Bruno Mallone came home and took Geneva to state tourney in 1949-50
By KARL PEARSON
12th in a series...
The history of Ashtabula County basketball is a rich one, but there are just two examples in all those years of teams enjoying the utter satisfaction of reaching the state tournament.
It has been 59 years since the last team to reach that level — the 1949-50 Geneva Eagles — trod the county basketball landscape. Yet, because since instances have been so rare, it is an achievement that still carries deep meaning to those for whom the sport is a rallying point. Even those who were not yet born when it occurred know about that team.
Over the years, several members of that team have been recognized for their exploits on the court. Two of the key players from that squad — the late Dale Arkenburg and Don Marsh, one of the few surviving players from that team — have already been recognized for their contributions to that squad and their general excellence.
Until now, however, the coach of that team, the late Bruno Mallone, has not been recognized for his direction of that team. A fine player in his own right for the Geneva teams of the mid-1930s, Mallone was a standout in three sports for the Eagles before his graduation in 1935. He continued to show outstanding ability at Ohio Northern University to the point that he eventually joined his older brother, Joe, in the school's athletic hall of fame.
Mallone came back to coach basketball, football and track and teach industrial arts at his alma mater in 1947. He had already had a successful coaching career in basketball, coaching Attica High School, located midway between Norwalk and Tiffin and now known as Seneca East High School, to 24 straight victories and with one point of the state tournament in 1945. He coached in 1946 at Oak Harbor before back to Geneva, going 7-11.
Starting in 1947, he harnessed the talents of players like Jim Merrell, Dick Eller, Don Patrick, Marsh and Arkenburg into a powerful unit that claimed the Lake Shore League title by his third at the school, in addition to that trip to Columbus. Before he left the community after the 1954 season, Geneva also earned a share of the 1953 championship of the two-year-old Northeastern Conference with Riverside.
For his career at Geneva, Mallone's Eagles compiled an 92-51 record (.643 winning percentage). He also enjoyed success when he returned to the sidelines at the now-defunct Hiram High School, where he coached from 1960-64. He took Hiram to the regional finals in 1964. Hiram High School was eventually consolidated into what is now Mantua Crestwood High School.
What Mallone did with his Geneva teams has rung down through the years. Finally, it has led to his own selection to the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. He will be one of 14 inducted at the ACBF Awards Banquet on Sunday at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
Unfortunately, Mallone died in January of 1999 at age 82 in Hiram, where he is buried. Only Joe Mallone, who will celebrate his 94th birthday on April 3, and his half-brother Tony Sanzotta, 82, are all that remain of six brothers. Several of Mallone's family members will be in attendance for the awards banquet, however.
Pam Mallone, who still resides in the home in Hiram Bruno and his wife, Dorothy, who died in June of 2008, and her brother John, believes her father would be extremely pleased with his place in the ACBF Hall of Fame, although she noted her father's modesty.
"I think Dad would be extremely pleased to be recognized like this," she said. "He was a very calm, quiet man who didn't understand when other coaches got so excited on the sidelines. He was very proud of his time at Geneva and the boys who played for him. He'd be very pleased to know he was going into the hall of fame with Dale Arkenburg and Don Marsh."
His son, John Mallone, who resides in the Chicago suburb of Cary, believes his father would appreciate the distinction, too.
"Dad would consider it a huge privilege," he said. "He was not one to have a lot of trophies, awards or signs of recognition around. He just enjoyed the competition."
Joe Mallone agrees that his brother would be very pleased with his recognition.
"Bruno would have thought it was a great honor," he said. "He would be pleased to be joining Dale and Don. I think Dale worshiped him, and they had a great mutual respect for each other."
His players would attest to that.
"Bruno was a very good coach," Arkenburg, who died in 2007, said in an earlier article in the Star Beacon reflecting on the 1949-50 team. "We respected him. He had been a very good athlete in high school and college. He could communicate and was building and forming the team."
Dick Eller, a guard on that team, agreed.
"I count myself and the rest of us very lucky to have had Bruno as a coach," he said in that article. "I think we all believed in ourselves because he believed in us. That was a large part of the success we had."
Bruno Mallone was born in 1917, the second of the sons of Frances and Bruno Mallone. Joe Mallone had been born in 1915.
Bruno Mallone barely knew his birth father. According to Joe Mallone, the elder Bruno Mallone, an Italian immigrant, was accidentally shot to death on April 6, 1917, the day the United States entered World War I, when a riot between citizens and police that broke out in protest of the U.S. entry into the war, in the small Pennsylvania town he had traveled to for a visit with friends.
