By CHRIS LARICK
Few athletes have to face the indignity of an 0-21 won-lost record in any sport.
Fewer still become national champions.
Rarest of all, however, are those who go to both of those extremes during their careers.
Meet Ryan Ball, who retired from competitive artistic roller skating after winning a national championship at the age of 13.
A scant four years later Ball found himself on the court for Edgewood during the 1992-93 season, when the Warriors suffered through that winless year.
Even that cloud had a silver lining, however. The next year Ball, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 3 became the Player of the Year.
"I started playing basketball late,” Ball said. "It was the summer going into seventh grade when my aunt and uncle called and asked if I would be interested in attending the Rocky River High School basketball camp. I had recently retired from competitive artistic roller skating and was looking for a new hobby.”
Ball, A 1994 Edgewood graduate, credits attending basketball camps, especially the College of Wooster basketball camp (which he attended from eighth grade through high school) for much of his early fundamental development as a player. He began playing organized ball in the seventh grade under coaches Sam Esposito and Jerry Dufour.
“(Wooster) head coach Steve Moore and his staff did a great job with stations to develop all parts of the game,” Ball said.
"My most influential coach was (Edgewood’s) Dick Heath. Coach Heath took me under his wing and worked with me on the court and off. Coach Heath was my coach for my sophomore and junior years.
“I was sad to see him not brought back for my senior year after struggling through a 0-21 junior season. My senior season I was coached by fellow HOF member Jon Hall. We had a great relationship and I was able to learn and develop under his leadership.
In comparing the two coaches, Ball said, "Coach Heath was a fiery, intense coach who made sure conditioning was not a reason for us to lose. I remember my sophomore year after losing a game (that we shouldn’t have lost on the road) getting off the bus and having to go in the gym to do sprints. Coach Heath took the time to be a mentor with me to make me a better person off the court as well as being a better player. Coach Hall pushed all of us to play to our strengths and play as a team. He was not as intense as Coach Heath but he was able to lead us to the most improved team in the conference on his way to Coach of the Year honors.
Ball had moved up to the varsity as a sophomore. At 5-foot-9 (possibly only 5-7 in high school), his natural position was guard, though he lays claim to playing many positions during his career, including jumping center. His teammates his sophomore year included Greg Green, Jim Lamson, Steve Garber, Chip Mauer, Alex Vogt and Kevin Andrejack.
"That was a great year,” he said. "I don’t remember the record, but I remember the games being sold out when the JV game started. One of the things I remember and thought was so cool was having my sister, Katrina (Ball) Niemi as one of the cheerleaders. It was the first time we had the chance to be part of the same team, since I was younger than she was.
"My junior year was a struggle. We had a young team and struggled through 0-21. The team consisted of Don Palm, Ryan Watts, Joe Lapham, Chris Craft, Mike Lozada, Shane Kendall, Todd Scafuro, Steve Green, Jeff Williams, Cory McCollum and the only senior was Brian McConnel. Our senior year was a better year. We ended 12-10, fourth in the NEC, and were the most improved team in the conference.”
The game Ball remembers the most occurred during his senior year in a game at Harvey.
"I had had my car privileges taken away when my dad grounded me because I was being too fancy and blew a layup in the game before,” Ball said. "I started the game off 0-5 with three air balls in the first quarter.
"I heard the chants of ‘overrated,' which I heard whenever we were on the road. Coach Hall said between quarters to keep taking your shots because they will fall. From the start of the second quarter to the end of the game I ended up with 40 points. I remember their fans chanting 'Shoot it' every time I touched it instead of ‘overrated.' My teammates told my parents to take my driving privileges away more often so I would keep playing like I did. This game gets brought up by my sister’s father-in-law, Myron Niemi at almost every family get-together. Myron was the team scorekeeper that year and remembers the game well.”
During his senior year at Edgewood, Ball scored 21.5 points per game and won several honors, including Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County Player of the Year, WKKY Player of the Year, NEC Co-Player of the Year (sharing with Harvey’s Emery Martin), All-Northeast Lakes District first team and All-Ohio Division II special mention.
After high school Ball went on to play basketball for Columbus State Community College his freshman year, where he started and led the conference with 10.6 assists per game. He moved on to Butler County Community College as a sophomore.
While at Butler, he averaged 21.9 points per game, was first-team all-conference and all-region and was nominated as an all-star.
