What about Bob?
Bob Walters was shooting star across the basketball galaxy
By KARL PEARSON
Watch Bob Walters in his prime as a basketball player and you'd swear shooting came as naturally to him as breathing.
Eventually Walters, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame Sunday, would become a high school and college star with that silky-smooth delivery of his and earn an invitation for a tryout with the New York Knicks.
But his success never came as easily as Walters made it look. There were no midget basketball leagues in Ashtabula in his youth and his first experience with the game came by playing pickup games on outside basketball courts in elementary school.
Thus armed, he tried to make the basketball team in junior high school.
"I tried out for the seventh-grade team at West Junior High and got cut," Walters said. "I went out for the eighth-grade team and got cut. But they told us we were allowed to practice if we went in at 6 a.m. They'd leave balls on the floor and let us shoot."
Ask Walters the secret of his success and he doesn't hesitate.
"I had singleness of purpose," he said.
Singleness of purpose in hand, he tried out for the team again in the ninth grade. This time, he made it.
"I couldn't shoot a lick," he said. "I could jump and play defense. Mr. (Bob) Ball (then Ashtabula High School coach) let me dress for the varsity team as a sophomore. But I didn't letter as a sophomore."
Walters found a kindred spirit in Gene Gephart, who would become basketball coach in
"He and I played PIG and HORSE," Walters said. "We spent a lot of time shooting and I became an adequate player in high school. But I doubt I was near a 1,000-point scorer."
In Walters' senior year at Ashtabula, he averaged 16 points a game, starting along with, as Walters recalls, Jeff Ball, Ozzie Eberle, Wayne Harley and Frank Bush, with Ron Vettel (now Judge Vettel), Joe Peterangelo (now Joe Pete, Sr.), Rick Holub, George Keyes, Ray Henson and Bob Bruosta on the bench. Walters was a starting guard.
"Back in those days, they didn't have a point guard and an off-guard or shooting guard," he said. "Bob Ball's son, Jeff, and I were the scoring threats out there in our junior and senior years.
"Jeff was probably more the driver type. My strength was with the jump shot."
Since there was no three-point arc in Walters' day, he tried to shoot from no more than 15-18 feet.
"Bob Ball was a defensive coach," Walters said. "He was strict in the way he let you play."
The Panthers won 16 games in both Walters' junior and senior seasons, 15 in his sophomore year. "I really began playing much better as a junior," he said. "As a senior, I was pretty successful."
One of his proudest memories of high school was when he broke the single team record of 29 points, set by his teammate, Jeff Ball, earlier.
"I scored 31 points with my left arm in a cast from the elbow to the hand," Walters said. "I always respected Mr. Ball for leaving me in there to do that — break the record set by his son."
Walters was recruited by Youngstown State, Kent State and Baldwin-Wallace. There were things he didn't like about Youngstown and he got a bit of a brushoff at Kent.
"I went on a campus visit to Kent State and the head coach was busy playing handball," he said. "That turned me off.
"Baldwin-Wallace was a beautiful campus and treated me nicely. It was an easy choice."
If it took a long time to establish himself as a scholastic player, his collegiate career took off like a rocket.
"I started the fifth game of my freshman year and every game thereafter, 105 games in a row," he said.
He established eight records for the Yellow Jackets, including leading scorer with 1,840 points, still fourth on the list. He held that mark for 10 years, until Dean Martin scored 2,062 between 1969 and 1973.
He also held the marks for single-game scoring (47, against St. Vincent in 1960), most field goals in a game (21), most points in a season (541), most field goals in a season (224) and consecutive games started (105). Altogether, he held eight records at one time.
"I was the ball-handler and shooting guard," he said. "The last three years, I averaged more than 21 points a game."
Despite his accomplishments, Baldwin-Wallace was not a successful team. The Yellow Jackets went 7-17, 11-15, 15-13 and 14-12 in his four years, a 47-57 overall mark.