"I was only 2 years old when our father died and Bruno was just 10 weeks old," Joe Mallone said.
It wasn't long before Frances was remarried to Anthony Sanzotta, a friend of the family. They set up a home on Van Epps Avenue, not too far from Eastwood Street and what would eventually become Memorial Field.
In 1919, Jim Sanzotta was born. He was followed in 1921 by Mickey Sanzotta, Carmen Sanzotta, who died in infancy, in 1923 and Carmelo Sanzotta, more commonly known as Mellie, in 1925.
On July 4, 1926, tragedy struck the family again. Anthony Sanzotta had gone to Ashtabula to visit friends there. According to Joe Mallone, while he was at the house of one of those friends, who apparently owed a financial debt, he was shot by persons seeking to collect that debt. He died before he could be transported to the hospital.
At the time, Frances Sanzotta did not know it, but she was expecting her last son. Tony Sanzotta was born in 1927. She was then forced to raise six boys on her own. Frances was fortunate enough to have a long life, passing away at age 97.
"Our house had no electricity or telephone," Joe Mallone said. "My mother raised us all with no pension and almost no financial support. Welfare was unconstitutional then."
Frances Sanzotta was a resourceful woman. She and her children raised their own food from their own garden and canned vegetables and fruits. They also raised chickens and pigs.
Joe and Bruno, who was also known as BAM to match his initials or is referred to today as B.A. by his relatives, and their brothers all took various odd jobs to raise money, including selling newspapers and caddying at Madison Country Club or one of the courses in Geneva.
Still, by the time they were of high school age, Joe and Bruno were able to participate in sports. Joe became a three-sport standout at Geneva High Schoo until his graduation in 1932, with Bruno following after him in 1935.
They took turns serving as the principal male figure in their family. Joe had shown enough promise to earn athletic scholarship offers from several schools when he graduated, but he held off on going to Ohio Northern University until Bruno graduated. In the years before he headed to Ada, he worked at the True Temper Plant in Geneva.
When Joe went off to ONU in 1935, Bruno took over as the chief bread winner. He assumed the starring role on the Eagles' basketball, football and track squads. He played varsity basketball in his sophomore and junior years, and helped the Eagles get off to a blazing start in his senior year of 1937-38, leading them to an undefeated record, according to Joe, until just after the New Year, when he became academically ineligible and had to sit out the rest of the season.
"They were undefeated until then, then never won another game after Bruno was declared ineligible," Joe said.
Unlike Joe, Bruno didn't have to wait to head off to college because the oldest of the Sanzotta brothers were able to take over the role as the father figure. Like Joe, he earned a full athletic scholarship to Ohio Northern.
"We were the last two guys to receive athletic scholarships at Northern," Joe said.
Both brothers played three sports for the Polar Bears. Joe earned 10 varsity letters at ONU, while Bruno earned nine because freshmen were not eligible for varsity athletics. The brothers are both in the Ohio Northern Athletic Hall of Fame for their exploits, with Joe in the inaugural class in 1970 and Bruno joining him in 1980.
In 1942, Bruno helped the Polar Bears captured the Ohio Athletic Conference football and basketball titles at a time when the league included 22 schools from all over the state. He and Joe played for Harris Lamb.
"I was 6-2 and in basketball I played forward," Bruno said in a 1998 interview. "I was the leading rebounder and scorer. I was probably better on defense and rebounding. We had a lot of other players who could score."
Two big things happened for Bruno in 1942. He not only graduated from ONU, but he and Dorothy, who was from Lafayette, near Medina, were married.
It was the height of World War II, but Bruno was deemed unfit for military service because he had suffered a perforated eardrum. Instead, he went to work at a munitions factory in Dayton for the balance of the war.
When the war ended, he got a job teaching industrial arts and coaching basketball and got his coaching career off to a fantastic start at Attica with the 24-1 record and trip to regional. From there, he went to Oak Harbor, but opportunity knocked back in Geneva with the chance to coach all three sports.
Back home again
Geneva High School was much smaller than it is today, playing at what was called the Class B level at that time. But the Eagles went toe-to-toe with bigger schools like Ashtabula and Conneaut and more than held their own. Those were the days when Bob Ball ruled the court at Ashtabula and Andy Garcia was in his heyday at Conneaut. Both were in the inaugural class of ACBF Hall of Famers in 2003.
