By CHRIS LARICK
Ashtabula County boys basketball arguably flourished as never before and never since in the days of the Northeastern Conference, particularly in the period from the 1970s through the 1990s.
One of the best years in that duration was the 1977-1978 season.
Ashtabula High School had the best team of that year (maybe the best county team of all time), a squad that included Tom Hill, Deora Marsh and David Benton. But almost every school had at least one basketball standout. Geneva and Conneaut could boast future Hall of Famers Jay McHugh and Dave Sillanpaa, respectively. Edgewood’s roster included Mark Skarlinski, St. John’s Joe Whalen. Harbor, which had just graduated Hall of Famer John Bradley, saw Marc Pope develop into one of the best players in the county.
Pope will join 10 others, men and women, in making up this year’s class of inductees into the Ashtabula County Basketball’s Hall of Fame on April 3 at Conneaut’s New Leaf Center.
He began his organized basketball experience on the Saybrook Elementary School team in the sixth grade, but didn’t play when his class moved to Columbus St. Junior High in the seventh grade. But he returned to play for coach Frank Knudsen in the eighth grade.
Then, between the eighth and ninth grade he had a growth spurt.
“I grew five inches, from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-1,” Pope said.
Coaches tend to love height increases like those. In this case, Harbor’s freshman coach, John Higgins, was the beneficiary.
“We won the NEC freshman tournament that year,” Pope said. “That built my confidence in my skills.”
Harbor was a good team and shared the NEC championship in 1976, Pope remembers.
“We were above average,” he said. “We could have used a little more depth."
As a sophomore, Pope played on the Mariner JV team under coach Bob Shorts before starting as a junior and senior under coach Ed Armstrong, growing to an eventual height of 6-foot-3. He averaged about 12 points per game as a junior before blossoming after becoming the team’s biggest offensive weapon after Bradley’s graduation, a back-to-the basket center capable of scoring 30 points a game and adding 20 rebounds.
Among his teammates were Tim Jones, Tim Givens, Darrell Sargent (whose best sport was track), a 6-foot-guard; Max Holman, a 5-9 guard, Joe Chiachierro, a 5-8 guard, Gordon DeLaat, a 5-10 guard, and Jim Davis, a 6-foot-5 center-forward.
Pope’s best game may have come against Riverside in a game the Star Beacon characterized as a “one-man show.” He scored 27 points and added 18 rebounds and three blocked shots in that contest.
Pope remembers three other games well.
“Ashtabula High School was our nemesis,” he said. “They had Tom Hill, Tim Bowler, David Benton and Deora Marsh. But we did beat them my junior year in the sectional finals in overtime. We played in Warren. That rivalry was like Ohio State and Michigan. I remember our reaction: we beat them when it counted. Unfortunately, we were Michigan.”
In another big game his junior year, the Mariners topped a strong Geneva team.
“They only had one loss and we beat them, 54-50,” he recalls. “They beat everybody else. In the second game they destroyed us. Brad Ellis was a senior that year and they had the two Hassetts, Tony and Mike. Jay McHugh was a sophomore on that team.
“Also my senior year I had a 33-point, 18-rebound, four-blocked shot game we lost at the buzzer to Conneaut. We were beat by Jefferson, also on a last-second shot. That was a tough week."
Pope, who had averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds as a junior while playing second fiddle to Bradley, was named Player of the Week twice during his senior season, averaging 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds. He was a Star Beacon All-Ashtabula first-team selection, along with Ashtabula’s Hill, Geneva’s McHugh, Conneaut’s Sillanpaa and Jefferson’s Chuck Stevens.
“Marc is the man we have to go to, to score and win,” his coach, Armstrong, said.
“We expect him to carry the load for us inside with rebounding, too,” He added that Pope was a team leader and class individual.
“He’s a dedicated player who works hard.”
As a freshman and sophomore Pope also played baseball (first base) for the Mariners, but didn’t go out for the team after that.
“I could have been a better baseball player than basketball player,” he said.
Making his senior year more impressive was the fact that he never played at 100 percent that year.
“I played my senior year with a tumor on my left wrist,” he said. “I fractured the wrist but when it healed, it affected my flexibility and strength. After my senior season I had surgery, bone grafts in April, 1978.”
Pope had interest from several Division III colleges and eventually chose Muskingum in Ohio, which had been in the top seven or eight schools in its class in the country the year before in Division III."
He did well academically, but didn’t enjoy life there and wound up transferring to Youngstown State.
“They were bigger and better guys there,” he said. "Jay McHugh played a couple of years at Youngstown after transferring from Texas A & M. I had lost my desire to play.”
After transferring, Pope concentrated on his education. He began in civil engineering, but changed his major to business administration with a major in accounting.
After graduation he began a career in accounting in several local businesses. After a few years, he was elected to the position of Fiscal Officer of Saybrook Township, a posiiton he wound up being elected to five times.
Later he added the responsibilities of Saybrook Township Supervisor of Roads and Cemeteries, a job he has done since.
Pope married a 1976 graduate of St. John, Theresa Berrier, in 1986. The two met at Youngstown State. Theresa’s brother is Denny Berrier, who coached the St. John basketball team for several years.
Theresa has worked as a real estate broker for 37 years, most recently with Asa Cox Century 21 Homes. The couple has a daughter, Brittany, 34; and a son, Alex, 22; along with a granddaughter, Brooklyn, 8, and a young grand?????