Charles Hirshey starred as an athlete at Conneaut, then as basketball coach at Rowe High School
By CHRIS LARICK
As Chuck Hirsimaki, the youth, captained the Conneaut Trojans boys basketball championship team of 1931-32, then went on to star at Findlay College, where he was eventually named to that school's Hall of Fame.
As Charles Hirshey, the same athlete, now an adult, became one of the best coaches this area has ever seen before moving on to accomplish even greater things in athletics and in the field of education.
As a result of all of those accomplishments, Hirshey has been selected to be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame. That induction will be held on Sunday at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
Hirshey's daughter, Shirley Emin, recounted his days at Conneaut High School in a recent letter:
"As a member of the Class of 1932 of Conneaut HS, Charlie demonstrated strong interests in athletics and education," Shirley wrote. "In addition to playing football, basketball (Captain in his senior year) and competing in track events each in high school, Charlie also found time to be vice president of the Literary Club and president of the junior class. He accounted for one of the six league track records held by Conneaut High School by jumping 5-91⁄4 in the high jump."
While Hirshey was a fine athlete at Conneaut in his own right, it is as the coach of the Rowe Vikings that most people of his generation and the one following it remember him. The name change wasn't unique to Charles in the family.
"I had four brothers who changed their name, some to Hirshey and some to Hershey," said Fred Hirsimaki, one of the brothers who didn't change his name.
After graduating from Conneaut, he went on to Findlay College, where he played football, basketball and track. He was a co-captain of the football team,
earning three varsity letters as an end. He also captained the track team.
"Recognized as an outstanding athlete, he held the state extra-point record and Findlay's broad jump record," Shirley wrote. "Twenty-five years later he was to be in the first group of men inducted into the Findlay College Athletic Hall of Fame."
His tenure as coach of all of Rowe's sports lasted nine seasons, during which he compiled a spectacular won loss record of 172-38 (.819) between 1938-1947, after taking over the coaching job in his third year of teaching at the school. Many schools never win 19 games in a season; under Hirshey the Vikings averaged that many. His worst record at Rowe was 19-8.
"He left Rowe the year before I got to Kingsville," Ed Batanian, a member of the ACBF Hall of Fame himself for his career as a basketball coach and athletic director and secretary for the Ohio High School Athletic Association Northeast District.
"All I heard at Conneaut Rowe was ‘Hirsimaki, Hirsimaki, Hirsimaki," Batanian said recently. "He was well respected there. I remember his brother, Ted Hirsimaki.
"I didn't want to coach against him. I guess he was an institution at Rowe."
"When we were in the seventh and eighth grade, he coached us," one of his former players, Gordon Griffey, said. "In high school, he had left, but he was very well known by us. All of us knew Charley — and knew him by that name.
"He wasn't just a basketball coach; he was a coach of all sports we had at that time. We only had one coach. Charley was a fine coach, a coach that you did it his way if you didn't want to sit the bench."
Duane Punkar played varsity basketball for Rowe in 1947 and 1948.
"I was a junior in 1947, Charlie's last year," Punkar said. "He was obviously a very good coach. He won a bunch of championships in a row. He was kind of old school, very much a disciplinarian.
"He stressed conditioning. We did a lot of running, inside. That was before we had any weight rooms, and we didn't have a lot of equipment."
As a coach, Hirshey was before his time, Punkar said.
"He used a lot of full-court press before other people were doing it. We never had a heck of a lot of height. I was a starting guard as a junior when we won the championship. We also won the championship the year after Charlie left. We graduated most of the team, but we won.
"He was kind of innovative. We had a lot of small schools in the county, Class B schools. There were times we would play two varsity games the same night. I graduated with a class of 37, so we didn't have a lot of depth.
"One thing I remember, we had a scoreboard that would light up red during the last minute of play so we'd be sure to know time was running down. Basketball was our thing."
Don Horwood, who would go on to become Superintendent of Schools in Conneaut, also played under Hirshey, during the 1945-46 season, when Rowe set a county record for wins, 24, that still stands. The Vikings went 24-2 that season.
"I also played baseball for him and ran track for him," Horwood said. "He was very nice, but he had that look. He'd fold his arms and give that look, like, ‘Is that all you have to say?' That was when teachers had respect and authority.
"Our 1945-46 team got beat twice. The '46-47 team was 20-5, but got knocked out right away in the tournament. We were up by 10 and lost by two points.
"We used a zone defense and just a screening offense. The 1945-46 team pressed all the time. We had Jerry Puffer, who was very adept at stealing the ball away on out-of-bounds plays. We only scored about 40 points; that was a high score back then. We had to play together as a team; we had a couple of good players like Jerry Puffer."
Puffer played for Hirshey from 1943 to 1946, riding the bench as a freshman.
"In 1943, the war (World War II) was going on and we had gas rationing, so we didn't have a JV team," Puffer said. "We carried 12 guys on the varsity roster. Ray McVoy and I were freshmen and were on the 12-man team but they only took 10 to away games.
"Coach Hirshey said if you guys can get to Austinburg, you can dress. Oh, boy, we'd get to shoot at halftime. I remember Ray dropping from his bedroom window, sneaking out, and we hitchhiked. Coach Hirshey passed us on the highway and just waved. The referees picked us up."
Puffer remembers the sad state of basketball courts during his high school days.
"At North Kingsville, the center circle and foul line overlapped. The ceilings were so low you couldn't shoot very far behind the foul line."
Puffer also remembers Hirshey fondly.
"He was quite a coach," Puffer said. "One thing I remember about him was that he was really a disciplinarian. When I played, I had a brother (Robbie) who was a senior. My brother would say, ‘Why don't we do it this way?' (Hirshey) would say, "Go take a shower.