"Bruno and Andy Garcia were quite close," Joe Mallone said.
"We had some good teams, even though we were the smallest school in the county," Bruno Mallone said of his Geneva squads in 1998. "We were Class B at the time, but won the Lake Shore League championship (in basketball) in 1950 and 1951, the last two years the conference was intact."
The Eagles got better and better with each season after Mallone took over. They were 12-5 in his first season back in town in 1947-48, improved to 16-7 and reached the district finals in 1948-49, then went 23-3 in the magic 1949-50 season, winning the LSL and the Class B sectional, district and regional tournaments before falling in the state semifinals in Columbus.
That team included Arkenburg, Eller, Marsh, Merrell, Bob Beech, Andy Mellen, Hart Morrison, Don Patrick and Bob Scoville.
One of the big reasons for Geneva's success was Mallone's calm approach, even at the most stressful times.
"Bruno was a good coach," Bud Darling, his assistant that season, said in the article from 2000. "I would say he was a little ahead of his time.
"He was a good, level-headed man who never seemed to get angry. He was always calm and collected."
Coach Bruno Mallone (left) talks to a group of his players from
the 1949-50 Geneva team that reached the state tournament.
With Mallone are (kneeling, from left) Dale Arkenburg and Dick
Eller and (standing, from left) Bob Scoville, Jim Merrell, Andy
Mellen and Don Marsh. Mallone will be inducted into the
Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
His players appreciated that.
"I don't remember Bruno being real emotional," Merrell said in the same story. "He drew up his plays and we did what he said. There wasn't much hanky-panky or rebellion."
"You'd see a lot of different coaches around the league, see and hear about them from the players on the bench," Eller said in that story. "Bruno was just the opposite.
"He was calm, quiet, never really angry with us or going into a rage or raising his voice. He was steady and calm. For me in particular, it gave me a lot of confidence. He was patient and had a lot of confidence in us."
Joe Mallone said his brother enjoyed his players, although he didn't go into great detail.
"Bruno never talked too much about his own coaching," he said. "He spoke highly of Arkenburg and Merrell and the other boys.
"Bruno was a fatherly kind of man. He kept his temper pretty even. He just talked a lot about defense and getting the ball inside to his players."
Despite losing a lot of his talent after that special season, Mallone continued to produce quality teams with the Eagles. They were 13-6 in 1950-51, dropped off to 5-12 in 1951-52, then rebounded with a 17-4 season in 1952-53 to share the NEC title with Riverside. Geneva was 6-14 in his final season there in 1953-54.
While they were in Geneva, the Mallones adopted Pam in 1950 and John after that.
After they left Geneva, the Mallones moved to Cleveland for a time. Bruno taught at Addison Junior High in Cleveland.
But after a while, the urge to get back into coaching lured Mallone to Hiram for the 1960 season. He gradually built the program up until the great 1964 season. His work with that team earned Portage County Coach of the Year recognition.
John Mallone was in elementary school during that special season.
"I was the ballboy for the team," he said. "I went along for the free gum.
"I think we played against Kent in that regional game. There were so many people attending that game that they moved it from Hiram High School to the Hiram College gymnasium, which seated about 2,000 people. There were about 300 or 400 people from Hiram and the rest were from the other school. We lost the game in double overtime."
That was Mallone's departure from coaching. He continued to teach industrial arts at Hiram High School before he retired in 1982. He, Dorothy and Pam remained in the same house, which had once been occupied by President James A. Garfield and his family.
Over the years, Mallone often returned to Geneva for various family functions and to visit with old teammates and players. John, who presented Bruno and Dorothy with four grandchildren — Danny Scott of Washington, D.C., Michael Mallone, who is in the U.S. Navy and lives on the East Coast, Katie Mallone, a student at Kent State University, and Kelley Mallone, who resides in Garrettsville, was on many of those excursions.
"I used to go with Dad to the Geneva Lettermen's Association banquet," John said. "I met many of his old teammates and players. In all those conversations, I never heard a word of ill will about him. Everybody loved him."
Joe Mallone agrees with that assessment.
"I can't imagine anyone having anything against Bruno," he said.
Bruno Mallone's love for the game never waned. He and Dorothy passed it on to their children.
"My father and mother just loved basketball," Pam said. "I can remember sitting and watching games on television with them all the time.
"Dad really enjoyed the game."