One of our own
13th of a series...
It was crunch time for the Chardon schools in the fall of 1977. The school board had placed a levy on the November ballot, and the schools would be closed if it didn't pass.
The immediate future of the district was in the hands of the voters, and the consensus was they weren't feeling generous.
"It was like getting an unexpected Christmas or birthday present," the 58-year-old Memphis resident said.
The uncertain situation concerned Chris Larick, who had been teaching English at Chardon for 13 years. With his wife, Sally, and their two daughters, Wendy and Lisa, at home, Larick was looking for a part-time job to help shore up the family's finances in case the voters said "no" to the levy. At the time, he thought there might be a future in bartending.
"I interviewed at a couple places, including the Red Lobster in Mentor," Larick said. "But nothing ever came of it."
But the now departed Geneva Free Press was looking for help at the time and ran an ad for a part-time correspondent. Larick spotted it and applied.
"They hired me almost on the spot," Larick said. "Football season had already started. They had a high school kid working there at the time, but he was a high school kid, and they really needed someone with more maturity to help out."
CHRIS LARICK (standing) shares a laugh with longtime
Star Beacon sports department colleague Karl Pearson.
As a result, Larick didn't spend the next 30 years asking "What'll it be, Mac?" and listening to the weary, bleary-eyed lounge lizards curse the fates and wonder why they and their spouses didn't always see things the same way. Instead, he spent a lot of time at high school football fields, gymnasiums and baseball diamonds, chasing down weary coaches and asking them "Can you help me out with a comment?" and then listening to them — at least occasionally — curse the fates and wonder why they and the officials didn't always see things the same way.
Larick had found his calling. The levy passed and his teaching job was secure, but Larick never gave up the night job. He taught English and wrote for the Free Press and later the Star Beacon until 1994, when he retired from teaching.
He remained a member of the Star Beacon sports staff through the end of 2006. Even now, having retired from both jobs, Larick still contributes prose and occasional doggerel to these pages.
The Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation will honor Larick at its dinner Sunday. The group will present him with its Media Award.
"This means a lot," Larick said. "I'm very proud to be the first newspaperman to honored. Some of the radio guys have already been honored, and deservedly so. I'm just very proud of this honor and to be the first newspaper man to get the award."
From the moment he started in the newspaper business, Larick knew he was in his element. And while 30 years doesn't seem that long, the newspaper office Larick stepped into in 1977 was closer to a scene out of "His Girl Friday" than a modern newsroom.
"I started at the Free Press, and I fell in love with the newspaper business," he said. "I was able to pick up things pretty fast. I learned the darkroom.
"They still had Teletype when I started, but I was only there a year or two before it was replaced. We wrote on typewriters back then, and we put ‘30' at the end of our stories."
Sports writing might not have been one of Larick's career goals, but the idea had been loitering on some dark street corner of his mind. He was, after all, an English major who loved sports.
"I used to read Chuck Heaton all the time in the Plain Dealer," Larick said. "I remember when the Browns won the world championship in 1964. I was home on break and had to watch the game on my dad's old black-and-white TV. I wanted to be with my friends to celebrate. And I wanted to be with Chuck Heaton. He got to talk to football players."
A couple years earlier, Larick had answered an ad in the Star Beacon similar to the one he saw in the Free Press. He didn't get that job. But Larick wasn't worried about his ability, at least not his ability to write.
"I've always said, the hardest writing I've ever done was my master's thesis," he said. "That was tough — all those English professors. Everything had to be correct. You couldn't miss a comma."
Once installed at the Free Press, Larick quickly became a familiar face at athletic events, mostly in the Madison area. That was his beat in the early years. In those days, the intrepid sports reporter was expected to do more than report. He doubled as a photographer.
"It was really hard at football games," Larick said. "At basketball games, you usually ended up standing under one of the baskets, and you could check the scorebook between quarters. It was almost impossible, though, to keep a play-by-play or the other statistics, like rebounding. Some people might have been able to do it, but I never could."
The hours were demanding, too. The weekends suddenly got a lot shorter when Larick went to work at the Free Press, an afternoon paper at the time.
"We went to the football games Friday night," Larick said. "And then we went in Saturday morning to put out the Saturday paper."
Larick's first boss in the newspaper business the late Rick Malinowski, then Free Press sports editor who was several years younger than Larick. A precedent for much of Larick's journalistic sojourn was thus established.
"Rick was a young guy," Larick said. "He was probably in his early 20s then. That was kind of a different role for me, working for someone younger than I. But, as it turned out, I was older than almost all my bosses at the paper.
"Some people had problems with Rick. But I really enjoyed working with him. He taught me everything I needed to know."
Making it all work took more than a little help on the home front, too. While he was teaching every day and going off to the paper most nights, there was still the usual array of paternal responsibilities.
"That was the downside of having two jobs," he said. "I got to see the girls after school, but I was usually gone in the evenings."
