By CHRIS LARICK
Though the Cleveland Browns of 1980 became known as the "Kardiac Kids" for their penchant of winning or losing heart-wrenching games, Pete Candela thinks that term could just as well to the St. John Heralds of his basketball years.
"We ended up my junior and senior years at about .500," Candela, a 1976 St. John graduate, said. "We were in every game and won or lost by three points or less."
To Candela that was a pretty good accomplishment since St. John, which had a total enrollment of between 400 and 500 students (and that was a goodly number considering the school's history), was so much smaller than its Northeastern Conference rivals.
"We played against Ashtabula and Harbor, which had players like Osborne, Bradley and Henton, much bigger schools than us, and hung with all those team," he said.
Candela got his start in baskeball in the fifth and sixth grade, when a group of coaches that included Al Goodwin, organized a team of St. Joseph players to compete against squads from parochial schools like Mount Carmel, Mother of Sorrows, Assumption and Cabrini.
"Billy Johnston, the sheriff, and Ken Petrocello, were coaches too," Candela said. "They all took turns."
In addition to basketball, Candela also played baseball in Ashtabula's Little League system, along with football in grades six through eight.
In basketball, he began as a guard, since he was a good ball handler.
"I was smaller at the time," he said.
Candela spent his ninth-grade year on the St. John freshman team, then moved up to the junior varsity to start his sophomore season.
"A few games into the season, coach Denny Berrier moved me up to the varsity," Candela recalls. "I could pass the ball well. I didn't do a lot of scoring."
The scoring load for the Heralds of that year was taken on by the seniors — Bill Boroski, Jack Manyo and Steve Abraham.
Between his sophomore and junior years Candela had a growth spurt. By the time it was over, he was 6-4.
Candela recalls attending summer basketball camps sponsored by NBA star Pete Maravich at California College in Indiana with several other St. John players.
"Our parents would drop us off," he said. "All we did was play basketball. We'd play games at night from Monday to Friday. We got a lot of basketball in in the summer."
Despite his newfound height, Candela continued playing guard as a junior and senior.
"I handled the ball, but against a lot of teams (Berrier) said 'Get rebounds,' " Candela said. "I could play defense too. I guarded the best player on the other team. A lot of people didn't want to play defense, were offensive-minded. I loved it. I'd go to practice, go back home and then go back to the 'Y' and play for the rest of the night."
Among Candela's teammates were Doug Tulino, Tom Meola and Lenny Volpone.
Of Berrier, his coach, Candela said, "I liked him. He was not too much older than us, probably in his mid-20s or so.
"He taught us a lot, including the fundamentals of the game. The practices were intense, but I enjoyed the game so much it didn't matter to me.
"On offense, if we got the ball we liked to run. In the last few minutes of a game, if we were ahead, he like to put the ball in a deep freeze (stall). Sometimes it worked, sometimes it backfired. Some people didn't like it."
"We had exciting games," Candela said. "When I was a sophomore, we won our first Class A sectional. We beat Harbor when I was a junior and as a senior, we beat Geneva."
Candela thinks he averaged 18 or 19 points a game his junior and senior years. He was voted MVP of the team and was an All-NEC and All-Ashtabula County selection. He is proud that his parents and two sisters were at all of his games.
After he graduated from St. John, Candela was encouraged by his father to attend Ohio Northern in Ada, Ohio. But, that summer, Candela went to the unemployment office and found a job for the Conrail Railroad as a brakeman. Conrail sent him to Pittsburgh for a week of training. He went back to work on the railroad, but labored there just two days before he was allowed a leave of absence to go to Ohio Northern.
There, he played on the junior varsity team.
"Their offense was very slow," he said. "If you got a rebound, you had to stop and set up the offense. That's not the way I liked to play."
When the college term was over in May, Candela went back to work for the railroad.
"I worked every day of the summer on the railroad and when it came time for school to start, I said, 'I'm not going back,' " he said. "Thirty-nine years later, I'm retired. I retired last July."
Candela started as a brakeman, but was promoted often, becoming a shift supervisor in 1996. He ran the coal dock from 1999-206, when he became the Supervisor of Operations for the Canadian National Railway at the Conneaut Dock. He then was promoted to the dock manager on the Upper Peninsula in Escanaba, Michigan.
When he retired last July he stayed in Ashtabula for a while, then moved to Boynton Beach, Fla., about 15 miles south of West Palm Beach and 30 miles north of Miami.
"It's nice all-year round," he said.
Candela met his wife, Karen, an Edgewood graduate, at Walnut Beach. Karen has worked at Riden+Fields for 40 years.
The couple has three children: Julie, 32; Michelle, 30; and Pete, 27. Pete Jr. followed Candela into the railroad business and now works for the Canadian National Railroad in Green Bay, Wis. Pete Jr. has a son, Pete III.
"Pete, RePete and Three-Pete," Pete laughs.
Candela has continued to play basketball for many years. He played in a 35-and-older league in Ashtabula with the Spot Cafe team, with teammates like Dan Craft, Jim Hood and John Bowler and against players like Ernie Pasqualine, Louie DeJesus and Andy Juhola. He would like to find a basketball league in Florida.
"My wife has always been supportive of my love of basketball," Candela said. "When the kids were young, I played two nights a week."
He also took up golf in 1982 and has played in leagues in Ashtabula and Michigan.
"I can't complain," he said. "My life has been good and I'm healthy."