By CHRIS LARICK
During the 1960s and 1970s basketball spectators were not treated to the spectacle of thunderous slam dunks.
That’s because the collegiate NCAA banned the dunk in 1967 and high school rule makers followed suit. The ban lasted until 1976, when the dunk was allowed once again.
In the NCAA’s words, the slam dunk "was not a skillful shot," and the rules committee said they issued the ban partially to avoid injuries The ban lasted until the 1976-'77 season. During that time, players had to drop the ball delicately through the hoop after soaring well above it. NC State's David Thompson, one of the greatest dunkers of all time, played all of his college career during the ban.
The fact that many spectators had never seen a slam dunk probably helped make Jefferson forward Rick Berrier popular. Berrier delighted in soaring in and slamming the ball through the net.
“If I remember correctly, those were the first years it was legal in Jefferson,” Berrier said.
Berrier will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s Hall of Fame on Apr. 8. While his reputation as a dunker is not the reason for his induction, someone might point out that it didn’t hurt.
The six-foot-four Berrier used the dunk for a few seasons before graduating in 1981. He played forward on a Falcon team coached by Rick Nemet and also included Don McCormack at point guard, Randy Roach at center, Scott Brainard at shooting guard and John March at the other forward. Other players on the team included Hugh Goodall and Bob Carlson.
“Rick Berrier was one of the greatest kids at driving the baseline,” Nemet said. “He got a lot of points because of that. He didn’t get blocked too many times. Those kids made it kind of easy for me to coach.”
Nemet singled that group, especially Berrier, McCormack and Brainard, out for its hard work.
At that time Jefferson played at what is now an elementary school. The basketball court was on the auditorium stage, and for some reason, the team wasn’t allowed to practice there in the summer.
So the Falcons built an outdoor court. The athletic director bought paint and brushes and Berrier, McCormack and Brainard painted all the lines on the court — the foul line, the sidelines, etc.
Jefferson had just graduated a good team that included ACBF Hall of Famer Chuck Stevens and Nate Wilson Not much was expected of the Falcons those two years.
“Everyone thought that Jefferson wasn’t going to win,” Nemet said. “But they were a hard-working group. We won the league when they were juniors and finished second as seniors."
Al Graper had coached Berrier before he reached high school and had recommended him to move up to junior varsity as a freshman. Bob Ashba was his junior varsity coach.
“They were the ones who took me to where I was,” he said. “They were very good coaches.”
As Berrier remembers the Falcons were a very competitive team in the Grand River Conference, which at that time also included Pymatuning Valley, Grand Valley, Perry, Fairport, Ledgemont and Southington.
“I think Pymatuning knocked us off my senior year,” he said. “I think we tied (for the championship) my junior year.”
According to Nemet, Jefferson won the championship Berrier’s junior year and Pymatuning Valley won it at Jefferson in the last game of the senior year.
(PV”s) Alan McDonald was 6-6 or 6-7,” Nemet said. "PV had some good players.”
Southington, with Rick Badanjek, who later played fullback at Maryland, was also tough. And games with their southern Ashtabula rivals, Pymatuning Valley and Grand Valley, were always competitive.
“With PV and GV it didn’t make any difference what their record were,” he said.”The rivalry was magnificent. The gyms would be packed and the fans were vocal.”
Berrier doesn’t remember many of the games, but in one he recalls against Southington he went up for a dunk and was undercut, suffering an injury in the process.
Like most athletes his age, Berrier learned the sport in informal get-togethers with neighborhood kids.
“We played at night and put a lot of time into it,” he said. “We called it BBY, Berrier’s Back Yard. Kids came over and we played ball.”
Because of his leaping ability, Berrier jumped center, Nemet recalls.
“He was so thin, but he could do anything,” Nemet said. “He could dunk and had a quick first step, a real good all-around player."
Berrier recalls being named to the all-GRC and all-county teams as a junior and senior. He averaged more than 20 points as a senior. He led the Grand River Conference in scoring as a junior and senior, totaling 749 career points. He was a two-time third-team All-Ohioan.
He was recruited by several colleges, like Walsh and Akron and several Division III schools, but had little interest in the prospect.
“I didn’t want to carry on in school,” he said.
“Rick had the ability to play in college,” Nemet said. “But he never had any interest in it. He said, ‘I don’t think that’s for me."
Instead he went into the printing industry, working for the Jefferson Gazette, the News Herald in Conneaut and the Geauga Times Leader around 1984-85.
“I was in (printing) for 10 years, then went into carpeting and roofing for about 10 years. I jumped around a lot.”
For the past 15 years he has worked as a truck driver with Rich Hart of HLH Trucking out of Pierpont. Most of his driving is done within a five-state area, but he has also driven to Texas and Colorado.
Berrier has never married and has no children. The son of Beverly and Gerald Berrier, he is very close to his family.
“My parents gave me every opportunity,” he said. “They were my strength.”
Berrier likes to hunt and fish. He hunts deer, turkey and coyotes but is proudest of the mountain lion he bagged in Montana and has mounted.
“That was the hunt of a lifetime,” he said.