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Still Right at Home in Brecksville

Hometown hero Tom Tupa still giving back to the community.

Tom Tupa enjoyed playing 16 seasons in the National Football League.

He's enjoyed a lifetime living in Brecksville.

Brecksville's hometown values went a long way toward Tupa becoming a professional athlete. Now, as the city's recreation director, he's giving back to the community he loves.

"I travelled all over the country during my career, but decided to come back here simply because its a good community," Tupa said. "This is a good place to raise kids. Family played a big part in my career. I'm enjoying the family life right back in my hometown. It doesn't get much better than that."

Tom and wife Beth have raised four children through the . Daughter Emma and sons Tommy, Timmy and Tyler have been part of the school system's high-quality athletic program.

That's the way it was for Tupa when his mom and dad moved into the town from Cleveland when he was 9.

"I learned a lot from my dad and my brother, but was fortunate to have a great, great football coach," Tupa recalled. "He retired my senior year after 26 years. What a great job he did."

Joe Vadini, with plenty of help from his quarterback Tupa, guided the Bees to the state championship in 1983. Vadini also started the Bees wrestling program in 1958. Brecksville has experienced great success in both sports through the years.

"Coach helped a lot, but it was my mom and dad that put in so many hours with me and now I'm doing it with my kids," said Tupa, who was not only a star quarterback but one of the nation's best punters. He once won the NFL's punt, pass and kick contest and was a three-time semifinalist.

"Even mom went out on the field. I would be practicing punts on an empty field and all of a sudden, there she was down at the other end, picking up the footballs. Family support is so important in sports."

Tupa averaged 20.8 points a game for the Bees' basketball team. On the baseball team, he was a shortstop-pitcher.

Tupa went on to play at the Ohio State University and became a third-round draft choice of the NFL's Phoenix Cardinals in 1988. After four years in Phoenix and one with the Indianapolis Colts, he didn't have a job in 1993. He got a call from his hometown team and revitalized his career with the Cleveland Browns.

"That was really exciting," Tupa said. "I received a call from the special teams coach at the time, Scott O'Brien. Bill Belichick was the coach and O'Brien is his assistant again these days in New England."

Tupa had been used primarily as a quarterback or holder early in his NFL career, but he had been a sensational punter at Ohio State. The Browns cut him just before the 1993 season, but Tupa kept working on his game and they signed him again in 1994.

"Even back then, Belichick was always thinking outside the box," Tupa said. "You could see he was ahead of other coaches in various aspects of the game. He used me in certain situations at the quarterback position, just to trick the opposition."

During Tupa's first season in Cleveland, he scored the first 2-point conversion after touchdown in NFL history. He did it two other times that season. He punted 80 times for a fine 40.1 average. The next year, he averaged 43.6 yards per punt and thought he was going to settle in for a long career at home -- until Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore.

"I think everybody in the area still remembers how devastating that was," Tupa said.

He went on to play three years in New England, three with the New York Jets, two with Tampa Bay and concluded his pro career with one season with Washington at age 38 in 2004 when he punted a whopping 103 times for a 44.1 average. He was an All-Pro in 1999 with the Jets, won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2002 and ranks 29th all-time with 873 career punts.

Tupa never had to endure a player strike during his time in the NFL. He turned pro one year after the 1987 strike and hopes the current union problems are solved and there will be pro football next fall.

He recalls watching the draft on TV with his family in Brecksville, hoping his name would be called in 1988.

"There was media coverage, but it was nothing like it is now," he said. "Everything is much more complex these days. I went through the scouting combine in Indianapolis. That part has not changed much. The draft was two days long then, on a Saturday and Sunday. When my name was called, the family was all pretty excited.

"Then I went to Phoenix and at the time, that was a great situation. The team had just moved from St. Louis and the fans in Arizona were just excited to watch any NFL game. They didn't have the great facilities they enjoy now. Our training facility was at an old elementary school that we shared with the National Guard."

Tupa now enjoys managing top-notch recreation facilities in Brecksville.

"When I came back home, Mayor (Jerry) Hruby gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in helping out," Tupa said. "It has been a perfect fit. He's got a good eye for what a recreation department should be for a community, and that is to provide an opportunity for as many kids to participate as possible. There's a hometown feeling to all of the programs.

"The acquisition of the Blossom Hill facility is making expansion possible. There's 185 acres there and we're in the progress of expanding. If there is one thing I wish we could do, it is to get more baseball fields. Otherwise, I'm proud of every program we have."

Brecksville resident William Bailey is proud of Tupa. Bailey said that as a "60-something" he occasionally utilizes the recreation facilities to keep in shape, but recalls when he saw a young Tupa tearing it up on the football field.

"I'm not surprised that everything is so well-organized around here," Bailey said following a workout. "He doesn't know me and I've never met him, but I know who he is and what he has meant to our town.

"I watched him play in person in high school, then on television in college and in the pros. I rooted for him because he was our guy. I was happy when I saw he got the job here.

"All I know is that this place is always spotlessly clean, the weight machines are always in working order, and the swimming pool is great. I see the young kids come in here and I think back and wish I had some place like this to go to when I was their age."

According to the Community Center's website, the 48,000-square foot facility features a batting cage, basketball and volleyball courts, jogging track, fitness area, walking track, and indoor pool and outdoor leisure pool, big locker rooms, saunas, whirlpool and a youth game room.

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