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COLUMN: Sheriff Fred was a staple on the sidelines

LIGHTING UP THE NIGHT — To honor the late Sheriff Fred Abdalla and his yers of support for local sports, stadiums across Jefferson County turned on the lights between 7 and 8 p.m. Friday evening. Schools participating included Big Red, Indian Creek, Toronto, Edison and Buckeye Local. - Andrew Grimm

When it comes time for the high school football playoffs, that typically means sports writers are going to be travelling, sometimes a few hours away, for our local teams.

I learned that in a hurry my first year as a sports writer at the Herald-Star/Daily Times in 2017 when I was tasked with traveling to Chillicothe to cover Catholic Central taking on Southeastern in the opening round of playoff football action.

Due to a car accident on Interstate 70, my GPS took me an alternate route through the windy central Ohio countryside in areas I had never before been on a more than three-hour journey to a stadium I had also never been to.

But, when I walked in and got to the Central sideline, the first familiar face I saw was that of Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.

I’d seen him in passing at the county fair as a kid, and on TV, but I did not know him, and he did not know me, but when he saw my press pass said Herald-Star and knew I was from back home, too, and went out of his way to greet me in a crowd of unfamiliar faces.

That was a gesture that calmed a nervous, young sports writer covering his first playoff game several hours from his home on a tight deadline.

The sheriff cheered for the Crusaders louder than some of the parents in what was a thrilling game that came down to the wire.

Later than night, after I had wrote my story from my car in the parking lot, on the journey home, I happened to catch up to the team’s bus. Following it was the Jefferson County Sheriff Unit 1.

I stayed in line behind that familiar Ford the entire trip back until the bus and sheriff continued north on state Route 7 as I took the exit I needed to return home. Something about following the sheriff just made the long ride feel safer.

Over the past five seasons, I had many more friendly sideline interactions with the sheriff, both at stadiums close to home and far away.

And as I’ve added news duties the last two years, I’ll never forget him seeing me in a commissioners meeting for the first time with a slightly confused look trying to place where he had seen me before.

As the county continues to mourn the late sheriff, I’ll continue to remember the friendly face from home that simply said hello that night in Chillicothe.

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