The year 2000 was an exciting time in Vinton County as a new era was beginning. A new high school was on the brink of opening and new athletic facilities were being built.

The old 38-acre farm which the Daft and Conway family donated for the new schools would soon shift its focus from agriculture to academics. Some commercial expansion in the vicinity would soon follow as several large businesses would pop up around the school. Also, during that transformational year of 2000, the Vinton County School District brought in young Matt Combs to become the head boys’ basketball coach at Vinton County High School (VCHS). Now 22 years later, Combs will soon be returning to his alma mater, Unioto High School, to serve as the Athletic Director and Assistant Principal.

I had been in Vinton County about six years by then and was excited about the new gym as was all of the Viking Nation. Little did I or anybody know, what an impact this 24-year-old man would have on the basketball program or how he would end up in the VCHS Hall of Fame.

I have worked with him since the beginning and unlike most people, he has never changed. He has the same personality today as he did then. He is and was a quiet but confident man who knew exactly what he was doing and where he wanted to go. Although I did not know his father who recently passed away, I suspect Coach Combs learned a lot from his father, who was a minister. Combs has always had faith in his program, in his coaches, and in himself.

When I think of Coach Combs, I will always remember how he treated people and that he always spoke highly of the fans. His sentiments about the fans were no more ringing than when Combs and the program hit paydirt in 2016. That team went 24-3 and the community exploded with excitement. The Vikings played in front of crowds of nearly 9,000 at Ohio University’s Convocation Center. The season ended with a loss to Columbus Eastmoor Academy. The same was also true when the Vikings had a big season in 2008 and lost in the District finals.

During those big tournament runs, the coach never pushed me, or any other local reporter aside just because he had a statewide media audience. He always made himself available to all the press and thought communication with the fan base was important. I think he always appreciated the attention because his office has a lot of clippings about coverage he and the team has received. To me, this attribute shows a lot of character because he has a family waiting at home and lots of other demands.

Combs is a professional man and later used those management skills when he became the Athletic Director. Combs showed good dedication in that position as he was at the football games and most of the other sports. He was also the AD during the trying COVID-19 period when a lot of games were canceled and there were fan restrictions. The way tickets were sold was changed to Internet only. Combs and the other local ADs had a whole slate of issues to deal with in their jobs because of this situation.

Coach Combs also showed a lot of character because he never claimed to be a one-man show. He was always giving credit to Judge Bob Grillo, and fellow broadcaster Jeff Thacker for organizing the highly successful youth basketball league. He called the league a “staple to his program.” He was always crediting his assistant coaches and noting how much time they put in to make the program work. The time the community put in was also important to the coach as well as the fan support. He used to say, “I may be a little odd, but these fans have accepted me, and our kids play off them.” He always calls the fan “the sixth man.” He certainly gave them much to cheer about and be proud of the Vikings’ basketball program for more than two decades.

Many small towns take pride in their programs but with Vinton County, the fans are part of it. I have talked to many athletic directors at other schools who know that Vinton County will bring a good crowd even on the road. Vinton County has much to be proud of and Matt Combs is one of the reasons why. While the sports fans will hate to see him go, his legacy will always be hanging on the gym wall in the form of his Hall of Fame plaque and his 22-year coaching stint will remain a big part of Vinton County’s history.

Coach Combs has been successful because of his character. He was a teacher first and approached his job that way. He taught the game of basketball and enhanced the players’ skills with constant positive results every season.

On a personal note, I want to thank Coach Combs for all the time he spent with me, the phone calls, and the interviews we did over these many years. I am sure we will cross paths again and it has been a great 22-year run.

Good luck, Coach, and thanks for the memories.