Koval worked hard at life
By Chris Larick
Bill Koval 2003 BILL KOVAL reacts during a Geneva boys basketball game on Dec. 28, 1979. First of a Series... Koval worked hard at life Former Geneva coach learned there's no substitute for maximum effort at a very young age By CHRIS LARICK Staff Writer Ask Bill Koval the recipe for success and you'll get a quick answer. "Hard work." Those values were ingrained into Koval, one of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation's inductees into its Hall of Fame on April 6, at an early date. The son of a Russian immigrant who became a coal miner in Slovan, Pa., Koval was just 1 year old when his mother died. "There were four of us," Koval said of his siblings. "My dad taught us to appreciate good, hard work. He passed away when I was 19 or 20, going to Findlay (College). He wasn't one of those fathers who pushed you into college." With no mother for so many of their formative years, the Kovals had to help support the family. Bill was able to find enough time to play football and basketball at Burgettstown (Pa.) High School, from which he graduated in 1953. "I was a post man at 6-1 or so," Koval, who played tackle in football at 170 pounds, said. "I scored a few points, got a few rebounds and played defense. Looking at coaches now, how they teach kids how to play, back then the coach was football, basketball and track coach. Now, they do a much better job, specializing in a sport." Koval's coach at Burgettstown, Steve Babyak, got six of his players to attend Findlay College. "He took us up there, got us a job and we played some sports. That's where he went. We all graduated. I have a lot of admiration for him." Koval found he didn't have time to play many sports at college since he was working his way through. He did wrestle one year at 167 pounds and played on an independent team. "They only paid $50 a semester to play sports," he said. "I worked two jobs, one at a restaurant and one at a potato chip factory. I'd open the factory at 5 in the morning and work until 8 o'clock, get it going, then go to school and play football. At noon, I'd go to the restaurant and wash pots and pans. At night, I'd work from 6 to 9. "When did I study? That was a chore. When kids go to college now I like to see them work a little, not just see everything handed to them. My dad taught me to appreciate work." Koval, who married June in 1956, graduated in just 312 years, in 1957. 1/25/2018 TheACBF.com - Hall of Fame Archives 2/3 "I worked at Findlay all the time I was there," he said. "I took enough courses to get out in February. Before that I had a job at 16 working on railroad construction. I was always looking for a job." When he graduated, with degrees in business education and education, Koval took a job in insurance, doing data processing (cards with holes punched in them). "It was kind of a recession time," Koval said. "I started asking myself, 'What did I go to school for?' I ended up calling Findlay College to find out if any jobs were open in the teaching line. There were two jobs open, in Caldwell, Ohio, and Geneva. "I decided to go up to Geneva and ran into D.J. Caton (an administrator at Geneva at the time). He was just like my dad. He was the best guy I could've run into. I took the job in business math, business law and business English. I volunteered as a coach the first year and helped with the seventh and eighth grades." Jim Ayres started the baseball program at Geneva the following year. Koval's coaching assignments included ninth grade basketball, head baseball and assistant football. He moved up from there until he became head coach when Al Bailey left in 1967. "I had Gary Kreilach, Tom Schultz, Phil Cusumano, Marty Skidmore and Keith Bay as my starters the first year," Koval said. "With a leader on the floor like old Gary it made me look good." Koval spent 27 seasons on roaming the sidlines as the Eagles' head coach and piled up a Koval admits he learned a lot as Bailey's assistant. "I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him," he said. "You see what someone is doing and make your adjustments." While Koval was coaching he went to West Virginia in the summers of 1961-63 and earned his master's degree. Then he started painting houses during the summers. As successful as Koval was as a basketball coach, his one attempt at being head football coach at Geneva didn't work out too well. The Eagles went 0-9-1 that year, 1960, losing to Wickliffe, 91-0. "It was the year before they merged the schools (Geneva, Cork, Spencer and Austinburg)," Koval said. "Joe Mallone had been head football coach and I was his assistant. I was out there working in August, doing handyman work at Cork School, when I heard T.J. Bailey, the superintendent, call out, 'How'd you like to become football coach?'" I said, 'You've got to be kidding me. You've got to have someone more qualified than I am.' He kept it up, said I'd played football. There were only two seniors on the team. I started three freshmen and four sophomores. We got our butts kicked and they hired Brian Burke the next year." Koval credits his success to hard work and persistence. "It helps to have a super family backing you, and a good environment. That helps a lot. I had a lot of great kids, a lot of great athletes who were hard-working. They'd knock down the doors of the gym to get in to practice or be on the outdoor court. I didn't have to say, 'Be there.'"I think (Geneva has) one of the finest systems in our area, with a lot of pride. I had a good time with it. All in all, Geneva High School has been my home and given me a lot over the years under different principals and superintendents. I've gone through a lot with Geneva." Koval's daughter, Kim, married Brad Ellis, one of his former players and now the Eagles' head coach. "I think Brad has done as well as anybody," Koval said. "He's knowledgeable and dedicated. They're lucky to have him. In this day, everybody thinks they know more than you do." Bill met his wife, June, in high school and they got married in 1956, when Bill was still in college. Kim was born in 1959 and two sons, Mike in 1961, and Erik in 1965, followed. "We're fortunate to have a great family as well as an extended family," Bill, now wintering in Florida, said. "My mother-inlaw is 90 years old. She had four sisters and two brothers. We usually go back to Burgettstown every year. They owned a grocery store there. "We have that closeness. Our kids got to be around aunts, uncles and cousins. We'd make trips there once a month, even Kim and Brad. My kids still make the trip to Burgettstown to see Nana." While Kim and Brad are teachers, Mike went to Bucknell and became an electrical engineer. He now lives in California and he and his wife, Susan, have four children. 1/25/2018 TheACBF.com - Hall of Fame Archives 3/3 Erik graduated from Ohio University. He and his new bride, Jennifer, live in Columbus, working for Huntington Banks. Of being named to the Ashtabula County Basketball's Hall of Fame, Koval said. "I appreciate it. It's a nice thing." BILL KOVAL AT GENEVA 1967-68 - 16-7 S 1968-69 - 10-9 1969-70 - 16-4 1970-71 - 13-8 S 1971-72 - 19-4 NEC, S, D 1972-73 - 10-9 1973-74 - 11-10 S 1974-75 - 13-7 1975-76 - 11-10 S 1976-77 - 18-2 NEC 1977-78 - 8-11 1978-79 - 17-4 NEC, S 1979-80 - 10-11 1980-81 - 16-6 NEC 1981-82 - 16-6 NEC 1982-83 - 14-9 1983-84 - 9-12 1984-85 - 13-8 NEC 1985-86 - 16-9 S, DF 1986-87 - 7-14 1987-88 - 6-15 1988-89 - 9-12 1989-90 - 11-11 1990-91 - 8-14 1991-92 - 11-10 1992-93 - 13-9 1993-94 - 4-17 Totals - 325-248 (.567) Key - NEC denotes NEC championship, S denotes sectional championship, D denotes district championship, DF denotes reached district finals.