Bekki Hamper Starr
By CHRIS LARICK
After learning how to play basketball on a gravel driveway court, Bekki (Hamper) Starr was pleasantly surprised when she began playing in the Jefferson High School gym.
“Imagine my surprise when I started playing fifth and sixth grade basketball on Saturday mornings in the high school gym, and the ball actually bounced up in the exact spot I initially dribbled it at, instead of bouncing any-which-way like it did when I dribbled on the gravel driveway!” Hamper said recently. "Good times.”
Starr followed her sisters (Pauline, Francine and Margaret) onto the Jefferson Lady Falcons team.
"As a typical younger sibling, I wanted to do what they did: wear what they wore, act like they acted, listen to music they listened to,” Starr, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s Hall of Fame on Apr. 8. "So, I capitalized on any opportunity to shoot hoops in our gravel driveway with them (and any of our other siblings who would play). Speaking of that driveway, my dad painted the most awesome 'Jefferson Falcons' backboard for us, it’s still there at my parents’ house, standing proudly in the driveway. So I wanted to be like my sisters, and really enjoyed participating in the fifth- and sixth-grade basketball program at the high school.
"There was a traveling team at the time, I believe, but family responsibilities didn’t allow for me to participate. I did compete in several Knights of Columbus Free Throw Competitions as well, and won several times in my age category.”
Starr, a 2000 graduate, went on to participate in Jefferson’s fifth and sixth-grade, all of the time absorbing he coaches’ information. By the time she reached the seventh grade, she had an absolute hunger to participate.
"I absolutely couldn’t wait to play in seventh grade,” she said. "I have such fond memories of hanging out with the team after school waiting for the bus to take us to Rock Creek Elementary to practice. Coach (Al) Graper was such a great coach, really concentrating on helping us master the fundamentals. I can still hear him shouting/repeating “BALL, YOU, MAN!” as we practiced our ball-handling. And then the dark, wintry rides home from practice, telling my dad all about the day’s practice, and discussing any upcoming games. And sharing with my mom too, once we were home and eating dinner together. My eight siblings were all graduated and out of the house by then, so I had their undivided attention — which was a perk or an inconvenience, depending on the day or situation … and my teenage outlook and attitude. Now I thoroughly understand what a true blessing it was."
The Falcons went undefeated in the seventh and eighth grades, the latter year being coached by CoachThompson.
“He built on what Coach Graper had taught/instilled in us,” Starr said. "We continued to solidify our individual and team strengths. I have fond memories of this season as well; practicing on the always slippery MPR floor, hating my basketball shoes (which my parents had bought for me in seventh grade and still fit and were in good condition in the eighth grade, so I had to wear them again. When I ran down the court, they made horse-trotting noises …gosh I hated those shoes … and they were black, and Coach (Rod) Holmes commented/teased several times when he would come to our practices to watch for a bit, that black basketball shoes were a big no-no, and building friendships and teamwork.
At 6-foot-1, Starr was one of the tallest players in the area. At Jefferson she was joined by her "partner-in-crime, the other 'Twin Tower,’ Kelly Kapferer, who went 5-foot-11 or 6-foot. That pair, together from the seventh grade through high school, joined upperclassmen Kiki McNair, Kelly Crowell and Laurie Gregg, when they reached ninth grade. The two freshmen (Starr and Kapferer) were in their glory and learning from the others, whom they had watched and admired since the seventh grade.
"I remember fouling out my very first varsity game, and I think I scored 10 points and took down some rebounds,” Starr said. “But I just remember being so honored to be playing with them. Kelly and I also experienced our first loss together in the ninth grade, after going undefeated in junior high.
"Going undefeated in the seventh and eighth grades was memorable, and I know we had some district/regional championships,” Starr said. “But I don’t remember the specific years/titles. All in all, it was an amazing experience, and awesome part of my high school memories, because of Coach Holmes and my teammates."
The late Holmes, who won more games than any other county basketball coach, male or female, in history, had a great effect on Starr.
"Coach Holmes was an amazing coach and person,” she said. “He was knowledgeable, calm but firm, caring, fun, and funny (well, at least HE thought so). What an honor and blessing it was to play for him."
The one game Starr has a clear memory of was her first varsity contest, because she fouled out of it.
"I was nervous about the fact that I had fouled out, but Coach Holmes assured me he was proud of me because I displayed aggressiveness, something we had worked on since the summer at basketball camp,” she said.
Over her high-school career Starr scored 1,047 points and totaled 1,410 rebounds, third in state history. The 375 rebounds she pulled in in 1998-99 rank 14th in state history.
She also played volleyball at Jefferson her sophomore and junior years, but was not as successful as at basketball.
“I was not a natural, but Coach (Jeannine) Bartlett was patient with me and helped me along, as well as some of my teammates,” she said. "My very first volleyball open gym was such a disaster, LOL! I was trying to learn how to approach the net for a hit, and I totally jumped right INTO the net, bounced off, and fell on my back.
"We all had a good laugh, and Coach Bartlett joked about putting our health-class lesson on learning how to check on injured people into action. I enjoyed the two seasons on the team, but ultimately decided not to play my senior year. As far as successes, I honestly don’t remember if I made any special teams or not.”
Starr could have played basketball in college, but elected not to.
"I knew by my junior year that I did not want to play basketball in college, much to my Dad’s disappointment—we still joke about it to this day,” she said. "He would always say, 'We’ll see, you might change your mind.' I did not pursue any contacts made by coaches/colleges."
Instead, Starr began college her freshman year at Thiel College before transferring to Edinboro as a sophomore. After her graduation there, she obtained her master’s at Gannon University. She played no sports in college. She has her bachelor’s from Edinboro in elementary education and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Gannon.
After student-teaching at Elk Valley Elementary in Girard, Pa., she was hired by that district the summer she graduated from Edinboro. She teaches math and science at Elk Valley.
“I absolutely love my job, co-workers, administration, and students,” she said. I am VERY blessed. I am currently teaching my 14th year.
Starr is married to her high school sweetheart, Sam Starr. The couple will celebrate their 12th anniversary in October. They have two children: Gabriel (10 years old) and Madelyn (7 years old).
Though Bekki doesn’t have a lot of extra time, she has played in some various social leagues for fun (sand volleyball, church volleyball, women’s social basketball).
“I am currently enjoying watching our children begin to try their hands at various activities, including basketball,” she said. "I am also enjoying serving at our church and participating in Bible studies."