"Seldom did I play with anyone on my team as a starter who was over 6-3. We competed against Loyola of Chicago in 1962 when they won the championship. Our tallest player was 6-3. We were leading in the game and the next thing we knew, we were down 60. Without a big man, you can't make a go of it."
When he graduated, the Knicks asked him to come in for a tryout — at his own expense.
"I couldn't afford the trip, so I passed on it," he said. "But I really enjoyed teaching and coaching. I was quite successful playing college basketball but between 1963 and 1964 I had a chance to play in Open Cleveland, the top league in Cleveland. I realized I could do things well, but I didn't have the foot speed and got over the disappointment."
Walters continued to play basketball in recreational leagues when he came back to Ashtabula as a health and physical education teacher in 1964.
"I played in open leagues for years, probably through the '70s and into the '80s," he said. "They used to have leagues all over. We'd go to tournaments. We'd like to go to Ledgemont, at the old school with a matchbox gymnasium. Big teams would come in. There were a lot of points scored. We had a lot of fun running and gunning."
Among the players on Walters' team were Jerry Raffenaud and Don Condon. He played against Al Bailey, former Spencer and Geneva coach and a member of last year's ACBF's Hall of Fame class, though posthumously.
"If we'd played on the same team, we'd probably have a friendly disagreement about who would take the ball out," Walters said. "Whoever took it out would never see it again. The two of us would probably end up scoring 100 points. He was a heck of a player."
Walters started teaching physical education and health at Ashtabula in September 1964. Bob Ball, then the boys basketball coach, told him there were two coaching positions open, that Walters could take his choice of them and Ball would take the other.
"It was golf or tennis," Walters said. "I like running. That's how I got involved in tennis. Mr. Ball took golf."
Forty years later, Walters is still the tennis coach, though it's now at Lakeside since the consolidation of Ashtabula and Harbor. He's claimed about 370 victories and Northeastern Conference championships in 1977 and 1978, the only years that Geneva has not won or shared the title.
"I had never played tennis when I took the job," Walters said. "I had to learn the sport. I never allowed players to call me ‘Coach' until about 1970. I was always Mr. Walters because I didn't know much about it. Once I got a fairly good handle on it, the kids could call me ‘Coach.' "
When Walters took over the basketball reins from Gephart in 1971-72, he found many of his basketball players also on his tennis squad.
"There was a great transition from basketball to tennis then," he said. "I don't get basketball players playing tennis anymore."
Walters served as freshman boys coach his first two years, then became varsity assistant. In 1971, Gephart went into administration, leaving the head boys basketball coach job to Walters.
"I tried to get him to stay one more year, but he left and I took over," Walters said.
Bob Ball and Gephart are the people who influenced him the most, he said.
"Mr. Ball probably set the wheels in motion for me to be the type of coach and teacher I turned out to be. That's where I learned that discipline is extremely important. When he talked, coaches listened and players listened.
"I didn't realize how important that was until I got away from that environment. The type of coach and teacher I became was probably determined then."
Walters added that his eventual coaching philosophy and style became a combination of Ball's emphasis on defense and his own run-and-gun game.
"I tried to blend them all together," he said.
Of Gephart, Walters said, "Being so closely related in method and philosophy made it easy for me to work within that framework. The beauty of having Gene Gephart in my life is that he turned out to be a very good friend as well."
As Ashtabula High School's basketball coach, Walters took the Panthers to NEC championships in the 1972-73, 1977-78 and 1982-83 seasons. Over a 21-year span, interrupted when John Higgins took over the team from 1987-89, he posted a 209-221 record as coach.
The 1977-78 team was probably his best, posting a 18-3 record and going all the way to the district finals before being eliminated from the tournament. That squad consisted of starters Tom Hill, David Benton, Deora Marsh, Perry Stofan and Lou Murphy, with Stanley Ball, Scooby Brown, Robin Thomas, Hank Barchanowicz, Jewel Hanna, Roger Ball and Tony Powell.
