Tribasso had fun playing at Geneva
Center was the jokester on great Geneva teams
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
No one knew quite what to expect when Spencer High School and Austinburg High School consolidated with Geneva High School in the fall of 1961.
That was particularly true with the boys basketball team.
Al Bailey, who had been successful as Spencer's coach (98-42), was named as head basketball coach. That in itself might have raised some eyebrows in Geneva.
But when the starting lineup was decided and featured four Spencer players — Sam Hands, Bob Legg, Bill Coy and Dave Tirabasso —and only one, Jim Osborne, from Geneva, coupled with the fact that one of the first players off the bench, Jim Prill, was also from Spencer, there must have been some real headshaking among Geneva residents.
The success of that team muted any real protest, however, with the new combination of players winning its first 13 games and finishing at 18-2.
Osborne has already been inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame. Tirabasso will be, posthumously, on April 12 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
"We got along well together," Osborne said of that team. "The people there backed their schools. We enjoyed each other's company. It was easy to get along. We were not from Spencer or Geneva we were from Geneva High School. We had all been friends before and had played against each other. Under Al Bailey, we became a great team.
"Osborne and Tirabasso were the junior starters on that squad. They would go on to lead the Eagles the following year, when they went just 9-8 in the regular season but surprised everyone in the tournament by upsetting Euclid in the district semifinals despite being greatly outsized.
"Their shortest starter was 6-2 or 6-3," Osborne said. "Dave (Tirabasso) was our undersized center. He was listed at 6-2 or 6-3 but was 6-1 at the most.
"I became friends with (Euclid coach) Doc Daugherty later. We always talked about how we were able to play. There's always one way to play against a bigger team — outquick them."
"Dave was a tremendous jumping jack and a great competitor. He was very competitive, even in practice. But he had an infectious laugh. It was fun to get him going, he laughed from the gut."
DAVE TIRABASSO (52) with Geneva Eagle teammates (from left) Jim Osborne, Sam Hanks, Joel Novak, Bill Coy, Bog Legg and coach Al Bailey
DAVE TIRABASSO (right) and Bill Coy accept All-County rings from Geneva superintendent Clyde Ingham
"He was a very big guy, mature for his age," Coy said. "He was very strong and a very good rebounder."
Coy, too, remembers Tirabasso's laugh.
"He was a good ballplayer and a real jokester. Al Bailey ran a tight ship, but when we practiced and were going through this series of figure 8's, Dave would get us laughing and we would drop the ball; then we'd be in trouble with Bailey. We would make sure we didn't get in his line."
"We became really good friends," Osborne said of Tirabasso. "The next year we lost Hands, Legg and Coy and didn't do as well."
Tirabasso met his wife, Nora Hall, when he moved from Spencer to Geneva. When he was a senior basketball player, she was a junior majorette. They married in 1966.
"He was an exceptional basketball player," Nora said. "They started calling him, 'The Dunker,' at Geneva. I think his first choice was always football, but he was influenced by Al Bailey. He saw the talent in Dave and took him under his wing. Al and his wife became like second parents to him.
"I think he played football at Spencer. He was also a track star, went to the state in the 880. I don't know if he still holds any records. He had knee surgery around 1962 which put him out of commission for a while."
After his graduation from Geneva in 1963, Tirabasso was granted a full scholarship to Gannon College, where his brother had gone.
"He didn't finish at Gannon," Nora said. "He had a hard time adjusting after being number one at Geneva. It was a real adjustment for him. Gannon was an all-male Catholic school at the time. It was a really elite school. He did attend Kent State after we married."
After leaving college, Tirabasso was eventually hired by the Illuminating Company and worked up to management. He retired in 1997 after 31 years there.
"During our marriage he coached basketball at Assumption School in Geneva," Nora said. "He was very active in the church."
Tirabasso also played for one of the better community teams at the time, Pruden's Chicks.
Meanwhile, Nora started working at Geneva Hospital and worked up to a management position, before moving to Lake Health in the 1990s, where she became a supervisor. She is now retired but still works in registration there on a part-time basis.
The couple originally built a home on County Line Road in Geneva. They build another house in Cameron Marcy's development, but that caught on fire in 2001, just one of a series of bad breaks the couple endured as time went on.
They have two daughters: Kimberly, a stay-at-home mom who is currently writing a book, and Carie, who owns her own interior design company. Kimberly has two daughters, Hannah and Abigail.
When Dave retired, he had no real hobbies. The Tirabassos moved to Fairport Harbor because of Nora's job. Dave purchased a boat and loved fishing. He also loved the Cleveland Browns.
He also became interested in cars and bought a 1957 Chevy that he raced at drag strips, winning several trophies.
"He wasn't real social, was more of a loner," Nora said of Dave, who died Oct. 8, 2011, at the age of 66.
According to Osborne, Tirabasso developed a lot of health problems in his older age.
Coy said Tirabasso had throat cancer.
"It was terrible what happened to him. The last time I saw him was at a coffee shop (in Geneva). I went over and sat down and talked to him."
But Tirabasso hated for people to see him in the condition he was in.
"We tried to get him to go to our class reunions, but he didn't feel like he could present himself like the Dave Tirabasso we knew," Osborne said. "We'd always call him to ask him to come.
"I count him as a great friend. If I went to war, I'd like to have him on my side. He was a major part of our success and a major part of our lives."
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.