Andy Garcia, A Hall of Famer in every sense ACBF will be the sixth HOF for the legendary Andy Garcia
By CHRIS LARICK Staff Writer
It was absolutely a no-brainer. The minute the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation decided to have a Hall of Fame, Andy Garcia was an automatic selection. Not that it would be a singular honor for Garcia, who died at age 88 on April 19, 2001. At the time of his death, Garcia was already a member of the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, the OHSAA Athletic Directors Hall of Fame, the Akron University Hall of Fame, the Northeastern Ohio District Athletic Administrators Hall of Fame and the Summit County Sports Hall of Fame. Somewhere in heaven, Garcia has to be smiling at his induction into his sixth Hall of Fame. Is it only vanity to believe his selection to the ACBF's Hall Sunday (6 p.m., Conneaut Human Resources Center) would stand ahead of all of those other honors in his mind? It is, after all, the only one of those halls that the people of Ashtabula County - or at least their representatives - had much of a say in. Rose Marie, the love of his life, who shared his life for 55 years, thinks this would be the greatest honor. "Yes, this is his sixth and the one he would be most proud of," Rose said. "The others were from universities or organizations he belonged to. This was his life, right here. "The family and I are grateful to those who promoted and kept this going. I'm thrilled but disappointed that I won't be able to be there (because of knee surgery Wednesday). I wanted to be there." Garcia came to Conneaut after starring in football in high school at Akron East and then at John Carroll and Akron University in 1942. The son of a Spanish immigrant who was brought to the country to help populate the west, Garcia was proud of playing every second of every game before graduating in 1940, playing on offense, defense and special teams and being the team MVP his senior season. For Garcia, giving to the community was the highest priority. After being drafted into the army interrupted his first year in Conneaut, he returned to Conneaut in 1946, married the love of his life, Rose Marie, and went on with his life. That life included a job as health and education teacher, head basketball coach and assistant football coach for starters. Later he added the duties as head track coach and community recreation director, eventually becoming Conneaut High School's first athletic director, serving in that capacity until he retired in 1978. As a basketball coach, Garcia went 312-172 (.645) in 22 years at Conneaut. His best team may have been the 1947-48 team that went 20-6 but wasn't the best team in the county. That honor went to the Ashtabula squad that made it to the state tournament that year, defeating the Trojans three times in the process. Gene Gephart, who will also be inducted into the ACBF with Garcia, played on that Ashtabula team and later coached against "Garsh." Gephart was also Garcia's assistant at Conneaut for two years for 1956-57 and 1957-58 before leaving for Ashtabula to serve as Bob Ball's assistant for three years. "He taught me more about defense," Gephart said of Garcia recently. "He was a very good defensive coach. He was very good at adapting his offense. If he had great outside shooters like (Tom) Ritari, he got the ball to them. He had three or four years in the '60s when he had 6-6 or 6-7 guys who could really play, so he made sure they got the ball inside to them." 1/25/2018 TheACBF.com - Hall of Fame Archives 2/3 Some of the more important things Garcia taught Gephart had little to do with the X's and O's of basketball. "He taught me to treat all players the same," Gephart said. "He was a good disciplinarian. He let me make my own decisions in terms of coaching and discipline." "He (Garcia) always used to use chalk to diagram plays beside the court. When Conneaut came to Ashtabula in 1956 to play at the new gymnasium (not yet named Ball Gymnasium), Mr. Ball gave him orders that there would be no writing on the new floor." "He and Coach Ball were great friends and always treated each other with great respect. We (Garcia and Gephart) always treated each other with great respect. We used to talk to each other before and after the games. He's (Garcia) the second greatest coach I've been around, next to Mr. Ball. He (Garcia) had a slightly better head-to-head record against me." Garcia always posted good records, but even improved after the team moved from the old Lakeview Gymnasium to the current gym at Conneaut High School. From 1956-1960, his squads had a 77-20 record. From 1963-1967, the record was 93- 28. In 1968, the gym was named for him. For all of that, Rose Marie thinks the work he did for his community might rank ahead of his coaching in importance, the time he spent directing Conneaut's summer recreation program. "He kept people on the straight and narrow," Rose Marie said. Garcia made a practice of taking the kids in the summer program somewhere every year - to an Indians game or to Waldameer Amusement Park. In addition, he was one of the founders of the Conneaut Little League in 1948. umpiring in the league and becoming director of officials. He was also a charter member of the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club and served as the NEC's director of officials, a post his son, Phillip, now holds. Andy and Rose Marie raised seven children - Andy, Tom, Virginia, Fred, Jim, Phillip and Rich, who are now between 44 and 54 years old. Money was always in short supply for the Garcias, with such a large family. Andy and Rose Marie didn't even have a television set until 1953. The family didn't get a color TV until 1968, a (coaching) retirement present from the community. "We said our money was for shoes and food," Rose Marie