- By CHRIS LARICK
Harbor’s John Bradley had the misfortune of playing high school basketball when his team’s archival, Ashtabula, had a powerhouse and other Northeastern Conference teams like Geneva weren’t far behind.
Though the Mariners didn’t claim any conference championships during Bradley’s era, they did enjoy the biggest upset, dumping the powerful Ashtabula Panthers in the sectional tournament at Warren Western Reserve in 1977.
With a squad that featured stars like Tom Hill, Deora Marsh, David Benton. Perry Stofan, Lou Murphy, Scooby Brown, Hank Barchanowicz and Roger Ball, the Panthers were heavily favored. ACBF Hall of Fame coach Bob Walters was enjoying his best years then.
“Ashtabula was a great team with great athletes,” said Bradley, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 7. “They were a better team than us. But they got outhustled and outplayed. That was the most exciting game I ever played in.”
Most of the Panther stars were still a year away from their peak, the senior year that would end with domination over most of its opponents, an 18-3 record and a Northeastern Conference championship.
Bradley, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 7, was a standout on a Harbor team that could rise to the occasion and defeat strong Geneva or Conneaut teams or fall to Ashtabula twice in the regular season. Perhaps the explanation lies in the overall competitiveness of the NEC in that duration, a period when there didn’t seem to be any weak teams in the area.
Bradley played all four years at Harbor, starting during his junior and senior seasons. He averaged 24 points per game and set the school scoring record with 44 in a game against Madison. The Mariners needed all of those points in nipping the Blue Streaks, 84-82.
Bradley was a first-team All-Ashtabula County and All-NEC selection as a senior, when he was named Player of the Year.
“The thing I liked most about John was his positive attitude,” his coach, Ed Armstrong, said. “He never let anything bother him. He was an absolute pleasure to coach.”
Bradley grew up playing football and basketball with his brother, William, and nephews, Max and Mark Holman, among others. He loved the Cleveland Browns at the time and still does.
“My brother James (inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame in 2009) was a big part of my success,” Bradley said. “I was a sophomore when he was a senior. He’s why I tried to get better and better."
When he was in the fifth grade he began playing organized basketball at Washington Elementary under coach Richard Bryant.
“I was one of the top players and was having fun,” he said. “We were decent, probably 50-50 (in wins and losses). We had Jack Carson and Rob Hopkins. I was one of the taller players, so I played center.”
Bradley moved on to play for Columbus Junior High under Frank Knutson, playing center and some forward.
“I thought (Knutson) was exceptional,” he said. I learned a lot from him.”
In the eighth grade he played for Robert Potts. Among his teammates were Terry Lyons, Randy Jones, Brad Short, Mark Johnson and Marc Pope.
“Terry Lyons (Wash Lyons’ brother) was a good ball player,” Bradley said. “I was right behind him.”
As a freshman, Bradley moved to Harbor High School. He played on the freshman team there, coached by ACBF Hall of Fame coach John Higgins. When he became a sophomore, he moved to the varsity, playing mostly JV under coach Bob Short. He played varsity the last six games of that season.
In his junior and senior years, Bradley was coached by Armstrong, another ACBF Hall of Fame coach.
“Ed was a good coach,” Bradley said. “He got on us. He pushed defense a lot. Our offense came, but he coached us to play defense. We were a decent team. We were fighters; we hung in there.”
Bradley played forward and sometimes center on those Mariner teams, though Pope played a lot of center. At the time, the NEC was filled with good teams, including Ashtabula, Geneva, Riverside, Conneaut and Madison.
“It was a battle between Ashtabula and Geneva,” Bradley said. “Geneva always gave us a battle. They had Brad Ellis. Ashtabula had Tim Bowler, Tom Hill and David Benton. They had a great team my senior year.”
The Mariners countered with Randy Jones, Short, the Holman twins (Max and Mark), Jim Davis, Mark Johnson, Darrell Sargent, Joe Chiacchiero, Cleo Saddler and Tim Givens.
Bradley also played football (defensive end and tight end) at Harbor.
“I was good,” he said. “I thought they could have used me more than they did. I caught two touchdown passes against Erie Strong Vincent and only had three touchdown (receptions) the whole season. I didn’t get the ball thrown to me except one when Max Holman, a running back, threw it to me.”
Bradley wanted to run track his senior year, but, because of some confusion over his eligibility, wound up not doing so.
“I think if I had run track we’d probably have gone to state in the four by 400 relay,” he said. “We would have had the two Holmans, Darrell Sargent and me.”
Bradley had the skill set to play basketball in college but not the academic background needed.
“My grades were not all that good,” he said. “I wish I would have taken (high school courses) more seriously.”
He wound up at Boyce Junior College outside Pittsburgh, a team which went 17-6 his first year, the better of the two years he played there.
“That didn’t work out like I wanted it to,” he said. “Things happened after that and I dropped out of school. I should have hung in there.”
Bradley moved on to Wilmington College, where he ran track, breaking the school’s 200-meter record with a 22.08.
’That was the first time I ran track since the seventh grade,” he said. “I always liked track.”
He left Wilmington without a degree and went to work in California, then Hawaii, doing odd jobs along the way. He eventually moved back to Ashtabula to be with his mother, who is now 96.
He now works for the railroad in Cleveland (the CSX Collinwood Yard), as he has since 2001, as a crane operator.
“My hand-eyes coordination help me out,” he said. “I unload containers. I love it. If you’re not paying attention, someone can get seriously hurt or dead. It’s no joke out there.”
Bradley married Melody Laqhan 14 years ago. Melody was working at Walmart and the two met at a family reunion. Bradley has a daughter, Alicia Jackson, and three stepsons, Mark, Calvin and Jordan Sandidge.
“I love fishing,” he said. “I go with my friend. We fish for walleye and perch, though the perch haven’t been hitting.”
“It’s been a blessing to grow up with a loving family,” he said. “I’m grateful to receive this honor.”