By CHRIS LARICK
As is true at a lot of small schools, athletic success at Pymatuning Valley High School has always been a family affair.
One extended family, consisting of Hitchcocks and Browns, is a typical example.
Bob Hitchcock, one of the founders of the Laker athletic legacy in the Andover area, was the first to receive county-wide acclimation in the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame’s original class in 2003. Gordy Hitchcock, who played on the same undefeated high school basketball team with Bob, was selected to the ACBF's Hall of Fame in 2012.
Bob’s children, Kelly and Doug, were inducted into the ACBF’s Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Their first cousin, Greg Brown, was chosen for the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club’s Hall of Fame just last December.
Now it’s Greg’s brother, Rodney’s time. He will be one of 10 outstanding male and female basketball players installed into the ACBF’s Hall of Fame on April 8.
Brown, a 5-foot-10 shooting guard, got his start in athletics in the usual way.
“My brothers and sisters were playing,” he said. “It was just from there.”
As far as organized basketball was concerned, that happened for Brown in the fourth and fifth grade. His first cousin, Doug Hitchcock, played on his teams, along with players like Jason Poole.
When that group became seniors they did something that hadn’t been done in Pymatuning Valley since their coach, Bob Hitchcock, had been in school — win all of their regular-season games. That group included Brown, Doug Hitchcock, Gordy Hitchcock, Poole and Sean Freeman.
“I was the leading scorer, with around 17 points a game,” Brown said. “I was all-conference and started as a junior.”
“Rod Brown was the ultimate team player, fortunately for his coach and the players around him,” his coach, Bob Hitchcock, said. "We ended up with a pretty good year, won 20-plus games. We had a good point guard (Doug Hitchcock) and two good shooters in Rodney Brown and Sean Freeman.
“He was called on to guard one of the better perimeter players on the team, which he did a pretty good job of. My son (Doug Hitchcock) and he went at it in practice. You always improve with competition and they worked on that.
“He did a great job and was never a problem, he was a very quiet player. He wasn’t much for words but had a lot of action.”
“Bob was a very good coach,” Brown said of Hitchcock. “He knew all the X’s and O’s. He had Robert Faulkner come in and help us."
Of games he remembers, Brown lists those with Jefferson (“ a tough team”) and the contest that ended their winning streak and season, the narrow loss to Hawken in the tournament.
“We had a memorable year but got disappointed by O.J. McDuffie in overtime in the tournament,” Hitchcock said.
Brown also played wide receiver in football under Brian Cross, when the Lakers went 9-1, and the following season under Ken Parise, when they were undefeated. Additionally, he played baseball (second baseman and shortstop) for PV.
“I wasn’t bad, but not real good,” he said of his baseball ability.
After graduation, Brown drew some interest from small colleges, but decided not to go.
“I did some lawn care for about six years,” he said.
He has since entered the family business, dairy farming. The Brown farm at one time had 125 acres. It’s a lot of work.
“I get up at four (a.m.) and get done at 12 o’clock at night,” he said.
Brown married Stacey, whom he met at Pymatuning Valley and is a year younger than he is. Their blended family includes four children, two of his and two of hers, including Joshua, 30; Dustin, 27; Adam 25, and Kelsea, who graduated from Pymatuning Valley two years ago as a 1,000-point scorer.
“She played center her senior year and point guard her junior year,” Brown said.
Joshua has five children of his own: Kylee, 13; Bryce, 9; Brylee, 5; Brynlee, 3; and Brycen, 1.
Bob Hitchcock remembers his undefeated year with fondness.
“That was a great group of kids to work with,” he said. "Their families provided excellent support to the guys on the team.”
In Brown’s case, brothers Greg (just voted into the Ashtabula Touchdown Club Hall of Fame), Jeff and Andy helped provide Rod a base.
“It’s a pleasure to coach a guy like that,” Hitchcock concluded. "Because of the expectations of the parents and players, it makes the job easier.”