Father knows best
Anita Tersigni says the foundation of her career was laid
in the back yard, thanks to her dad, Dolph
By KARL PEARSON
Looking at Anita Tersigni's basketball pedigree, an impressive list of people have had an impact on her life.
Take her college coach for most of her time at the University of Cincinnati, Ceal Barry. Since moving on to the University of Colorado, Barry molded that program into one of the top women's basketball programs in the country and still has the Buffaloes among the elite teams after more than two decades at the school.
Tersigni was also one of the cornerstones of Sally Toukonen's (now Dulak) great Geneva teams of the late 1970s that captured four straight Northeastern Conference championships.
But, with all that help in formulating one of the most renowned careers for a female player in Ashtabula County, Tersigni points to the backyard games orchestrated by her father, Dolph. She credits the paces she
was put through against brothers Tony, Jim and John, paces her younger sister, Terry, was later subjected to, as the instruction that meant the most to her.
It is those lessons that laid the foundations for a career that has earned her induction Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Conneaut Human Resources Center into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame.
The 1980 Geneva graduate states without hesitation that her father had the greatest influence on her career.
"My dad was always my coach," the 41-year-old Tersigni said. "I was very fortunate to have someone like that to teach me because my father was a very talented athlete in his own right.
"I learned a lot from my dad. He taught me the game, but he also taught me discipline and dedication. My dad had the greatest impact on me, and not just as a father figure."
Plus, Tersigni was fortunate to have the support of an understanding mother, Inez.
"My mother was my biggest fan, no matter what," she said. "We were outside all the time playing."
Together, they showed their daughter the doors her athletic ability could open.
"I realized pretty early I had some talent," the elementary physical education teacher in Geneva Area City Schools said. "I realized it was the only way I could go to (college)."
What a path it put Tersigni on. She became the first Ashtabula County girls player to top 1,000 career points, finishing with 1,313 in 1979-80, which stood as the county record until ACBF Hall of Famer Diane Davis of Ashtabula broke it in the 1981-82 season. She also pulled down 1,339 rebounds in her career, a state career record when she graduated.
Tersigni led her Eagles to four straight Northeastern Conference titles, the last three undisputed, as well as three Class AAA sectional championships. No Geneva girls team has earned a sectional title in the 24 years since. She averaged 16.2 points and 17.2 rebounds a game in high school.
She didn't stop there. Tersigni became the first Ashtabula County woman to play four years on a full college basketball scholarship at Cincinnati. During her collegiate career, she scored 1,171 points, becoming the only county female player to top a grand in high school and college. She also grabbed 701 rebounds for teams coached by Barry and her successor, Sandy Smith.
Despite that list of accomplishments, Tersigni is surprised at her hall-of-game selection.
"I'm surprised," she said. "But then I'm surprised every time I see my name in the paper again. That was a long time ago. It is an honor."
Tersigni's basketball exploits were pretty much confined to the family court until she went to high school. But Toukonen tapped into her skills right away.
"There were so many older girls like Lori Korver, Ellen Beitel and Connie Ball," Tersigni said. "Then I had teammates my age like Nadine Cox and Liz Jessup. But I started dreaming of maybe getting a scholarship quickly.
"Sally was a wonderful lady. She was very encouraging to me. She kind of pointed the way for me to go to college.."
The dream of going to college became more of a reality in Tersigni's junior year.
"When I was a junior, I went to camp at (the University of) Michigan," she said. "They asked me to come back.
"We sent out a lot of stuff. Sally helped me by sending out tapes."
Michigan and Cincinnati competed for her services. The fact several other area players she had competed against and had played with in camps during the summer tipped the balance to Cincinnati.
"I found out a bunch of girls from around here, like Cheryl Getz from North and Barb Jackson, were going to Cincinnati, so I wanted to go there, too." she said.
Tersigni takes a lot more pride in Geneva's accomplishments than her own.
"I thought four years as NEC champs was pretty good," she said. "The best part of my high school experience was that we were all real good friends."
The girls of Tersigni's era did not play with a three-point line and were forced to play with the bigger ball used by boys. That held true in college, too. She wonders what she and her contemporaries might have accomplished with those assets.
"It's surprising that I got to 1,000 points," Tersigni said. "With the small ball and the three-point line, I think it would have been even better."
