By CHRIS LARICK
There are almost 40 Ashtabula County boys basketball players who have scored 1,000 points or more during their high school careers. Only one of them, Jay McHugh, hails from one of the county’s most successful schools, Geneva.
The exact reasons for that are complex, but the most likely one is that the most successful Geneva coaches —Bill Koval, Al Bailey and Brad Ellis — hung their hats on defense. In addition, the Eagle teams were so successful for many years in the final half of the 20th century that players, even good ones, didn’t get to contribute until their junior and senior seasons.
So selecting Geneva players for the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame takes a little more research than simply looking at the list of highest county scorers developed by Don McCormack and kept updated since then.
This year that honor falls to Wayne Games, a 1976 Eagle graduate.
Several of Koval’s former players, including his son-in-law, Brad Ellis (a 1977 graduate) would follow Koval into coaching basketball. That group includes Games, who served four years at Madison after obtaining his college degree.
“He was definitely a tough coach that knew exactly the style of play he wanted from his teams,” Games said of Koval. “As players we had to be disciplined to get time on the floor. His style was to slow the ball down, mix up defenses and execute a variety of full and half court presses. The year I was a junior we won the NEC and I believe we had the lowest-scoring offense in the league, but also gave up the least amount of points to opponents. There can’t be more than a couple who’ve led the league in scoring while playing in a coach Koval offense.”
Games recalls a game when he was a senior in which, while playing a good Ashtabula team, Geneva got a 2-0 lead. When the Panthers turned the ball over and packed into a tight zone defense, Koval had the Eagles hold the ball at half-court. Eventually, Ashtabula was forced out of the strategy and it became a four-corners, low-scoring game.
At 6-foot-3, 175, Games played power forward most of the time.
“Coach Koval gave me the freedom to run the baseline corner-to-corner and break into the high post when it was open,” he said. “The team goal was to always work for the best shot. In practice coach would require us to pass the ball up to 10 times before taking a shot. If you ever got in coach Koval’s dog house all you had to do was pass up an open shot in a game and say you were working towards a better one.”
Like most Geneva players, Games didn’t start as a sophomore, but did as a junior and senior. He played on an NEC Championship team with Dan Craine, Rick Gaylord, Russ Clutter, Willie DeJesus and John Montgomery.
“We had some tough battles with Ashtabula and Harbor,” he said. “(Harbor’s) Jim Bradley was probably the best player I remember facing in high school. My senior year I played with John Montgomery, Brad Ellis, Tony Tersigni and the Hassett brothers (Tony and Mike).
“We didn’t win the league. Our record was probably a little over .500. but we were very competitive and split the regular season with NEC Champs Madison then beat them in the sectionals, winning two out of three.”
In his sophomore year, Games lettered but only played a few minutes per game.
As a junior he was an important cog on the NEC Championship team at Geneva. He was selected first -team All-NEC, first-team All-Ashtabula County, and led the team in scoring averaging 14.6 points per game with the second highest field goal percentage in the NEC (Russ Clutter had the highest).
His senior year Games repeated as first-team all-NEC and all-county and was also voted first team all-sectional (Class AAA), first team All-District (Class AAA), and Honorable Mention All-State (Class AAA). He led the team in rebounding and scoring (about 17 per contest) to be named team MVP.
Between his junior and senior years at Geneva, Games was playing basketball on the outdoor courts at Geneva High School when head Coach Bob Hjerpe spotted him and talked him into playing football. He was signed up as a tight end.
“That was one of the best decisions I made in high school,” he said. “We went 10-0 and were the first undefeated team in Geneva High School history. It was a great experience”
After high school, Games went on to play basketball for a year at Ohio Northern.
“But I was a tweener,” he said. “I was too slow and didn’t handle the ball well enough to play guard and too small to pound underneath. I decided to focus on working to get money for school and keeping my grades up.”
Games had gone to Ohio Northern to become a school teacher and that’s what he did when he graduated in 1980, in Madison.
“I taught industrial arts and coached with Jim Dolan for four years,” he said. We won the NEC in 1984 and the team was recently recognized for holding the best record for boys’ basketball in the school’s history at 20-4. Coach Dolan gave ne responsibility for the defense and I used a lot of what I learned while playing for coach Koval at Geneva. “After four years, my wife and I had two kids and were living in a trailer park. A friend offered me a job at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant. I wasn’t making much money as a school teacher, so I took the job and eventually bought a house. I couldn’t afford to go back to teaching school.”
Games eventually landed in the power industry where he’s been for the past 27 years. He went back to school to earn an MBA in 2002 and is now a vice president responsible for electric generation and marketing at Vectren Energy, a public utility company that supplies electricity in southwest Indiana and natural gas to most of Indiana and parts of Ohio. He lives in Evansville Indiana. Games married the former Judy Mallory in 1981. “I asked her out when going through her checkout line to purchase spaghetti at the IGA store in Madison. I couldn’t resist her beautiful smile” he says. “Of course our first date was scouting the next team we were going to play in sectionals.” The couple has two daughters, Laurie and Beth, and a son, Mike, along with seven grandchildren and one on the way.
Games always liked sports but didn’t have the opportunity to participate until his freshman year. "We lived in the country south of Austinburg and my parents (William and Barbara) were not sports people,” he said. “My father worked second shift and my mother didn’t drive so I couldn’t get to practices.
My life changed when Larry and Donnie Winchell bought a house about quarter mile down the road. They had such a positive influence on me and we’re still very close today. Larry saw that I was tall and had some potential so he spent time teaching me how to shoot properly as well as other basic basketball skills. He is like a father to me. We had a basketball hoop in a barn close by. Larry encouraged me to stack up bales of hay and practice shooting over them. I spent a lot of time in that barn practicing by myself. Larry and Donnie transported me to basketball camps and never missed a game. I spent a lot of time in their home and have memories of sitting with the Winchell’s watching Bill Walton go 21 for 22 from the field to win the national championship at UCLA and Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlin win an NBA championship. We even played chess. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the best neighbors a kid could ever wish for.
With his occupational responsibilities Games doesn’t have a lot of time for much recreation, but enjoys watching Ohio State football and has season tickets to the University of Evansville Purple Aces basketball. Over the years he’s continued to play in various basketball leagues but has recently stopped.
"I’m getting too old, keep getting hurt and it’s hard to keep up with the young guys.” Games said.