Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation

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Frank Zeman

Frank Zeman was a scoring machine
at Deming High a half-century ago

By CHRIS LARICK
Staff Writer

Little New Lyme Deming High School already had a good basketball team when Richie Scribben started his sophomore year in the 1951-1952 season.  Then, Frank Zeman's family moved from Jefferson to Deming, and the Rangers took off.

With Scribben playing the role of Mr.  Outside and Zeman that of Mr.  Inside, Deming played a style of the game that came to be known as "fire-engine basketball" under coach Ray Rathbun, who brought his running and stunning ways with him from Rhode Island, and, later Russell Bethel, the superintendent who replaced Rathbun when he left.

During their careers with the Rangers, Zeman and Scribben combined for 2,546 points, with Zeman accounting for 1,338 of them, the fourth-highest total in Ashtabula County history.  Both will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Sunday at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.

"It's been 50 years, you know," Zeman said.  "It's been a long time coming," he added, apparently unaware that this is just the third year of the ACBF's existence.

"I don't know how to take it.  It's something that should happen to everybody.  I'm thankful for it."

While Scribben had four years to accumulate his totals, Zeman scored all of his points in three years.  In one year alone — 1952-53 — Zeman led the county in scoring with 267 points in 10 league games, a 26.7 average.

The Deming duo, though they were unaware of it, were 1-2 in the county in career scoring when they graduated.  Zeman is still fourth on the all-time scoring list, with Scribben ranking 10th.

Though Zeman and Scribben were about the same size, 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-11⁄2, Zeman they were both a handful for opponents.

"Nobody was any taller," Zeman, now 68 years old, said.  "The biggest kid in the county was Ray Reed from Kingsville, about 6-5.

"We averaged 88 points a game.  We ran and ran.  We were in good shape.  We were a real small school, but we did real well."

Though 50 years have passed since they graduated, Zeman and Scribben remain close friends.  Scribben is even Frank III's godfather.

"He was great, fast and could really jump," Zeman said of Scribben.  "He usually jumped center for us.  He was about as tall as I was, 6-1, 170 or 180 (pounds)."

Playing in the Buckeye League, a conference consisting additionally of Pierpont, Dorset, Williamsfield, Rock Creek and Orwell, all small high schools at the time, Deming dominated.  Right now Deming would be part of the Pymatuning Valley school district.

"For two years, we never lost a game in league play," Zeman said.  "The third year, Orwell beat us in overtime."

Deming, located in New Lyme, was too small a school to offer football, but the Rangers both played baseball and ran track and Zeman and Scribben were excellent at both those sports, too.

"I played first base," Zeman said.  "We had a pretty good baseball team.  We got beat in the tournament by Kingsville, 2-1.  Terry Bowdler, boy, he was the best pitcher around.  I got a home run off him."

In basketball, Zeman once scored 43 points against Williamsfield.  He also scored 39 points against Rock Creek one year while playing just three quarters.

"We scored over 100 that game," he said.  "We just did it by running.  If I didn't score, I'd get the rebound and Scribben would.  We didn't have that many easy baskets.  I was a good foul shooter, probably 80-90 percent."

During the 1953-54 regular season, at one point the Rangers were 15-0 and had scored 1,468 points (to the opposition's) 879, an average of 97.9 points per game to 58.6.  That number included a 115-27 demolition of Rock Creek.

When he graduated from Deming, the 220-pound Zeman had a football scholarship at Kent State promised, though he had played football only as a freshman, at Jefferson.  Notre Dame was also interested in him for football.

"What really happened is I (visited) Notre Dame for three days and was really interested," Zeman said.  "People told me the coach was really interested in me.  I was the only freshman to ever play first-string football for Jefferson.

"After three days at Notre Dame, they said if my father moved to Warren Harding High, they'd set him up with a job at Republic Steel.  My father said he wouldn't move."

Before Zeman could sign to play for Kent State, he broke his leg playing baseball against Williamsfield.

"During the game, I got a double and stole third.  I was stealing home and slid and broke my leg.  They took me to the Conneaut hospital from Williamsfield.  That screwed up my year in football at Kent State."

Zeman was also offered a tryout by the St.  Louis Browns (baseball) around 1952, his sophomore year at Deming, but didn't take the Browns up on the offer.

Eventually, in January 1955, Zeman entered the Army and was assigned to be a guard on the border patrol on the borderline of East Germany and West Germany, around Nuremburg.  In Germany, Zeman played tackle for the U.S.  Third Armored Cavalry for about four years.

Zeman had four children by his first wife, Sonya — John, Pam, Michael and Michelle, and another by his second wife, Patricia — Frank III.

"I drove a beer truck (Strohs beer, for Condon Brothers) for 31 years," Zeman said of his working career.

These days Zeman doesn't participate in sports, at least only vicariously, though he does watch his grandson Jared's Little League games.

"I watch a lot of sports on TV," Zeman said.  "I've watched basketball every day for the last couple of weeks (during March Madness).  I love college ball.  There's a lot of pressure in some of those games."