Doing his part
By Karl Pearson
Doing his part Ed Batanian left coaching after only six seasons, but he never stopped helping area basketball By KARL PEARSON Staff Writer Back in the days before there was such a term as a gym rat, Ed Batanian was one. Before he ever had a chance to play in a gym, he was looking for someplace to play. Realizing he probably never would be an outstanding player, he knew he wanted to be a coach. He'd do anything to be around basketball. Once he got the opportunity to coach, he showed his ability, compiling a 78-58 record in six seasons at old Kingsville High School. In just his third season, his team compiled a 22-5 record, which is still tied for third all-time in Ashtabula County boys history for single-season wins. But sometimes, the gym rat can be taken out of the gym. That happened to Batanian, too, as the lure of opportunity at Edgewood High School drew him away from the coaching ranks and into athletic administration. "My only regret is that I got out of coaching too soon," he said. Still, he never lost his love for basketball. His connections with the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the Northeast District Athletic Board of Control and the Northeastern Conference have allowed him help bring tournaments to the immediate area for many years and tried to improve the lot of boys and girls basketball teams from Ashtabula County. Despite an all-to-brief coaching career, the contributions Batanian has made to basketball in the county have not gone unrecognized. He is one of 11 people to be inducted into the newly-formed Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation's initial Hall of Fame class on Sunday, April 6 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center. Being included in a group that includes many of his coaching and teaching colleagues and some great players, is something of a mystery to Batanian. "I'm humbled over this. I'm not sure I really belong," he said. But he admits he may have been able to help the sport grow more from his time in administration. "From leaving basketball, I think I've been able to do more than I could ever do as a coach," Batanian said. Seeing something that recognizes basketball achievement is something to which Batanian can respond. "I think the foundation is a good idea," he said. "(Former St. John football standout) Denny Allan's dad tried to start something like this years ago. I think he was ahead of his time. It's time for this now." Getting started There isn't a time Batanian can't remember when he didn't have a basketball in his hands when he was growing up in Byesville, just five miles away from Cambridge, the county seat of Guernsey County in southeastern Ohio. "Every year, I got a basketball at Christmas," he recalls of some of his his most-treasured gifts from his parents, Helen and Leon, in a home which included 11 other children. His new gift was broken in much of the time in the barn at the nearby Heskett farm. "I had a friend named Newt Oliver who was a couple grades ahead of me," Batanian said. "We used to play a lot. "There was no gym in our elementary school or junior high," he said. "We used to play a lot outside. It was a real treat to get a chance to go up to the high school on Saturday mornings and shoot hoops." By the time Batanian got to Byesville High School, he ended up playing for Roy A. Cox, who was also the school superintendent. "I was on the varsity as a junior and senior," Batanian said. "I started at guard my senior year. I was a respectable shooter." Byesville played teams like Philo, Zanesville Rosecrans, McConnellsville, Newcomerstown and Coshocton. But one game from his senior season stood out. "We played Caldwell. I didn't even dress for the first game because I had the flu," Batanian said. "In the second game, I went out and scored 14 or 16 points in the first half. They were asking who the ringer was." 1/25/2018 TheACBF.com - Hall of Fame Archives 2/3 But, graduating in 1944, Batanian quickly received a ticket into the armed services and was shipped off to the Pacific theater to Okinawa. It was there he spent the balance of his time in the service. "I didn't see a day of action," he said. "President Truman saved our lives by dropping the atomic bomb. We were supposed to be invading Japan." Instead, he spent much of his time playing basketball until his discharge in late July 1946. "We had great courts there," Batanian said. "They had lights and everything." Back home Returning to the United States, Batanian chose Youngstown College (now Youngstown State) to further his education. His father, a steel worker, had been given a job at Sharon Steel in Sharon, Pa., which meant the family had moved there. Young Batanian lived at home and commuted each week to Youngstown. He would come home on weekends and work at a clothing store to earn extra money for school. Ironically, his wife of 49 years, Rosalie, worked in the upstairs of the same building for an insurance company. He didn't know it at first, but met her at a dance and maintained the relationship on weekends. In 1951, he graduated from Youngstown College with a bachelor of science degree in education. "I came from a family of 12 kids," Batanian said. "I'm a beneficiary of the GI Bill. If it hadn't been for that, I never would have got my education." On to Kingsville On his job search, Batanian tried to find a place where he could teach and coach. "I had wanted to be a coach since I was old enough to hold a ball," he said. "I had student taught at Hubbard. I was certified to teach in (Ohio and Pennsylvania)." His job search took him to Kingsville. "In the summer of 1951, I interviewed with Lynn Sprague, who was the executive head at Kingsville, sort of a combination of the superintendent and principal," Batanian said. "When I was leaving the interview, George Fulton, who became the coach at Jefferson and I coached against, was going in for his interview. "(Sprague) offered me a job teaching social studies and teaching boys and girls phys ed," he said. "I also was going to coach baseball in the fall and spring, basketball in the winter and track in the spring. We'd play baseball in the spring on Mondays and Wednesdays and track on Tuesdays and Thursdays." It was a low-budget operation