By CHRIS LARICK
At 6-2 1/2 Al Sidbeck was no threat to Ashtabula 7-footer Jim Gilbert inside the foul line.
But Harbor coach Ed Armstrong had a solution for that.
“Ed told me, ‘Sid, I want you at the free-throw line, facing the hoop,” Sidbeck said. "But don’t shoot. If (Gilbert) comes at you, pass the ball off to John Bucko or John Palo for a layup.’ It worked to perfection. One of those guys would come across, get the ball and put it in.
“But one time I found myself wide open. I forgot about his wing span. When I went to shoot, he swatted the ball right out of the air. Ed said, “I told you not to shoot.’
Sidbeck, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on April 8, was one of the leading scorers on that 1965-66 Harbor team. He had aspired to play for the Mariners since his older brothers, Bobby and Charles, had starred at Harbor, Bobby in football and Charles in track.
“I come from a big sports family,” Sidbeck said. “My two brothers were three-sport athletes at Harbor High School. Both of them were voted Athlete of the Year. My parents were good friends with the Lampela's, whose sons Bob (Touchdown Club Hall of Fame) and Loder were both athletes of the year at Harbor. From the time I was five or six years old I wanted to play for Harbor.”
Sidbeck decided to concentrate on basketball as his sport, played junior varsity as a sophomore and varsity his last two years of high school.
“I was kind of a hybrid,” he said of his position. “I played a lot of guard. I could shoot from the outside and play a little inside, however Ed (Armstrong) needed me. I loved passing the ball.”
Sidbeck, one of the few players of his time to play wearing eyeglasses, started with Harry Bourdeau, John Bucko, Bob Bernardo, Brian Salmen, and Greg Schillo. Underclassmen on the team included Dave Dixon and Dale Soderstrom.
“We had a fairly big team, at 6-8, 6-3 and 6-2,” Sidbeck said. “But we had to play Conneaut, which had Ron Richards at 6-4 and Greg McGill at 6-8 and had Andy Garcia as its coach. That was a good team. Edgewood had Danny Foster, Fairport had Mike Thomas and Jim Gilbert was at Ashtabula and Don Condon at St. John's.”
Harbor played in the Western Reserve League when Sidbeck was a junior but changed to the Northeastern Conference his senior year.
“Geneva and Conneaut were the teams to beat in the NEC,” he said. “Geneva had (Larry) Cumpston and (Steve) McHugh. I didn’t consider myself a great basketball player just one who competed against some great ones. We played Friday and Saturday nights, so it could be an ugly weekend if we lost both games. We were in the middle of the pack somewhere. St. John was tough and Jefferson had Stan Bielech. Top to bottom, everyone was tough.
“That was nice for the kids. It was a great atmosphere. Everyone knew each other. We’d see each other on the street. I still know a lot of good friends that I played against. That’s not going to happen when you play Youngstown Boardman.”
Sidbeck earned all-conference and all-city awards and possibly all-county. His biggest game was a 27-pointer against Erie Academy, a team coached by Ashtabula’s city manager, CD Lambros’s brother.
“They were a little rougher, committed a lot of fouls,” Sidbeck said. “I bet over half my points were on foul shots. We started my senior year 4-0.”
Sidbeck’s father, Henry, was a hard worker who attended just one of Al’s games, a contest against Conneaut.
“We were losing by eight or nine points with a couple minutes left and my dad left,” Sidbeck recalls. “We came back and tied the game upon then won it in overtime.”
Sidbeck remembers another game his brother Bobby attended, a game officiated by Red Morgan.
“After the game my brother Bobby, who graduated in 1955 said to Morgan, ‘You stunk when I played and you still stink.’ “
Sidbeck recalls the Mariners breaking a sectional scoring record at Ball Gymnasium with more than 80 points. Mentor then broke that record the following week.
After Harbor began his senior season 4-0, the Mariners ran into Jefferson, which successfully froze the basketball.
“Ed kicked the bench over the brand of basketball they were playing,” Sidbeck said. “They ended up beating us 36-35 or so. Later in the season we beat them about 70-55 at Harbor.”
Sidbeck’s first encounter with Armstrong was an unexpected, even an unknown one at the time. Sidbeck was in the habit of playing in his driveway, dribbling his way into the night. When he was in the seventh or eighth grade, a new couple moved in next door.
“Is that young man going to pound the ball all night?” the wife asked.
“Reta, I hope so,” said the husband, Harbor’s new basketball coach, Ed Armstrong.
“Al, that was music to my ears,” Armstrong later told Sidbeck.
“I loved playing for Ed,” Sidbeck now says. “He was fiery, he had a temper. But he knew basketball. You knew that guy was going to try his hardest.”
Sidbeck’s brother, Bobby, is already in the county football hall of fame. Charles, who ran a 4:27 mile in 1952 and a 4:15 in college, will probably be in the track hall of fame.
“I got to rub elbows with the greatest ,” he said.
Sidbeck played basketball at Kent-Ashtabula for a year after high school, but couldn’t compete when he transferred to the main Kent campus the following year. After college, he did play ball with the Reliance Electric team that had players like Jim Hood and Ted Miller. The league included players like Bob Walters, Jim Gilbert, and Jerry Raffenaud.
He received his degree in business at Kent, then went to work at Ashtabula Bow Socket and Reliance Electric. He then worked at Plasticolors (now Chromaflow) for almost 30 years until he retired.
Sidbeck married Janice, a 1968 Harbor graduate, when he was 26. Although they have no kids of their own, the Sidbecks helped raise his nephew Matthew and his niece, Stephanie.