"Coach Hirshey won the county or tournament for eight straight years. When we went to sectionals, Harbor, Geneva and Fairport would be there in Class B. The county tournament was 16 teams, double elimination. It was great. We played at Jefferson, up on the stage.
"We had some good games. We lost to New Lyme, then won 24 straight games until we got to Canton (the districts) and Amherst beat us.
"Coach Hirshey was quite an athlete. He and his brothers would have track meets. Put a dime on the hurdles and he'd skim it but not knock it off."
According to Hirshey's daughter, Shirley, Hirshey coached three of his siblings: Fred, Helen and Ted Hirsimaki. While at Rowe, He completed his graduate studies for his Master's of Education in 1939.
It was a sad day for Rowe when the students found out Hirshey was moving on to bigger things.
"Yes, the team was disappointed," Horwood said. "We read all about it in the paper afterward. He finished the school year, baseball and everything."
Fred Hirsimaki, several years younger than Charles, wound up playing basketball at Rowe for his older brother.
"I had to work twice as hard as everyone else," Hirsimaki, now a fine senior athlete, said. "It helped. When I'm in sports, I really work at it, I don't ask for any favors.
"We had a good relationship. He was a good coach who didn't let people fool around. If people did what he told them to do, he never complained.
"We played a lot of zone against most schools but switched it around. If we had a chance for a fast break, we took it. But we also had set-up plays. I was a 6-2 forward; our center was 6-3 Dave Jacobs. They called us the 4-Fs because the war was going on at that time and some people thought we should be in the reserves. I went in the service after we graduated."
Conneaut proved too small a stage for Hirshey. He left to become teacher-coach for Port Orange (Fla.) High School in Lakeville, Fla. in 1947, to Coral Gables, then moved on to Orlando (Edgewater High School). While coaching (track as well as basketball) he had numerous championship teams, according to Shirley, and was named Outstanding Basketball Coach of Florida.
During his high school basketball coaching career, Hirshey amassed more than 500 victories and had 24 championship teams. Students frequently sought Hirshey out as a mentor and he had the reputation of being a highly ethical coach, according to Shirley.
In 1957 Hirshey, became superintendent at the Eglin (Fla.) Air Force Base. He got his bachelor's degree in 1936, his master's of education from the University of Pittsburgh in 1939 and his doctorate in education from Pitt in 1960.
For Hirshey, life was a journey, with his sights set high. In 1962, he returned to northeastern Ohio to become superintendent of the Kenston school system. He moved from there to become superintendent at Franklin, Pa., from 1964-66.
By that time, he was ready to expand his horizons — to college education. He became a professor of education at Clarion State College (Pa.) in 1967, then moved on to become chairman of the education department at The Citadel Military College in South Carolina in 1971.
"Expanding the breadth and scope of the department was a task he tackled with vigor," Shirley said. "By the end of his 14-year career there he established 11 degree curricula, created multiple masters degree programs and gained national accreditation for the department. After retiring in 1981, Charlie worked for the Nova University doctoral program."
After retirement, Hirshey returned to the arena of track and field as a senior athlete, competing in the 70-74-year-old category, diligently practicing his shot put and discus techniques. He competed at meets throughout the Southeast and at the St. Louis Masters Track and Field competition in 1986. He often competed in as many as seven events — the high jump, long jump, triple jump, shot, discus, javelin, hammer throw and various races.
"He loved winning and was energized when he moved into each higher age bracket and was therefore the youngest in the group," Shirley said.
While a coach, he had more than a dozen championship teams in basketball, baseball and track and was named conference coach of the year several times.
He and his wife, the former Marjorie Cameron of Lakeville, Fla. had two children, (Dr.) Shirley (Emin), now of Albuquerque and Charles E. Hirshey, II, of Bellflower, Calif. Charles Jr. had one son, Chad, whom Charles enjoyed spending time with. Chad now lives in Kentucky.
After he was widowed, Hirshey married Celia King Siebert of Charleston, South Carolina. Two of his brothers, Martin and Fred Hirsimaki, still live in Ohio, while George Hershey, his third surviving brother, resides in New York. Hirshey also has four nephews who live in northern Ohio.
"He could be all business, but he was also a caring and gentle man," Charles' nephew, Ted Hirsimaki, said. "If you screwed up, he'd let you know. He wanted you to do things his way, with no fighting or dirty stuff. He was an intellectual type, but crossed over into sports.
"The Charles Hirshey Scholarship was established in his name and he's in several halls of fame, including Findlay College's. In his later years, he was a Senior Olympian and earned hundreds of trophies. He traveled overseas for education and went to Russia a couple of times. He really took a liking to his grandson, Chad, and spent time in the summer with him. He liked sports, the local teams and college sports.
"He was active into his 80s, when he had a stroke. He loved traveling and skiing. His second wife was an antique dealer. He was about 85 when he died."
"When I got active in master's track, I talked him into it," Fred Hirsimaki said. "He competed quite a few years. I'm still doing it. For his age, he did all right."
"He should be in the Hall of Fame," Puffer said. "He had quite a record. Back then, there was no such thing as open gym. We would've died if we could've gotten into the gym. We'd go out and play in a field. That's something you remember all your life."
Dr. Charles E. Hirshey passed way in March, 1998, at the age of 84 and is buried in Conneaut, having fulfilled many of the goals he had set for himself.
"Charlie would have been very pleased and excited to be inducted into the Ashtabula [County] Basketball [Foundation] Hall of Fame," Shirley Emin said. "He would certainly have enjoyed imparting anecdotes about any of his players from Rowe High School who might be in attendance at the awards dinner. Charlie would also have been quick to acknowledge the dedication and hard work put forth by the men and women he coached. Their success contributed to his."