Dolan's fire still burning
By KARL PEARSON
Note to area athletic directors: Looking for a head basketball coach with plenty of experience in building downtrodden programs into winners who still has a burning passion for the game?
There is an answer close at hand.
Jim Dolan is just waiting for an athletic director to give him a call. At 73, the fire in the belly still burns hoty, as it has for most of 50 years, to get back on the sidelines, turn a program around and make it a powerhouse as he has done at Crestwood, West Geauga, Madison, Brush and Berkshire high schools, Lakeland Community College and Lake Erie College. In that time, he has compiled more than 500 victories.
"Basketball is my life," he said. "I hope I've always been good for kids. I've always looked for opportunities to make situations better for everybody. I'm searching for that opportunity again.
"I'm only a phone call away. If the conditions are right, if we could do this as a family, I'd love to do it again. We like people. We're looking for something we can do together as a family."
"He's always happiest when he's coaching," his wife of 34 years, Mary Anne, said with a smile.
Basketball is the blood that courses through Dolan's veins, even though it has not always been necessarily good for his health. Over the years, he has had one heart bypass surgery and three angioplasties, but he says he has never felt better. He looks far less than his age.
"I'm feeling great," he said with a wry smile. "I'm still at 147 pounds."
That's probably just a few pounds more than when he was the player trying to carry out the orders of coach Cyril Barabas as a whirling dervish at point guard for Williamsfield High School from 1948-52. He was the first great player for the Cubs during that four-year period, then went on to even greater success with the Clinton Drugs team sponsored by Jefferson pharmacist Joe Clinton and eventually to Little All-American honors at Hiram College.
It is for those achievements, as much as anything, that Dolan is being inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame, where he will become the second Cub player in two years to be so honored, following in the footsteps of one who followed him, gigantic Harvey Hunt. Dolan will be one of 12 persons inducted Sunday at the ACBF's annual award banquet at 6 p.m. at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
"I had no idea such a thing existed until I was told, but I'm very honored to be included," he said. "I'm very pleased that people looked back and remembered me."
Learning he is joining old coaching rivals like Geneva's Bill Koval, Ashtabula's Bob Walters, Harbor's Andrew Isco and Edgewood's Jon Hall from his old Northeastern Conference days at Madison and Pymatuning Valley's Bob Hitchcock from their East Suburban Conference confrontations while he was at Berkshire also makes Dolan proud. All are members of the ACBF Hall of Fame.
"I didn't have the luxury of learning from great coaches when I was coming up," he said. "I got my training from the battles we had in the NEC with Bill Koval when we played Geneva, Bob Walters at Ashtabula and Ed Armstrong and Andy Isco at Harbor. I was very respectful of the job they did and I think they were of me."
Connections to great coaches began almost as soon as Dolan picked up a basketball from his uncle, Darl Dolan, who was an outstanding coach at Boardman High School. By the time he
was 4, he was dribbling the ball and shooting at a hoop on the barn of the family farm on Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road.
"I always had a ball around," he said. "My uncle helped me out. I got a lot of encouragement from George and Bob Riser, too."
Dolan wasn't the only coach among the children of James and Mildred Dolan. His older brother, Richard, was a coach at Chillicothe High School. His oldest sibling, Cleo, still survives, as well as Marge and his younger brother, David, who runs Scooter's Bar and Grill in Andover. Other children in the family were Theron, Ruth and Ronald, who taught at Grand Valley.
"We lived on a dairy farm," Dolan said. "We also raised hay. We used to play ball out around where the hay was kept."
He developed an effective two-handed set shot and became a deadly free throw shooter.
"John Toth helped me develop my shot," Dolan said. "When he taught me the set shot, I never used anything else. All I used to do was dribble and shoot."
Dolan had developed a pretty solid all-around game by the time he was in junior high. Barabas tapped into those skills almost immediately and also recognized his new arrival's leadership qualities and fiery competitive nature.
"I started as a freshman," Dolan said. "Just after the season started, the team captain was taken off the team and I was named the captain. I was the point guard and captain all four years."
Perhaps Dolan was given those roles because he fit Barabas' philosophies so well.
"He was a disciplinarian," Dolan said. "He emphasized passing the ball and team play. I learned from him that you have to coach according to your personnel."
Although the Cubs had a fine record throughout Dolan's career in a very tough Ashtabula County Class B League, they always found themselves finishing behind the Deming, which produced Hall of Famers Richard Scribben and Frank Zeman. Williamsfield was regularly matched up against teams from Pierpont, Rowe, Kingsville, Spencer and the like.