Legendary Harbor coach Frank Roskovics humbled to be headed into the ACBF Hall of Fame
By KARL PEARSON
Induction into any hall of fame is generally a humbling experience.
It's hard to imagine anyone who is more surprised and, perhaps, even a little bit guilty about such a distinction than former Harbor High School girls basketball coach Frank Roskovics.
He is almost baffled by his selection to the second class of inductees into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame.
But a part of that group the 1967 St. John High School graduate is. He will be inducted March 28 at the second annual ACBF banquet at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
"I'm a little surprised," the 55-year-old Kent State University graduate admitted. "The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I really deserve it. After all, I only coached (basketball) for eight years."
But in that span from 1977-85, his Mariner basketball teams compiled a 109-58 record. Those teams had the misfortune of finishing second in the Northeastern Conference to the Geneva teams coached by Sally Toukonen (Dulak) in the late 1970s, then suffering the same fate to the great Ashtabula teams of the early 1980s led by ACBF Hall of Famer Diane Davis (Corpening) and coached by the late Domenick Cavalancia.
Eventually, Roskovics 1983-84 Mariners shared the NEC title with Conneaut. They also won three straight Class AA sectional titles from 1982-84. The Mariners reached the district finals at Hudson High School in the 1982-83 season, losing to eventual state qualifier Badger.
Roskovics is perhaps more acknowledged for the exploits of his Mariner volleyball squads, which he directed over two separate periods. He also won more than 100 matches in that sport, only the second person to do so in county history, sharing that distinction with current Edgewood volleyball coach Dave Fowler.
But, when asked about his preferences, Roskovics has a somewhat surprising choice.
"Basketball was always my first love," he stated.
He still shows that commitment today by his work with the Division II sectional-district basketball tournament at Edgewood High School on tournament director Al Goodwin's fine staff.
Although dealing with the limitations imposed by albinism, Roskovics was blessed to have nurturing parents, Emery and Grace Roskovics, who challenged him to be all he could be. The oldest of four children — followed by a sister, Veronica, and brothers Jim and John, he took his parents' encouragement to heart.
"My mother had (multiple sclerosis) and didn't have a chance to come to my activities," he said. "She's the one that pushed me to go to St. John. She wanted me to have a Catholic education.
"My dad was a policeman, so he wasn't able to get to a lot of things. But he was the one who always wanted me to get involved in as many things as I possibly could."
So he played basketball, at least in junior high.
"I played in the eighth grade at Mount Carmel," he noted. "They had two sets of teams. I played on the team in the parochial league. I scored the winning point in the parochial-league championship game."
But he gave up the idea of playing when he got to St. John.
"I didn't have much athletic ability and my eyes weren't the best," Roskovics explained.
Several of his teachers understood his love for sports, though, and utilized it.
"I think my first influence in high school was (Roland) ‘Smokey' Cinciarelli, who was the basketball coach at St. John my first three years there before he got called for the Marine Reserves," Roskovics recalled. "He got me involved as the manager for football, basketball and track."
Another figure opened the vista of coaching to Roskovics.
"Don Cannell got me interested in wanting to be a coach," he said. "There's no better guy than Don Cannell."
Those matters were put on hold a bit when Roskovics went to Kent State. But no doubt he had the chance to discuss the intricacies of the game in college with his roommate, Goodwin, the future Edgewood coach and athletic director.
"I talked a lot with Al about the game," Roskovics acknowledged. "I took a lot of my philosophies from Al."
Returning to Ashtabula for his first teaching job at Harbor, Roskovics was also fortunate to have another basketball authority as a resource, Mariner boys basketball coach Ed Armstrong. He picked Armstrong's brain often before taking the job in 1977-78. As his career unfolded, he found Armstrong to be a valuable ally as well.
"I talked with Ed a lot," Roskovics said. "He's forgotten more basketball than I could ever remember."
When his coaching opportunity came, he got a double dose of it.
"Jennifer Lautanen was the volleyball coach and resigned to have a baby," he said. "I knew nothing about volleyball, so I went to the library to get some books on it and read them. I told the girls for volleyball I didn't know much about the sport. Fortunately, I had girls like (recently retired Jefferson coach) Jeanine Bartlett, Sue Pokelsek, Rita Wagner and Lori Davis."
Hooping it up
The circumstances were similar for basketball, although the knowledge was a bit more advanced.
"Crena Baker had been the basketball coach and resigned at the same time as (Lautanen)," Roskovics said. "My first year, I'd had several of the girls in class and they asked me to come see their games. Once I saw that, I wanted the chance to coach when I got the opportunity."
Once at the helm of the Mariner ship, he was hooked.
"I'm the kind of person that once I get into something, I commit to it," Roskovics said.
