Puffer’s greatness no tall tale
Former Rowe star to enter ACBF HOF
By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
Jerry and Jeff Puffer will make history when they become the first father-son combination to be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on March 25 at the Conneaut Human Resource Center.
But Jerry seemed like an unlikely candidate to make any sort of basketball history when he played at Rowe from 1943-1946. Puffer’s height was a then-respectable 5-foot-10, but he tipped (or probably didn’t tip) the scales at 125 pounds.
All these years later, Puffer considers being weight-challenged an advantage, however.
“I think it helped a lot because I was so quick,” he said. “I was so quick because I didn’t have the weight to carry around. All the other kids were so much bigger.
“I played everything. The thing I’m most proud of is that I made the guys around me better. I could really dribble. I’d dribble through half the team and dump it off for an easy basket. I had quick hands, so I was able to intercept the ball a lot.”
Puffer could score when needed (he thinks his high was 26 points) but was able to tone it down, too.
“One game, we went over 100 and I think I got two, go figure,” he said. “I was really unselfish, a bit like my son, Jeff.”
Puffer teamed with guard Clarence Kennedy (“with his two-hand set shots,” according to Puffer), Alan Punkar, Ted Hirsimaki and 6-1 center Doug Woodworth on the Rowe team, coached by ACBF Hall of Famer Charlie Hershey, Ted Hirsimaki’s older brother.
“We pressed all over,” Puffer said. “We had two games when we went over 100 (points). There wasn’t that much competition. We had small floors. Put 10 guys on those floors and it was hard to find guys. We probably averaged about 52 points a game and held the (opponents) to about 27.”
Playing in the 15-team Ashtabula County League, against opposition like Pierpont, Williamsfield, Dorset, Rock Creek and Austinburg, Rowe won the county tournament for “like eight years in a row,” according to Puffer.
None of the schools had JV teams, since World War II was going on, and gas rationing was required, ruling out taking buses to games.
“We took two cars to games,” Puffer said.
In Puffer’s senior year, Rowe went 24-2, advancing to the regionals in the state tournament before being ousted by Amherst.
“The ironic thing was that we played Jefferson three times and beat them all three by a total of four points,” Puffer said. “They had one kid, Miller, who was excellent.
“We used to play our tournament games at Jefferson, on the stage. They tore that school (the old Jefferson Elementary building) down. We played our sectional at Edgewood on the stage. That was nice for the spectators. The seats were more like a theater.”
In both his junior and senior years, Puffer made the All-Ohio second team.
Rowe was too small at the time to have a football or track team, but Puffer really excelled in baseball.
“I pitched two no-hitters,” he remembers.
He was good enough to play minor-league baseball for five years, playing for independent teams in Florida, Alabama and Georgia. For a while, he played on the Pittsburgh Pirates farm team at Waco, Texas.
But he quit his quest to become a major eaguer when he and his wife, the former Kathryn Bosick, began raising a family.
Puffer went to work for the Lake Erie Railroad out of Greenville, Pa.
“We hauled ore to Pittsburgh, then coal back to Conneaut,” Puffer said. “I was a conductor.”
But he still had enough time to continue playing baseball in the Glenwood League as a pitcher and infielder. He also played in the Conneaut City Basketball League until he was 45 years old.
“I had two of my kids playing with me by then,” he said. “I finally decided it was time for me to get out of there.”
Jerry and Kathryn raised four children: sons Jeff, now 60; T.R. (for Thomas Robert) and Jim, the youngest sibling; and a daughter, Becky (55), a nutritionist at a hospital in Atlanta.
He retired from the railroad when he was 63 in 1992. Kathryn died five years ago.
Puffer still follows basketball, though there are a few things that he doesn’t like about the present-day game.
“They shoot too many fouls,” he said. “If you fouled a guy when I was playing, he got one shot, now you get a one-and-one and sometimes two.
“And they’ve got all these timeouts. I watched a game the other day that in the last 20 seconds they called four timeouts. They had one when they had just called one five seconds before that.”