That was then...
By KARL PEARSON
When Geneva High School honored it's only boys basketball team to qualify for the state tournament in Columbus (and the only Eagles team in any sport) in 2000, there was one notable absentee.
Don Marsh, who, along with Dale Arkenburg carried the scoring load for Geneva in it's run through the state tournament in 1950, didn't make it to the celebration.
The other living starters - Arkenburg, Jim Merrell and Dick Eller - all attended, though for Arkenburg and Merrell, both lifetime Geneva residents, that was a fairly simple task. For Marsh, residing in Connecticut, it was more difficult.
Merrell, Arkenburg and Eller have since died, Merrell and Arkenburg within a couple months of each other, in December, 2004 and February, 2005, Eller more recently. That leaves Marsh as the only living survivor of the 1949-50 team who saw any significant playing time.
Marsh and Arkenburg, though a senior and junior, respectively, were so similar in their play that they were almost indistinguishable. Fittingly, both will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame, Arkenburg posthumously.
Both stood a shade over 6-feet tall and both were scoring forwards who could fire away from long range or drive to the basket. So close were they in abilities that in that fantastic season, Arkenburg nipped Marsh for the scoring championship, 161-160, after outscoring Marsh 13-9 in their final Lake Shore League game at Harvey. The LSL couldn't separate the pair and selected them as co-players of the year.
In addition to Marsh and Arkenburg, the lineup coach Bruno Mallone (himself a former star at Geneva) used included 6-3 powerhouse Jim Merrell at center and Dick Eller, a 6-foot defensive whiz at guard. Andy Mellen joined that group as the fifth starter in the early games of the season with Bobby Scoville serving as sixth man. Those roles were reversed during most of the tournament play. All of that sextet except Arkenburg, a junior, were seniors.
Marsh and Arkenburg did most of the scoring, Merrell the bulk of the rebounding.
Though similar in their talents on the court, Marsh and Arkenburg were quite different as individuals, team manager Earl Gornick pointed out in his fine article on the Geneva team published in the Star Beacon last Thursday.
Marsh, his class's valedictorian and a straight-A student, was cool and collected, Gornick says.
"Marsh exhibited an ironic detachment, seemingly loath to show any emotion on the court, and was an ominous, foreboding presence to opponents as he displayed a practiced, elegant repertoire of precisely-arched shots from the outside and clever feints and strong power moves to the basket; he likewise excelled at defensive play and rebounding."
Gornick considers Arkenburg "the most naturally gifted player on the team," one who played with "dash and sparkle."
Though they played cohesively as units of the team, theirs was never a close friendship, Gornick said.
"(Marsh and Arkenburg) barely nodded to each other than meeting in the school hallways or at parties, or at Rees' Drug Store, or Louie's Poolroom, apparently reluctant to risk diluting or squandering their basketball magic," Gornick wrote.
"They developed the curious ritual of stiffly, almost formally, shaking hands a moment before the tipoff in games, as if acknowledging to each other that they were the two best players on the court."
Any animosity between the two stars was buried when they set foot on the court, Marsh said in an interview in 2000 over the phone. Marsh, as was his habit, failed to attend that year's 50th reunion.
"There were never any egos that got in the way of how we played the game. Dale was quite a player and quite a football player."
Eller, Marsh's closest friend on the team (the pair would later attend Kenyon College together) thought fate seemed to play a role in bringing the key figures on that 1949-50 team together.
"It often occurred to me that we were fated to be together," Eller, who would become an English teacher and then an English professor, said in 2000 while pointing out that, other than Arkenburg and Merrell, few members of the Geneva team were born in that community. Eller himself moved from Madison in the fourth grade. Marsh came to Geneva from Martins Ferry between the fifth and sixth grade, Mellen's family moved from Toledo and Bob Beech, a key substitute, began his life in East Liverpool.
"They all came here with a passion for basketball," Eller said. "You've got to love the game to play it well. I think we all loved playing. I think that's why you play.
"I think we played intense basketball. We played with the expectation that we were going to win, not because we were better, but because we were going to play better, play harder."
According to Marsh, his family moved north to Geneva when his mother and father divorced.
"My mother had an aunt and cousin who lived in Geneva and took us there," he said.
Of Geneva's team that year, Marsh said, "They had talent. I think Dale Arkenburg was especially talented.
"Everyone worked hard, especially Dick Eller. He was a hard-nosed type who got involved in all the plays. He'd get on the floor and get all those burns. Because of all that, we got to the districts. It's especially the reason we got to the (state) tournament."