By CHRIS LARICK
Opportunities are rare in Ashtabula County for students who graduate from college, then try to find a job here.
But 1997 Edgewood graduate Steve Kray really wanted to live in this area, particularly in the Buckeye School District. So he made it happen.
Kray, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation on Apr. 8, loved growing up in Edgewood.
“I was given every opportunity,” he said. "My father owned his own business. I helped in the summer, but he never made me work on a regular basis.”
To Kray, the Buckeye community, moreso than most places, was a sort of Camelot or Eden. That’s why, in his opinion, he sees old teammates in this area often.
“I work with Kevin (Andrejack) and see many former teammates on a regular basis,” Kray said. “Edgewood is unique in that. I graduated in 1997 and my son is in middle school here. A lot of kids who were raised here come back here.”
People tend to stay in Buckeye, too, one of the reasons the Warriors develop chemistry by having one or two classes make up the roster of athletic teams on a yearly basis. The kids Kray started playing with at a young age were the same ones he graduated with.
That group includes good friend and point guard Scott Runyan, the son of Kray’s high school coach, Al Runyan. It also includes Bibler, Ryan Lencl, Curtis Colby, Chad Weagraff and Shaun Vencill.
Kray didn’t become a 1,000-point scorer. Only three Warriors have, and two of them accomplished that in the past 10 years. That’s because at Edgewood, you wait your turn. Kray and his teammates followed teams that included fine players like Don Palm, Joel Lapham and Ryan Watts, a year ahead of Kray’s class.
When their turn did come, Kray and his teammates made the most of their years, winning 15 or 16 games as juniors, when Kray was first-team All-Ashtabula County and All-NEC with 17.3 points per game and 43 three-pointers. The Warriors improved on that, going 19-3 their senior year, winning the Northeastern Conference championship, the first time Edgewood had done that since 1986, while scoring 79.4 points per game. Individually, Kray led the area in scoring with 23.3 points per contest, in free-throw shooting with 83 percent and in three-pointers with 48. He was selected Player of the Year in the NEC, in Ashtabula County and in the Northeast District and First-Team All-Ohio in Division II.
To Kray, winning the NEC that year was meaningful since Madison, Riverside, Harvey and a strong Harbor team, in addition to individual stars like Rashad Wells, Ryan Turner and Todd Estok, were in the league at that time.
Kray credits his coach, Al Runyan (who was named All-Ohio Co-coach of the Year in 1997) with much of his success.
“He was such a big part of my life since I was seven years old,” Kray said. “I first started playing sports with soccer at the Y and Little League baseball. My mom (Tina) and dad (Steve) both worked while we practiced in the afternoon. Al would pick me up and take me to practice.
“He was such a positive role model for me. I had him as a teacher and coach. He was everything I wanted to be. I can’t thank him enough. He was a stickler for pushing guys. He encouraged us to be very physical and aggressive.”
In addition to basketball, Kray starred on the baseball diamond under coach Mike Hayes for the Warriors, playing second base and shortstop. His senior year he batted .407, with 24 runs scored, 33 hits (third in county) and 26 RBI (second in county). After the season he was selected first-team All-Ashtabula County and All-NEC, as Edgewood went 15-5 overall, 12-4 (second place in the NEC).
One of the things he remembers from that baseball season was how good Harbor pitcher Dan Mozingo was.
“Dan Mozingo no-hit us once and Harbor won the league,” Kray said. “He went on to play for the White Sox. I don’t know if I ever saw a guy as good as he was. He was nasty on the mound.”
Kray also played with the ARC team that played 72 games, “all over the place. Having Al for a coach, we had open gym from 10 to 12, then lunch, then were on the road by four o’clock (to play ARC baseball).”
During his senior year, Kray was recruited by Baldwin-Wallace for baseball and Mount Union for basketball.
“I chose basketball,” he said. “That might not have been the best decision for me. I was 6-2 and they put me at power forward. Aaron Shipp was an All-American there at 6-6 or 6-7. I was pretty much a beating dummy.”
Kray played on the “B” squad as a freshman. His sophomore year he broke his wrist.
“It was a deciding point for me,” he said. “My decision was that it had been a fun ride, but that I would get my schooling in four years and come back here (to Buckeye).”
During Kray’s sophomore year one of the administrators in the Buckeye system indicated that Kray would have a job waiting for him if he chose to return home after college. And, sure enough, the summer after his senior year he claimed that job.
“I taught everything at the middle school — math, history, five preps (preparations),” he said. “It was a challenge. I was also seventh-grade basketball coach under Kevin Andrejack and junior varsity baseball coach under Ed Pizzuto. After my first year as JV Coach, Ed decided to pursue a job in the construction business. I then took over as head baseball coach at Edgewood, a position I held for the next 10 years.
"(Athletic director) Dave Melaragno decided to retire and I job-shadowed Dave in 2010. In 2011 I became assistant principal at the middle school and athletic director (positions he still holds).
“I love it,” Kray said of his job. It’s a very time-consuming job if you do it right. My children are at my school so they stick around and hang out. It’s very unique.
“I love what I do. There’s not a more true Edgewood person. I know what it’s like to live here.”
Kray met his wife, Nicole, at Mount Union. Both were athletic stars in high school, Nicole at Marlington, where she won a state softball championship. They have been married 14 years and have two children, Logan, 11, and Carly, 8.
Kray and Kevin Andrejack share the coaching of their combined kids, Andrejack in basketball and Kray in baseball. Nicole works with Carly in softball. Carly is also very active in Wildfire.
As if his job isn’t enough, Kray works with both the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club and the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation in their fundraising activities.
“I play (basketball) in alumni games for fun and go to practices and hit the ball around,” he said. “It’s funny how time flies. It’s a lot of fun, no doubt about it.
“The whole experience (of being athletic director) is very humbling, It’s been 20 years since I’ve been out of high school, but I still see today a lot of the guys I graduated with. I couldn’t have done it without them. Scott Runyan was by far my best teammate. We know each other like the back of our hands. There was a lot of camaraderie. It is great to work with former high school friends Ryan Marcy, Shaun Vencill, and Kevin Andrejack as we coach our own kids. Its amazing how fast time flies.
“I can't thank my family enough. To this day my parents still go to the Edgewood games, wear Edgewood shirts, completely support me. The way I was raised, I was always taught to give to others. I couldn't ask for a better profession to be in.
“My job is very demanding. I love what I do. My wife allows me to be the best I can be at my job. My wife goes to the games and helps support our various teams. I couldn’t do what I do without her support.”