By CHRIS LARICK
Mo Wofford, a 1990 Conneaut graduation, first learned the game of basketball using rather unusual equipment.
“I got started messing around using a square milk crate (for a basket),” said Wofford, one of 11 men and women who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on April 3 at New Leaf Banquet Center in Conneaut.
“The guys I remember playing with were a little older than me, Scott Nine and Greg Woods. I grew up with them. We played on dirt or grass, threw the ball in the milk crates.”
His first experience with team basketball came in the seventh grade at Rowe Junior High, playing with his cousin, Tyrone Hunt, and other neighborhood boys.
“In the morning, before classes, we had open gym,” Wofford said. “We were pretty much on our own.”
Early in his basketball career, Wofford played guard, standing just 5-foot-11. By high school he had grown to 6-foot-1.
“A couple years out of high school, I sprouted up to 6-foot-4,” he said.
The Spartans were a good team at the time, though they were years away from the dominance they enjoyed during the two years that the trio of 1,000-pointers — Dan Coxon, Mike Pape and Tony Lyons — manhandled other area teams.
“Matt Zappitelli (who led the county in scoring for 20 years, until A.J. Henson displaced him in 2008) was two years ahead of me. We had a good squad, were always above .500 while I was there,” Wofford said.
With Zappitelli, Conneaut won the Northeastern Conference championship in 1988. Some of the NEC teams surpassed them during Wofford’s years, including Harvey, Ashtabula and St. John, which had stars like Steve Hanek, Jim Chiacchiero, Dave Golen and Augie Pugliese.
Wofford played small forward and some power forward for the Spartan teams of the time. He led the team, which also included Scott Pape, Boyd Griffith, Brian Beste, Adam Scott, Gary Bleffen, Jim Lucas and Neil Sabo, in scoring.
The Spartans at the time were coached by Greg Mason. Mason liked to run a fast-paced offense.
‘He was a great guy, like a father figure to me,” Wofford said of Mason. “He showed me the ropes. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy.”
Wofford became a prolific scorer under Mason, scoring 23 or 24 points a game as a senior, after averaging 17-plus as a junior. He played in some varsity games as a sophomore, enough to earn a letter. In one game against Pymatuning Valley, he scored 44 points and added 11 rebounds.
He also played football at Conneaut, starting at wide receiver and free safety after moving from quarterback earlier in his career. The Spartans went 6-4 under coach Jeff Whittaker his senior year, with Wofford being named MVP. Against Harbor, he scored four touchdowns and had two interceptions.
“That was the first time my grandfather ever came and saw me play,” Wofford said of that Harbor game.
Despite his strong senior season in basketball, ending in being named Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County Player of the Year, Wofford was not heavily recruited.
“I didn’t have the best grades in the world,” he said. “And I didn’t get much help in finding a school. My mother helped me get a junior college offer.”
Wofford wound up at a Cazenovia, a small junior college near Syracuse, New York. He played for half his freshman season, averaging 27 or 28 points a game, before a financial glitch forced him to withdraw from the school.
He returned to Conneaut and played rec ball for the rest that season. The next year, Tiffin University in Tiffin, OH, awarded him a partial football scholarship.
“That didn’t work out for me,” he said. “I joined the navy (as a member of the Seabees) for a two-year tour.”
When he got out, he went to Michigan, found out he liked it there, and moved there. He has lived in Roseville, about 10 miles from Detroit, since. He has a sister, Cyndi, and nieces (Diamond, Amber and Crystal) along with a nephew, Nakeem, who still live in Kingsville. HIs mother and father both died young, about five or six years ago.
Wofford worked for a company that makes trestles for houses for years in Michigan but now works for Plating Specialties in Madison Heights, Michigan. The company works with metals like zinc and nickel.