"Our margin of victory was about 20 points a game," Walters said. "That was by far, without a doubt, my best team. Also, it was the most surprising team. We were an average team the year before.
"Those kids worked all summer and came back in the fall in great condition. Tom Hill came up to me and said, ‘We're going to be a very good team and win it all.' I had not seen them play during the summer. I was amazed at their improvement. Those kids were all athletes."
After making a shambles of the league race that season, the 1977-78 team made it to the district finals before meeting powerful St. Joseph's, featuring Clark Kellogg.
"We had our game plan together," Walters said. "We knew we could run with them.
"In the first half, they had Clark Kellogg playing outside. That helped immensely. Two or three minutes into the third quarter, David Benton sprained an ankle and was out the rest of the game. We lost by four points.
"In the second half, Clark Kellogg had 24 points and ended up with 27 rebounds. Deora (Marsh) had to guard him. The kids hung in there. They had a lot of character, those kids."
That group was responsible for Walters' second championship. His second team as head coach, the 1972-73 squad that included Mike Osborne, Bobby Benton, Fred Bussey, Bill Miller, Mike Brown, Jim Holley, Bill Marsh, Marvin Jones, Bill Chapman, Ed Gierth and Kim Featsent, took his first title.
In 1982-83, the Panthers won a third championship for Walters. That team included Terry Thompson, Terence Hanna, Kevin Hanna, Dave Graf, Louis Taylor, Carlos Aponte, Isaac Scruggs, Gary Chapman, John Marks, Dale Ball, Eric Orth and Terry Slay.
The 1985-86 team didn't come close to winning a championship. In fact, that group went 2-19. But Walters still considers it one of his favorite teams.
That squad consisted of Mark Gray, Jeff Graf, Melvin Thompson, Chris Gray, Bob Sholtis (whose son played for Geneva the past three years), Mike Delano, Rusty Ezell, Clarence Carlton, Ed Parker, Corey Allgood, Adrian Mathers and Kilan Baker
"We did not have a kid 6-feet tall or over," he said. "But they worked as hard as any team I ever coached. They worked hard during games and at practices. It was so encouraging and rewarding seeing kids never give up.
"They went 21 games like that. They gave everything they had, were the best they could be. Because of their size and the fact they couldn't shoot very well (38 percent as a team), it was a rewarding effort to coach them. You don't have to win championships to realize how hard kids work."
In 1980, Walters was elected to Baldwin-Wallace's Hall of Fame. He considers himself a very fortunate man.
"I feel I was treated by my players as well as any coach or teacher could ever hope to be treated," he said. "They showed me such great respect and did things with such enthusiasm and effort. I loved every member of every team and they showed love in return. Maybe we didn't win as many games as I'd like to, but it wasn't because of their lack of effort.
"I'm happy God put me where he did — at Ashtabula and now at Lakeside. It's been very rewarding and a wonderful experience."
Walters retired from coaching basketball after the 1993-94 season.
"When you reach a point in time to retire from anything, you know it," he said. "I was ready to retire from coaching. I stayed two more years as a teacher." He continues to coach the tennis team at Lakeside.
He feels fortunate to have had the assistant coaches he did — Tom Carr, Tom Hill, Lynn Altonen, Jim Hood, Jerry Raffenaud and Adam Holman.
Asked about entering the ACBF Hall of Fame, Walters said, "I see it as not just based on whether it was as a player or coach. It could be a combination of what I was able to accomplish as a player, especially when I got out of high school. I had some longevity in coaching and some very strong teams. I think they took that into consideration in deciding that I do belong as a member of it.
Walters' wife, Cynthia, is a teacher at Lakeside High School. He has three children, Amanda, 32; Ryan, 29; and Amber, 28. Amanda and her husband, Johnny, are both in education. They have two sons, Noah, 5, and Jacob, 3.
Ryan and Celeste Walters have two boys of their own, Matthew, 6, and Bailey, 2. Amber is single.