He transferred to Point Park College in Pittsburgh for his junior and senior years. In his junior year, Point Park lost to St. Vincent in the conference finals and in the first round his senior year. His senior year he placed second in NAIA Division I in three-point shooting percentage.
“A few years after college I played in the ABA in 2006 and 2007,” Ball said, “first for the Canton Aviators and then the Pittsburgh Xplosion. In ’07 I was selected for the All-Star game in Fort Lauderdale. I took second in the dunk contest."
At Point Park, he studied psychology and is currently studying criminal justice, homeland security and counterterrorism at Herzing University (online). He graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was asked to give the commencement speech. He was also nominated by the chairman of the Criminal Justice department chairman as Student of the Year,
After college, Ball went to work as a recreation specialist at Lake Erie Correctional Institution.
"I provided inmates with events and recreational opportunities to occupy their time,” he said."I also served as a mentor to many inmates in my time there. I am still contacted by former inmates after their incarceration thanking me for helping them to make better choices.
"While working there, I would bring in basketball teams made up of Dan Coxon, Mike Pape, Ted Johnson, Joe Measel, Tom O’Connel and a few others to play against the 'institutional team.' Their team was made up of the best players incarcerated as long as they didn’t have any behavioral problems. They expected to beat us but when you put a dream team like that together, we found a way to win. Our games were officiated by Becky Olmsted and an institutional referee to keep things fair for both sides.”
While working at LaECI, Ball attended the Police Academy at MTC Basic Police Academy in Niles, Ohio, leading him to a part-time job with the Geneva-on-the Lake Police Department and eventually, to a full time position with the Cleveland Clinic Police Department.
“Former Chief Tim Bruckman hired me in 2004 right out of the academy,” Ball said. "GOTL allowed me the chance to learn and develop as a police officer. Chief Bruckman is a great leader and is hands-on with everything, including the development of new officers.”
In June, 2008, Ball began work for the Cleveland Clinic Police Department.
"We handle the safety and security of the campus, as well as surrounding areas of our properties,” he said. "We are one of the largest departments in Cuyahoga County with officers deployed at our facilities throughout the state.
"In my time with the department I have joined the bike unit and worked the Republican National Convention and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game last year with Cleveland Police Department.”
He also worked the NFL draft in Cleveland and scheduled shifts and posts for the Presidential Debate.
In addition, Ball is a member of the Critical Incident Response Team (C.I.R.T.), a specialized unit that trains with S.W.A.T. teams throughout Cuyahoga County. Ball currently serves as sergeant of first shift and is in charge of 27 officers and two corporals.
"It is different from a traditional police department because we handle protection details for kings and queens from all over the word and still handle calls for service in the surround areas,” he said. "It’s a challenge but I love my job.”
Ball married Kathryn (Sefcek) Ball four years ago this May.
Having been active in sports since he was four years old, Ball isn’t about to stop now.
"When I moved on from basketball I had to find something to challenge myself,” he said. "I started to take golf lessons four years ago with PGA Teaching Pro Ed Drawl. Kathryn has been taking lessons for a couple years now, too.
"I think it’s a much harder game than basketball. It’s so mental! I enjoy it and it’s something that Kathryn and I do together. I am constantly working on the game, taking lessons all year round. I will enter open tournaments when my instructor says I’m ready. Kathryn, myself, Steve Horvath and Joe Sines play in scrambles frequently.
"Kathryn and I work out regularly together. This is a must for both of us to help manage the day-to -day stress as supervisors in our work life. Kathryn is a manager for the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute. We love to travel all over. We were married in St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Of course we took our golf clubs with us.
Ball remains grateful to his parents, Gary and Vicky Ball, for helping him get where he is today.
"They, as well as my grandmother Mary Pandora, were at every game cheering me on,” he said. "My parents made many sacrifices when I was a kid skating. My dad worked overtime to pay for my lessons and my mom drove my sister and me to practice many miles from our home or even out of state. Our family vacations were trips to meets for states, regionals or nationals, not the usual trip to Disney like other families.
"Dan Coxon, Mike Pape. Ted Johnson and I played together for years in three-on-three tournaments. We became good friends. With a team like that you can only imagine the amount of tournaments we won. It was great to play with so much talent. We traveled all over and had so much fun together.
"Lastly, I would be wrong not to mention Dr. William A. Seeds. If it was not for Dr. Seeds and the team at All-Star Physical Therapy I would not have been able to go as far as I did or be able to continue to push myself as hard as I do now."