Tersigni was also an important part of Geneva's fine volleyball teams of the era, coached by Marilyn Foote, splitting time between the JV and varsity as a freshman, then playing strictly varsity her last three years. She also played softball her freshman and sophomore years before deciding to work during the spring.
The UC women's program was a growing enterprise when Tersigni arrived. Barry was honing the philosophies that have served her so well at Colorado. Tersigni was a big part of it.
"I played a lot my freshman and sophomore years," she said. "My junior and senior years, I was out there all the time."
"Ceal was pretty young back then. She was very good at pulling everything out of her players.."
Barry had high expectations of her players.
"You were not allowed to slip academically," Tersigni said. "We were expected to do both (basketball and academics) and do them well. If you didn't play, it was because you were hurt."
While being a 6-footer had been an advantage to Tersigni in high school, she found herself in among the trees in college, so she had to use other skills she had developed.
"I was really a guard in college," she said. "I was lucky I could shoot from outside and handle the ball. I was able to pull the defender away from the basket."
Barry headed to Colorado after Tersigni's junior year, leaving the job for Smith for her senior year.
"Ceal and Sandy taught me a lot about responsibility," Tersigni stated. "I learned a lot about dependability from them. I don't know how you can have it any other way."
Because their lives run on such different paths now, she and Barry rarely communicate, although there was one experience she still cherishes.
"Usually, we exchange Christmas cards," Tersigni said. "But when they had the NCAA women's tournament in Cincinnati, we had a reunion of our Cincinnati teams and Ceal came in for it. She's really done well for herself and has done a lot for the game.
"The friendships you make in college and the lessons you learn are special. We all really felt a sense of loss when Ceal left. We all grew together."
After her graduation from Cincinnati, Tersigni decided she wanted to try and pass on the lessons acquired from her father, Toukonen, Barry and Smith.
"I got into coaching at Northern Kentucky, which was a Division II school," she said. "I was an assistant there for one year."
Then she got a high school job in the Greater Cincinnati area.
"I enjoyed that experience," Tersigni said. "I worked with the JV and varsity for two years. It was a lot different from college coaching."
But she was still looking for a competitive outlet.
"I was still playing in a recreational league," Tersigni said. "In fact, I was playing in the same league as (former Harbor rival) Sue Pokelsek (Ioas, who had moved to the Cincinnati area). That was fun."
By that time, though, Tersigni was getting the sense that coaching wasn't for her.
"I just got burnt out and decided I needed to take a break," she said. "I thought I would go back (to coaching), but the older I got, the less I wanted to get back in it."
The lure of home brought her back to Geneva in the late 1990s.
"When I first came back, I helped with fifth- and sixth-grade basketball," she said. "Then I coached track with Emily Long and Randy Ankrom for a while, but I'd never done track before, and it's so cold out there in the spring."
Thus, Tersigni confines her activities to teaching physical education at Geneva and Spencer elementary schools, splitting her day between those two schools. She believes she's found her niche there.
"I enjoy it very much," she said. "Working with kindergarteners through sixth graders is challenging, but it's a lot of fun. I always thought I'd end up teaching older kids. That was my plan. Now, I never want to go any higher."
Spending half a day each at Spencer and Geneva has turned out to be a real plus to Tersigni.
"This way, if you have a bad day at one school, you always get a chance to have a fresh start at the other," she said.
She gets to pass on the lessons her father and other coaches taught her.
"You get to teach the kids how to play, teach them to get along and show them the sportsmanship side of athletics," Tersigni said. "Basketball taught me accountability, to take responsibility and not make excuses. You either get the job done or you don't. Those lessons definitely have carried over."
She is grateful for the things basketball gave her and the legacy she has been able to pass on to today's female athletes.
"I do feel in a way I was a pioneer," Tersigni said. "Basketball helped me get an education I would not have been able to get otherwise. I got to travel a lot and learn a lot. I learned the importance of working hard with the game and in keeping your grades up. I learned to be dedicated."
There are times she would like to have the opportunities now available.
"I think the game is easier with the small ball and the three-point line," Tersigni said. "There are a lot more facilities now. I think the development of the WNBA is definitely a step in the right direction. It's wonderful."
Still, Tersigni believes she came along at just the right time.
"There's more competition out there now," she said. "I'm very comfortable with when I played and what I accomplished. If I had been born later, who knows what might have happened
"I'm proud of what I did in the game. I have no regrets. I'm quite happy with how it all worked out."