trotwood-Northmont football game.”

By early 1982, WHIO-TV had an opening in the Sports Department and the job practically fell into Mike’s lap.

“I got lucky. I was in the right place at the right time in the right building.”

He soon got to meet some of the biggest names in professional sports--his skill on the links getting him invited to play charity tournaments with golf greats like Nancy Lopez.

“I always loved playing golf with Nancy and talking to Nancy and she was always a first class person.”

And he dared ask Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Anthony Munoz to do a regular feature, “Bengals Diary” for WHIO.

“I didn’t pay Anthony anything. He didn’t ask for anything and his first answer to me was “Sure, love to do that.”

Munoz’ playing days ended in 1992, but he and Hartsock remain friends.

“Mike had such a great personality and a way to connect with people and we were always being interviewed--we were on the other side--so you learn from guys like that that are just comfortable to be around.”

But it didn’t take Mike long to see some of the athletes he’d idolized growing up fall off that pedestal.

“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do--to do stories and report on Pete Rose being banned from baseball. He was my hero.”

One of the highlights of Mike’s career was calling University of Dayton basketball games, which he did for more than thirty years. He also hosted the Sunday morning coach’s show in those early years with legendary Flyers coach Don Donoher.

“Mike was just a guy born to be in sports,” said Donoher, “I mean he was very, very knowledgeable and he just had a disposition--it was easy to work with. And coaches aren’t easy to work with because they’re always under stress and he was just a joy to be with.”

Mike also worked at building relationships with the players--some of them just starting college, like Flyers forward Anthony Grant.

“I think he’s just a great person.”

Grant found the same Mike Hartsock when he returned to UD as head coach three decades later.

“His personality, his genuine nature, his humanity, I think is what stands out. And then the way he goes about doing his job. He’s extremely knowledgeable, extremely passionate about what he does.”

Mike’s radio “Voice of the Flyers” counterpart, Larry Hansgen, admired his friend’s ability to handle it all.

“He not only had to prepare for those broadcasts, but at the same time the amount of legwork and sweat equity involved in what he did covering high school sports, y’know he had all those plates spinning as well.”

One of those spinning plates--a new addition at home. Mike introduced viewers to his newborn daughter, Jessica Lynn Hartsock, just hours after her arrival on September 28, 1984. As she grew up, everybody knew what Jessica’s dad did for a living.

“Kids at school, I think, sometimes they’d give me that ‘Stay right there!’ Mike Hartsock line.”

But if her classmates found Mike’s signature line a bit corny, she had a comeback.

“At that time it was still cool to have your dad drop off a football in a helicopter.”

Aboard Chopper 7, Mike delivered countless football and soccer balls to high school games all over the Miami Valley. It was such a big deal for high schools that fans would hear “It’s Mike Hartsock!” over the PA system, as Mike jumped out of the helicopter and ran the ball over to the waiting team captains or cheerleaders before flying off to another game.

Covering high school games, no matter the sport, is what Mike loved more than any other part of his job.

“If there’s something I’m gonna miss, it’s covering our kids. I’m 65 years old and every Friday night, I go out with a big camera on my shoulder to shoot a high school football game. Not many people in my job do that.”

And when those kids and their families went home after the game, Mike went back to the newsroom to write and edit his highlights and then deliver them on air in that unique Hartsock style.

“Whether it was two 7-0 teams or two teams that hadn’t won a game. That made those kids’ night. That may have made those kids’ season if we had highlights of that game on and showed those kids.”

Working nights and weekends--when sports happen--Mike missed a lot with his own family.

“Y’know, my wife has put up with a lot and my daughter’s put up with a lot. I missed stuff from Jessica when she was growing up. I missed stuff that she was doing because I had to be on the air.”

And now there’s someone else he doesn’t want to miss spending time with--his 7-year old grandson, Alex.

“My favorite memory of my grandpa is playing video games,” said Alex, adding “He’s not really good, my grandpa.”

As Mike reflects back on his career, he does so with gratitude and anticipation of spending more time with his loved ones.

“I guess it’s sort of repaying them hopefully. Hopefully, they want me to be around. But the sports I’ll miss, yeah, I’ll miss it, but life goes on and I’m ready for it.”

If you see Mike around town in the years ahead, be sure to tell him to “Stay right there.” We guarantee he’ll appreciate you remembering him.