By CHRIS LARICK
Conneaut High School basketball players and fans were accustomed to coaches who were well-enough acquainted with the talents of their players to run an offense that fit those talents.
Coach Jerry Sweed, who coached Denny Sabo and the rest of the Spartan squad of 1974-1975 wanted to run and gun. That style didn’t fit the players.
“It didn’t work out so well,” Sabo said, in reference to Conneaut’s 9-10 record that season.
The Spartans had been a very competent squad when Sabo was a sophomore in 1972-73, making it to the district finals before falling to the top-ranked team in the state, Barberton.
“Four of their guys went on to college,” Sabo said. “We got pretty far down, but came back. I think we lost by about 20. We scored 70 though. They had a super team and took it to us pretty good.”
Sabo, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 2 at the Conneaut Human Resouces center, played with a few different teams in his three years as a starter.
As a sophomore, he played as as point guard with Tim Humphrey, Ron Grubke inside, Tim Wheeler and John Stolson. When Humphrey, Grubke graduated, Bill Dawson joined the group. On Sabo’s senior team were Danny Sharp, Jim Lebzelter, Mark Sanford and John Cournet, along with Sabo.
“Harbor, with Jim Bradley, and Ashtabula were pretty good,” Sabo said. “But I think Geneva won the NEC that year. We ended up beating Harbor and Ashtabula.
“My junior year the Ashtabula game at Ball Gym was probably our best game. We beat them in overtime. My senior year our best game was probably against Riverside. That was probably one of my better all-around games. We’d run and gun my senior year, my sophomore year too. Wheeler was getting a lot of rebounds."
In addition to basketball, Sabo played the outfield on the baseball team. He quit football as a freshman, wanting to concentrate on basketball and baseball.
“We had a pretty good baseball team all three years,” he said.”Ron Young was our coach. I batted about .400 all three seasons.”
After Sabo’s senior season, he shared Player of the Year honors for the Regional Press All-Ashtabula County team with Bradley.
“Sabo became the top guard in the county from the very beginning of the season as he finished with a 15.2 scoring average and also led the Northeastern Conference in assists and steals,” Mike Starkey wrote in the Star Beacon. “The senior guard stands 5-10.”
Others on that team included Wayne Games and Dan Craine of Geneva, Chris Hamman and Carl Renwick of Grand Valley, Pete Candela of St. John, Bill Osborne of Ashtabula, Pete Richards of Edgewood, Jim Searcy of Jefferson and Randy Linsted of Pymatuning Valley. Jim Lebzelter and Danny Sharp of Conneaut earned honorable-mention honors.
In the state UPI voting, Sabo was the only cager chosen to the Class AAA All-State squad, earning honorable mention status.
After graduation, Sabo started college at Youngstown State, playing basketball and baseball.
“I played basketball my freshman year, then found a job in the steel mill,” he said.”It wasn’t working out in college, so I decided it was time to get a job."
Sabo worked at Union Carbide for 30 years and was able to retire 10 years ago. He and his second wife, Beth, moved to California, then to Arizona, near both the Nevada and California borders, where they have spent the past year-and-a-half. Beth (nee Shaffer) is a 1986 Ashtabula graduate.
The couple lives in a 55-and-older recreational vehicle resort, where they work part time.
“I work outside, do a little groundskeeping and landscaping,” Sabo said.”My wife works in the office. I tore out my shoulder and can’t do a whole lot (of sports). We play a lot of putt-putt (golf). If I shoot baskets, I have to shoot left-handed.”
Sabo has a daughter, Joline, who lives in Ashtabula with his 3 grandchildren, Jalin,Leila and Brandon.
“Brandon is pretty much into football,” Sabo said. “He plays a little basketball.”