said a few years ago. "We saved green stamps to buy things. Before we had a television, the kids had to go across the street to watch Howdy Doody." Garcia became a well-known figure around the state of Ohio. Lee Tressel, Baldwin-Wallace's football coach at the time and the father of current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. During his lifetime, Garcia was awarded three keys to the city of Conneaut. When he retired from teaching and as athletic director in 1978, the community had a celebrity roast for him. Many of his former players, in addition to Ball and Ed Batanian, took turns speaking about Garsh. On the occasion of his earlier retirement as a coach, one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, Jim Crowley, attended the function. At his funeral in 2001, almost the entire community of Conneaut, not to mention hundreds from all over Northeast Ohio, turned out. Meanwhile, the testimonials flooded in. "Kids who played for him thought a lot of Andy," said Jim Hietikko, who played both basketball and football for Garcia, then went on to play football at Ohio State, said, "He was very demanding, but he got results. You had to like the guy, but he had powerful lungs. If you did something you weren't supposed to, you heard about it." "He was always known for yelling, but he was very goodhearted," said Tony Julio, who played three years of basketball and football for Garcia. "He treated everyone equal. He was a disciplinarian and didn't allow any backtalk. "What impressed me is that he stayed in this system all that time. He probably had opportunities to go elsewhere. He raised a family and coached basketball, football and track, did all three for years and years. "He's like a legend. Everyone always called him Garsh, never Coach or his name." Tom Batta, who has been an assistant coach in the NFL for many years, visited Garcia regularly right up to his death. "I don't think anybody that played for him didn't have respect and love for Andy," Batta said. "He didn't touch you only as an athlete." "He taught me to be demanding, but he also taught me to be your own person. He had such great relationships with players. I've always tried to apply those when I'm dealing with players. Actually, I know he influenced all the things I do in coaching." Tom Ritari, who played for Garcia and is now the girls basketball coach at Conneaut, said of Garcia's influence, "You don't realize what he did for you for a couple of years, how he made you tremendously better. I played for one of the best coaches in the state of Ohio and didn't realize it. "He was always there for me when I wanted to talk. He was Conneaut sports. He's a legend. Just look at the lives he touched, in the classroom, on the basketball court, on the track. He made you, as an individual, feel so special." When Jon Hall, Sr., another inductee into the ACBF Hall of Fame Sunday, came to Conneaut, he served as Garcia's assistant. "I learned a great deal from him, especially about how to understand students and the fact that basketball isn't everything," Hall said. "You've got to guide them through other facets of life. He ingrained in me the idea that defense wins games, that defense was something you could do on your own. All you had to do was play to the best of your ability. "He was a wonderful person to work for. When you lost, you felt you weren't worthy of him. He was a wonderful man who's done a lot for Ashtabula County and a lot for Conneaut. He was one of the true reasons I had as much success as I did, because I was able to work with him and learn from him." Bill Fails, now Conneaut's athletic director, was taken under the wing in 1969 when he came to Conneaut as assistant track coach. Andy and Rose Marie invited Fails to supper at his house. When Fails took his current post, he made sure to invite the Garcias to all athletic functions. More often than not, the Garcias accepted. "Rose has always been a real gracious lady; they're just real good people," Fails said of the Garcias. "Andy spent a lot of time working with kids here. His last year, he knew he was going to have a real bad team, but he went ahead and coached that last year so Harry Fails would have a good team his first year." When the Northeastern Conference created an award for a male for athletic and academic contributions, it named the award after Garcia. 1/25/2018 TheACBF.com - Hall of Fame Archives 3/3 "He's someone who carried the torch and got things going in all areas of education," NEC secretary-treasurer George Bellios said. "He was one of a dying breed in how he looked at things, in the way he saw things athletically and academically... He's been an inspiration to people today." "He was a great teacher," said Ed Batanian, another Hall of Fame inductee, who was one of Garcia's best friends, driving the Garcias to athletic events when they were unable to do so. "He was so good at breaking down the years between himself and the youngsters. He had a touch I don't know if I ever had. He was my hero. "His family values were so shining. They're not common today. I always admired him. Probably over the past 25 years together, we've traveled thousands of miles together. "He was like a brother to me, the best friend I ever had in sports. They don't make him like that anymore. In heaven, he'll be a great teacher, one of the best of them." Rose Garcia, who has had health problems since Andy's death but who remains as sharp mentally as ever, is happy that Andy is going into the Hall with Bob Ball and Al Bailey. "They were the big competitors in our early years," she said. "That's when I learned what a big business this was, how he competed and how he trained his boys. They learned from each other and respected each other. "It was a great life for both of us, for me to help all I could."