Someone had to pick up the slack. And Sally did.
"Sally — without her cooperation and help, I'd have never been able to do this," Larick said. "She was teaching, too. When the kids where young, she did extended substitution so she could be home a little more. She made it possible for me to do this. She was the constant at home while I was working for the paper."
And with that, everything was in place for a career that spanned three decades. Before it was over, Larick would make countless trips to Cleveland on Sunday afternoons in the fall to cover the Browns, and like Chuck Heaton, he talked to football players. But most of the time, Larick plied his trade in crowded, noisy gymnasiums and at dimly lit football fields recording the exploits of the young men and women of Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties.
No matter how much he enjoyed the game, Larick was on the job while he was there. There was work to be done. He had to keep statistics, talk to coaches and players, drive back to the office and then write an interesting, informative and coherent story. Larick never failed in the effort, even if he is still a little unsure how he managed to pull it off.
"You just try to get an idea, particularly toward the end of the game," Larick said. "You watch the ebb and flow and hope something comes to mind. Sometimes a coach or player will say something that you really want to use as the basis for the story. When they did, I'd put a little star by it in my notes, which were barely legible.
"Unless I had a really long drive, I didn't have time to formulate the story on the way back. I would get back to the office and somehow the story would take shape. I didn't always know where it was going to take me, but it usually took me someplace. It could be hard at times, but if I stuck with it, I'd figure out where the story was going when it took me there."
Having watched local athletes for more than a generation, Larick can be forgiven if some of the details are a little blurred. But he saw some great games and some great performances along the way, and they remain unforgettable.
"The best clutch player I ever saw was Andy Juhola," Larick said. "I don't know if it was the game that got Harbor into the regional tournament, or maybe it was the first regional game, but he made a 15- or 20-foot jump shot in the last second to win it. It was just tremendous.
"And Diane Davis. She just strapped that Ashtabula team on her back and carried them. She had 50 points in one game. She had almost 2,000 points in her career, and who knows how many she would have had if they had a 3-point line back then. She could shoot all day from back there, and she could penetrate, too."
There were also great basketball teams.
"Well, there was that Harbor team with Juhola," he said. "St. John had a great team with Steve Hanek and Jim Chiacchiero, and I think Dave Golen was on that team. Bob Hitchcock had some very good teams at Pymatuning Valley.
"There were some good Geneva teams, first under Bill Koval and then with his son-in-law, Brad Ellis. Bob Walters had that great team at Ashtabula. I didn't see many of those games, because I was covering the Madison beat at the time. But it was a terrific team."
On the girls side: "Jefferson has had so many good teams," he said. "Geneva has had a couple good teams, and so has Edgewood. Conneaut had a really good team a few years ago."
And there have been so many memorable moments. Juhola's shot, a shot by Edgewood's Pam Dreslinski that gave the Warriors a win over Jefferson.
"Paul Durra, for Geneva, could really shoot," Larick said. "He once had eight straight 3-pointers."
In the end, there are just too many moments. But each moment was something special.
"There were so many thrilling moments," he said. "The buzzer-beaters were exciting, especially for the team that won. But it was deflating for the losing team, and I wasn't always sure I wanted to interview the losing coach."
Over the years, Larick gained an abiding respect for many of the coaches he dealt with. The group includes Koval and Ellis at Geneva. The football coaches he holds in high esteem include Jim Henson, the former Grand Valley coach, and the late Bob Herpy, who coached the Eagles.
"There really weren't any real characters among the coaches," he said. "Most of them were pretty polite and conducted themselves well. Rick Binder at Lakeside probably came the closest to being a character. He was always up and moving around and all sweaty. By halftime, his shirttail was always out.
"And Tom Henson was something. He really knew how to work the officials. He always knew how far he could go before they'd give him a technical. He was always on the officials' backs, but I don't think I ever saw him get a technical.
"Al Bailey at Spencer had a reputation for being dramatic at times, but I never saw him coach."
Chris and Sally are both retired now, but there is plenty to keep them busy. Wendy and her husband, Mike Bihn, a computer type, works for Cengage Learning. Wendy works as a skip tracer, helping track down drivers who are defaulting on their automobile payments. They have two sons, Brandon, 10, and Mitchell, 7.
"The kids are involved in all the sports — basketball, football, baseball," Larick said. "Mike helps coach everything, and he's their head football coach."
Lisa, who teaches science at Fairbanks, and her husband, Ben Keller, the music director at the school, also have two children, Maria, 8, and Sam, 5.
"I love to read, and I spend a lot of time reading," Larick said. "And we go visit the grandkids whenever we can."
His byline hasn't disappeared, but it has become less frequent. Larick was at it for a long time, he did the work and put in the hours. He made the effort, and it paid off.
"There were just so many rewards," Larick said. "If I thought about all the hours I put in, I'd be exhausted. But there were a lot of rewards — I love to write, I love sports and I got into the games for free."