Adams made impressions during his days at Conneaut that continue to resonate, even today
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
Kids Jim Adams played basketball with at the Congregational Church in Conneaut marveled at his athletic ability.
So much so that when they attended a movie about Jungle Jim in the Belgian Congo, they couldn’t help making comparisons.
Thus Jim “Congo” Adams was born.
“People still call me ‘Congo Jim,’”Adams said. “I played against bigger centers than me, but I outjumped them.”
Adams, who graduated from Conneaut High School in 1954, will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation on April 13 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
Though he was just 6-foot-3, Adams was referred to in newspaper clippings during his high school years as “huge” and “a giant.”
He scored 868 points during his junior and senior years at Conneaut, mostly on layups, tipins and an occasional dunk. But he also had an effective hook shot.
At that time rebounds, weren’t kept track of very well, but Adams got his share.
“I was on the boards a lot,” he said. “Andy Garcia (an ACBF Hall of Famer) was my coach and he taught me to jump up and tap the ball in. He was a great coach. He could teach you a lot. He went to Akron South and made the All-Akron team (as a player). He’s a Hall of Famer there, too, and is in the Conneaut Hall of Fame. I’m in that, too.”
Then called the “Trojans,” Conneaut went 13-9 in Adams’ junior year (1952-53). But Adams was the only returning letterman for his senior season. He was named captain, and, in a low-scoring era, became a dominant factor, scoring 24 points against Millcreek and Springfield and 21 against Geneva. He had 20 in a 66-49 tournament loss to Orange, a game in which he dominated the 6-8 opposing center.
“He didn’t outscore or outrebound me,” Adams said. “I could jump. I weighed about 190-200 but was fast. On the football team, only the three guys in the backfield could beat me and then only by a yard.
“Those guys were good. Cowboy Snyder and Ron Mauri were really fast. We had a tough team that year.”
His best game was a record-setting 39 points against Albion in a 65-51 victory. And he didn’t get to play the entire game even then. If a game got one-sided, Garcia would pull his starters and let the reserves play.
JIM "CONGO" ADAMS (right) and legendary Conneaut coach Andrew Garcia are all smiles as they celebrate with a trophy the Trojans earned during time together. Adams will join his late coach in being inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame this spring.
JIM AND PATRICIA ADAMS
JIM "CONGO" ADAMS, shown during his days as a star player for the Conneaut Trojans.
“By halftime, I had more points than the other team had,” he said.
His point total would have been better, too, had he played varsity as a sophomore.
“When I played in the 10th grade, there were so many out for basketball that they didn’t need anybody like small schools do,” he said. “I had to play junior varsity in the 10th grade. They did dress me for some varsity games when the other team didn’t have a JV team. Our JV team was 10-6. The varsity was 13-9 my junior year and 10-11 my senior year. But we didn’t have a lot of players that year.”
Other than Adams, the starters were Darrell Maukonen, Dale Martin, Jim Ely and Buck Cifelli. George Hassler was also on that team.
One person who was impressed with Adams was Bill Ritter, a former Ashtabula star who had moved up to become the captain of the Army basketball team. Ritter had married a girl from Conneaut, Mary Ann Phillips. Seeing Adams play, Ritter tabbed him as “sure-fire college material.”
In addition to their regular schedule, the Trojans also played the Conneaut alumni each year. But that came to an end in Adams’ senior year, when 56 fouls were called and seven starters ejected. Adams scored 11 points in that game, all on free throws, going 11 for 11 from the foul line. Garcia canceled the annual event at that point.
In addition to basketball, Adams played football and ran track at Conneaut. He played right end for Elmer Peaspanen’s football team and says no one ever scored over his side of the defense. He also caught some passes.
He also competed on the track team all three years. In his senior season, 1954, the Trojans went undefeated in track under Garcia, the only time in history that has been the case.
Adams was a high jumper and pole vaulter, high-jumping 6 feet and pole-vaulting 12 feet. Those were good numbers in those days. The “Fosbury Flop” hadn’t been developed yet and most used the Western roll. Neither the pole itself, now fiberglas or some other exotic material, nor the pit, then sand or sawdust, were conducive to great vaults. The pole was generally made of bamboo or steel. Bamboo would break and steel wasn’t flexible.
Adams was good enough to qualify for the state meet three years in a row. He finished third in the vault in Euclid as a sophomore, sixth in the state in the pole vault and fourth in the vault and sixth in the high jump as a senior.
Those state meets were in Columbus, and Woody Hayes, the legendary Ohio State football coach, always attended to scout talent.
“I sat with Andy Garcia and him and he asked me if I was interested in playing football at Ohio State three years in a row. He said, ‘I’ll get your tuition paid,’ but I had no interest in doing that. I wasn’t too fond of studying, though I could get by with a C and an occasional B.”
Instead of going to college, Adams enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Korea. Though technically a peace had been signed to end the Korean War, on occasion there were flareups along the 38th Parallel.
“They were still shooting,” Adams said. “There were a lot of traps. Everything was in disorder. There was fighting back and forth.
“We had to watch the ammunition dump. (The North Koreans) would try to get that.”
But there was also time for sports while he was in Korea. He played basketball and softball and ran track.
“Our track teams won the Far East championship,” Adams said. “I didn’t go out my first year, but they said I could have my own Jeep if I did so I could drive wherever I wanted to go for track. I played basketball for the U.S. Army and made the all-star team. I also played softball and made the all-star team. We had to go way back from the 38th Parallel. We had a lot of guys there watching us.”
After he got out of the army after three years in 1957 Adams took a job with Marx Toys in Girard, Pa., spending five years there. Then he went to work for Bury Compressor in Erie. Serving as traffic manager in shipping and receiving, he broke a couple of fingers when he tried to push some material through a machine too fast.
“It didn’t heal right,” he said. “I broke seven of my fingers working there.”
He worked there for 12 1/2 years before returning to Conneaut to work for Emco-Wheaton. In 1977, Harry Church got him a job with RMI in Conneaut.
In 1992, he got hurt and went on disability.
While he was working those jobs, he continued to play sports. He played on a City League basketball team that included Jerry Puffer, Denny DiPofi, Phil Sanford, Bill Smith and Steve Bosick. That team, under sponsors like Johnny’s Market and Hirschbeck Pontiac, won six of seven Conneaut City League championships. The seventh year, that team lost in the championship game.
Adams was also instrumental in starting the CLYO’s Little Gridders in Conneaut in 1974.
After those seven years, Adams gave up basketball and concentrated on hunting (deer and pheasants), along with bowling. He averaged about 170 in bowling until his poorly mended fingers started bothering him. Now 78, he has given up hunting since it bothers his sinuses too much. He says he watches a lot of television these days.
He lives with his second wife, Patricia. Each of them has three children. Jim and his first wife gave birth to J.C., Jeff and Holly, while Patricia’s children are Jack Carr, Karen Simmons and Linda Kehoe.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.