He was fortunate in three ways — having the same basic cast of players from the volleyball team, a faithful partner in future athletic director Dik Pavolino, who was his JV coach for seven of his eight years before his brother John took the last year, and a flexible and supportive boys counterpart in Armstrong.
"The girls and I sort of grew together," Roskovics said. "Pavo and I had a lot of fun with it. The fact Ed was the boys coach really worked out, too, because I got so much cooperation from him with practice times and everything."
The knowledge he gained from his mentors came in handy.
"Offensively, I lot of the things I used were from (Goodwin)," Roskovics acknowledged. "At first, we ran a pattern offense and would fast break when we could. But I had good rebounders like (Pokelsek), Roberta Cevera and Kami Brindley and we developed more of a running style."
"Defensively, I mostly used what I learned from (Armstrong). At first, we started in a zone, but in the second year he introduced me to the amoeba defense, a variation of a 1-3-1 zone that he'd learned at a clinic. Sometimes we'd vary it to a 2-1-2, but the girls really loved to play it because we got a lot of steals off it. Then, in the early '80s, we started pressing quite a bit."
And, after the foundational base of his first group, Roskovics was blessed around 1980 with the arrival of Cevera, Chris Fitting, Brindley, Denise Bradley and Sonia Sargent.
Throughout his career, Roskovics' teams had to deal with playing with the larger boys' ball and no three-point line. He wonders what his teams, and their rivals, could have done with those elements.
"The smaller ball definitely would have helped the ballhandlers," he said. "The three-point line would definitely have helped a player like Chris Fitting. Yes, I would have liked to coach with those options."
Some adjustments had to be made otherwise.
"Maybe the toughest part was getting used to learning a different way of expressing myself (when explaining things) to the girls," he noted.
There were also issues to surmount about the viability of the girls game. A couple things helped, although it was never easy.
"Yeah, I sort of think we were pioneers," Roskovics said. "We had to do a lot of fundraisers to get money for things like warmups and stuff.
"I think one of the big things was the first Star Beacon all-star game (now the Star Beacon Senior All-Star Classic). Sally Toukonen and I approached (then sports editor) Darrell Lowe about starting it (in 1979) and, fortunately, he was open to it. I think the kids around here still really look forward to that game."
The personal highlight to Roskovics' basketball coaching career came in 1983.
"It was when we beat Ashtabula at the PV sectional," he said. "That was Davis' senior year and they had beaten us twice during the regular season, the last time, 70-67. They were the No. 1 seed and we ended up meeting in the first round. We beat them, 70-67."
Other matters of pride also exist.
"I was proud that we were always very competitive and that we had one of the more consistent programs around," Roskovics stated. "I feel good about the relationships I had with the girls and my fellow coaches.
"Sue's 39-rebound game (still a state record) was a big thing, but I also remember the last game of her career in the tournament against Lakeview. We were way down at halftime, but she came back and ended up with 35 points and we almost came back to beat them."
A few regrets
Roskovics exit from basketball coaching is "definitely the biggest regret of my whole career in education.
"Eight years of coaching back-to-back seasons had begun to take its toll," he said. "There were a lot of outside forces involved and I felt I was doing a lot of things for the wrong reasons. I went on a cruise that summer and came back all excited again, but by then it was too late. They had filled the positions.
"In hindsight, maybe I should have given up volleyball and just done basketball, but I made a hasty decision. I sort of cut off my nose to spite my face."
The struggles girls players of his era had to go through also bother him.
"I wish those girls had the opportunities the girls today have," Roskovics stated. "I think they had to prove they could play the game. Poor (Pokelsek) had to try out at Bowling Green to earn her scholarship. Now, they have opportunities like team camps, which never used to exist.
"There was a different attitude toward female athletes back then. They had to struggle to get recognition."
That's why he became the driving force behind the Ashtabula County Women's Scholar-Athlete Association after his second retirement from volleyball coaching. He continues his crusading efforts as ACWSAA president.
"I like to see the kids involved in as many things as they can be," he said. "The scholar-athletes that we have among the girls still amaze me, how so many can play three sports and still maintain a 4.0 grade-point average. But I think female athletes achieve more because they are still expected to do more.
"That's why I like how the (Chagrin Valley Conference) handles its scheduling, alternating girls and boys games on prime nights and playing the games at night. I would like to see athletic directors for girls sports, too."
A bachelor, Roskovics has another reason for his commitment.
"(My former players) are my family," he said. "And it wasn't just about the Harbor kids. I enjoy watching when two county teams play each other and can be impartial, but when it's a county team against a team from somewhere else, you know who I'm rooting for.
"I always appreciate when someone comes up to me and says thank you because it means a lot. I enjoy watching the girls' kids grow up, too."
Otherwise, Roskovics wouldn't change anything. Well, maybe one thing.
"I wouldn't change the timing of when I coached, although if I could be 35 again, I'd love to get back into it," he said.