at Kingsville. "I was the JV and varsity basketball coach," Batanian said. "My starting salary was $2,500. I got $200 extra for coaching, which (Sprague) swore me to secrecy about." Still a bachelor, Batanian made interesting living arrangements. "I lived with a couple named Henry and June Heil, who lived about 1,000 yards from the school," he said. "I walked every day to school, then got a ride home when I went. I didn't have a vehicle until my brother was drafted into the Korean War and I got his car. I stayed with the Heils for four years (until he and Rosalie married in 1954)." Coaching at Kingsville Batanian inherited the basketball job at Kingsville from Bob Nutter. "He left me in pretty good shape," he said. "I had a boy named Chuck Benton, who was ineligible until the second semester. We came on in the second half (to finish 14-12)." Kingsville played in the Big 7 League with Rowe, Edgewood, Andover, Spencer, Austinburg and Williamsfield. His first road encounter was a memorable one. "We played at Andover, and I forgot to take our away uniforms, so we just had our whites," Batanian recalled. "Walter Higgins was the Andover coach. When I told him, he just said they'd play with their darks. In fact, one of his kids came in and said he only had his white uniform and Walter yelled at him. I felt so sorry for that kid. But that was my first impression of Walter Higgins, of his generosity, and my opinion hasn't changed since." Kingsville's program took off the next two years, going 18-5 in 1952-53, then 22-5 in 1953-54. "My second year, we had a kid named Ronnie Hanson and a 6-6 kid at center named Raymond Reed," Batanian recalled. "In the third year, we had a group that was not just good athletes but great kids with ones like Art Wilkinson and Keith and Bill Carlson and Joe Brown. We were league and county champions those years. "That 22-5 year, we ended up tied in the league with Edgewood and we decided to have a playoff at Edgewood (now Braden Junior High)," he said. "Coach (Bob) Larkins (his future boss) didn't know about having it, but we packed the place." The great years were over after that, but Kingsville stayed respectable for two more years at 11-10, then 8-13. "The fourth year, we made it to the finals, but it wasn't one of our better teams," Batanian said. Some key losses really hurt. "Roger Miller, who in my opinion was one of my best kids and went to the state track meet, transferred to Kiski Prep because he wanted to go to an Ivy League school," Batanian said. "We also lost Bill and John Connert, who were also real good students." Some of his best teams were derailed just before reaching the truly higher levels of tournament play. For instance, future teaching colleague Bob Peura of Harbor ended one of those seasons. As successful as his Kingsville teams were in basketball, Batanian also had some fine baseball teams. "We lost to Hubbard one year in the district at Kent State and they went on to state," he said. "In 1953, we lost 2-1 to Fairport in 15 innings and they went to state. We lost to Stan Humphrey's Rowe team one of the years they went to state." Next stop, Edgewood In the summer of 1957, fate stepped in to basically end Batanian's coaching career. "I went into Edgewood for something," he said. "I wasn't looking for a job, but I ran into Ralph Curie, who was the principal, and he asked me if I would like a job. He showed me the salary schedule. At the time, Rosalie and I had two kids and I knew 1/25/2018 TheACBF.com - Hall of Fame Archives 3/3 if there was ever a time to move, it was time. "At that time, I knew Edgewood was the leader in academics in the county, if not the state, because it had the finances," Batanian said. "They had got the money and (Ashtabula Area City Schools) got all the kids." It was not an easy choice, at least not at first. "I remember sitting in the study hall the first day of school that fall scared to death because I realized what I was getting into," Batanian said. "But within a week, I felt like I'd been there all my life." There were compensations. "I was teaching secondary phys ed and I had no coaching responsbilities, which gave me more time with my family," Batanian said. "I just thought I'd take a year or so off."Instead, he ended up serving for a year at Larkins' JV basketball coach, then another assisting Clinton McConnell. But that was it. In 1968, he succeeded Larkins as Edgewood athletic director, a position he held until 1991. "I took that job seriously," Batanian said. He also became Northeastern Conference secretary and held that post until 1997. He was a member of the OHSAA Board of Control and has maintained his post as secretary of the district board of control. New developments In his role as district secretary, Batanian helped attract a variety of basketball tournaments, and tournaments in other sports to the area. They include tournaments at Ashtabula, Jefferson, Edgewood and Madison. "I'm pleased that we were able to allow teams like Geneva, Ashtabula, Conneaut, Edgewood and Jefferson to district and regional tournaments over the years," he said. Over the years, he has earned recognition from his fellow athletic directors, being named State Athletic Director of the Year and earning admission to the Athletic Directors Hall of Fame. He is also recognized in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Recently, he was named to the Ohio Wrestling Officials Hall of Fame. Now, he is thrilled to be inducted with other people he considers giants of basketball. "There's no question, Al Bailey is the greatest coach I ever went against," he said. "He was a genius. I coached against him at Spencer and I was fortunate to have some success against him. "Andy Garcia and Bob Ball were the best coaches I ever saw. Both of their middle names were defense. I'm humbled to be in their company." But he's lived with a Hall of Famer for nearly 49 years now. Rosalie Batanian has given him eight children and has sustained him in all his efforts. She still travels with him all over the state to games, matches and tournaments. "I chased her, or maybe she chased me," Batanian, soon to be 76, said. "If I have anything today, it's because of Rosalie." And the start the Christmas gift of a basketball gave him so many years ago.