By KARL PEARSON
Long before there was a team in Cleveland that bore the name, there was another outstanding group of Cavaliers that made an impact on the Ashtabula County basketball scene in the mid-1950s.
The Pierpont Cavaliers were the toast of small-school basketball in the county during the 1954-55 and 1955-56 seasons. Under the direction of coach Walter Robertson, the Cavaliers were the Class B county champions both years. The latter team recorded a 19-6 record, advanced to the Class B district tournament and, years later, was one of 48 teams from throughout Ashtabula County to be featured in the fictional Hoop Dreams tournament organized by Star Beacon sports editor Don McCormack.
The leader of those teams, 5-foot-7 point guard Bob Fenton, was truly a dynamic player. He not only ran the show for the Cavaliers, but was also an excellent scorer. Scoring 452 points during his senior year, he earned Class B Player of the Year honors in the county.
Then, just as quickly as he came on the scene, Fenton put the game aside to serve in the United States Army. He returned home to work at a variety of industrial jobs in the county and raise a family that includes three children and six grandchildren with his high school sweetheart and bride of 44 years, the former Faye Campbell.
Fenton has never strayed far from the community where he enjoyed his boyhood success. He still lives in Andover. His children are close by, with oldest son Mike living in Jefferson, second son Mark and wife Celeste and daughter Lisa Campbell and husband Bob still residing in Pierpont.
More than 50 years after his Cavalier days, Fenton believed the efforts of he and his teammates had pretty much been forgotten until he got the call recently that he was to be part of the 12-member Hall of Fame class for 2007 for the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation. Fenton will be officially inducted at the ACBF's annual banquet April 1 at 6 p.m. at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
"It was like something out of the blue," the 68-year-old Fenton said. "It never would have entered my mind that I would receive anything like this.
"After all, it's been 51 years since I played with that team. It's nice to be remembered. We're considered old by today's kids."
Talk about those Pierpont Cavaliers conjures up visions of the mythical Hickory High School team that won the Indiana state basketball championship in the movie "Hoosiers." What is now Pierpont Elementary School in the Buckeye Local School District was Pierpont High School, which included just 49 boys in it's top four grades.
Fenton's graduating consisted of just 12 students, equally divided between girls and boys. All of those boys were on the Cavalier basketball squad, including fellow starters Dave Holden and brothers Larry and Russell Cork, Gaylord Millard and Jim Speer off the bench.
That group of boys grew up through the elementary grades playing basketball together in the school gymnasium. It was especially easy for Fenton, who lived right across the street from the school. His father, Raymond, who is
deceased, and his mother, Meribah, at 89 still a resident of the Villa at the Lake in Conneaut, didn't seem to mind when he and his younger brother, Barney, who is also deceased, went there to play.
"We all used to spend a lot of Saturday mornings over there playing ball," Fenton said. "We were over there as much as we could."
Playing that much became even more of a factor when Walter Robertson arrived in town when Fenton and his classmates were in junior high. That was partially because the coach lived just down the street, too. The fact he also was the superintendent didn't hurt the boys' ability to gain access to the gym, either. They took full advantage.
Robertson coached Fenton and his teammates from junior high on up. Apparently, the coach was not a particularly demanding taskmaster, but had a way of getting his team to play the game the way he desired.
"He really emphasized passing the ball well and making the right decisions," Fenton said. "Mr. Robertson was kind of on the quiet side. He wasn't a real hard coach. He just explained to you what he wanted you to do and you did it."
The Cavaliers played a pretty wide-open game for the day. Many times, they scored in the 70s and 80s.
"We tried to fast break as much as we could," Fenton said. "We did shoot the ball quite a bit from the outside if we were in the half court. I think we passed the ball around pretty good. I think we were pretty good foul shooters, too.
"Defensively, we pressed a little, mainly in the half court. We played a lot of zone defense, usually a 2-3."
Playing so much together for so long obviously made the Cavaliers a cohesive unit, but it wasn't just about that group of six seniors. Gradually, several underclassmen became key factors to blend in with Fenton and Holden in the starting lineup. Carl Wilson played the other guard opposite Fenton, while 6-2 Don Welty became a force in the middle for the Cavaliers and got plenty of help from Tom Radzyminski in the paint.
But there was never any doubt Fenton was the ring leader. Even at his slight stature, he was a premier scorer, a combination of a slasher and a respectable outside shooter. Playing in an era when there was no three-point line, his scoring feats might have been even more impressive.