Man of all seasons
By KARL PEARSON
It is such a rare occurrence that it happened just twice in the 20th Century. And those occasions were just three years apart.
Ashtabula, in the 1946-47 season, and Geneva, in 1949-1950, remain the only two Ashtabula County boys basketball teams to qualify for the state tournament in Columbus.
Coincidentally, two of the players on those unique teams, Ramon (Ray) Peet of Ashtabula and Dale Arkenburg of Geneva, were first cousins.
At it's annual banquet on April 1, Arkenburg (along with Eagles teammate Don Marsh) will join Peet in the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. Like Peet, Arkenburg will be inducted posthumously. He died on Feb. 13, 2005, at the age of 72.
Arkenburg, the only junior starter on that Geneva team which reached the state semifinals and finished at 23-3, being eliminated by imposing center Gene Neff and Eaton, 56-41. Arkenburg, Marsh, Jim Merrell and Dick Eller were the four usual starters for the Eagles that year. Coach Bruno Mallone split the other starting position between Andy Mellon and Bob Scoville. All except Marsh, who now lives in %25C7onnecticut, have died. Merrell, Arkenburg and Eller have all died in the past three years, just a few years after reuniting in 2000 on the 50th anniversary of their tournament run.
Arkenburg and Marsh were similar players, about 6-foot or 6-1 forwards who were the scorers for their team. That year, Arkenburg nipped Marsh, 161-160 in league games to win the Lake Shore League scoring championship. The LSL selected the pair as co-players of the year.
"Marsh and I carried the scoring load, but Eller was a good shot," Arkenburg said in 2000. "We'd tell those guys to shoot to take the pressure off Don and me. But (Eller) would just pass it off.
"Dick Eller was as tough as they come on defense. He always took the other team's leading scorer, unless it was a center. He wasn't big enough to shut a center down. I would have hated having him guard me. He was tough and quick as a cat. (Merrell) was a giant back then (at 6-3). Jim was big and strong. If he got his hands on the ball coming off the boards, nobody was going to get it. He was tough and very big."
"We had a few set plays on tipoffs (which were then held at the beginning of each quarter)," Merrell said. "Usually, we had picks to set up Marsh or Arkenburg to get open some place. They played at the foul line or farther out so they could drive. They were good outside shooters."
In the 1949-50 season, Geneva won it's first 13 games before being beaten by Harbor, 32-31, in the Mariners' gym, which had I-beams hanging from the ceiling which hindered Arkenburg's and Marsh's shots.
"Back in those days, we called it the 'Harbor Arch,'" Arkenburg said. "In practice, we would take a rope and hang it about four or five feat above the rim and shoot under it.
"The gym was a cigar box. The Harbor guy (Johnson) threw in a bullet at the end of the game. I don't know how it went in; it was a low line drive. You couldn't shoot from any distance on that floor."
That was the Eagles' only league loss. They lost one other game, to Cleveland Lincoln, before the state tournament, prevailing in a clutch victory over Ashtabula in Ball Gym, 40-38.
Down 10 points with two minutes left, Geneva tied it at 38-all on a free throw by Merrell, setting the Eagles up for the win.
"Dick Eller was all over the place," Arkenburg recalled in 2000. "(On the final possession), Don Marsh shot and got drilled into the wall. I didn't react at first because I expected a foul to be called. But I was trailing the play and went back up with it (for the winning shot).
"That was a big game for us. We were able to beat Ashtabula. We were the little kids on the block at that time."
One of Arkenburg's teammates, Eller, remembered the frenzy that hit Geneva during the tournament.
"It was amazing," Eller said in 2000. "We'd had a good football season, then started advancing in the tournament and the whole community became more and more excited. I remember suddenly the members of the team became names in the community, known faces. I'd be walking to school and people would offer me a ride, people I wasn't sure I knew.
"I was kind of flabbergasted with all the attention. The businesses and the school were great. You didn't have to be a player on the basketball team to be part of that season. I had a lot of classmates and we all shared."