Greatness rubbed off on Hood
By KARL PEARSON
Few people have been as connected to greatness on the Ashtabula County sports scene as Jim Hood.
His life is a litany of work with people of towering stature, from the time he played junior high basketball at West Junior High School right down to the present. That was true on a three-sport basis for the Ashtabula Panthers.
Look at the list of names of people for whom Hood either played or worked with in the coaching realm. Tony Chiacchiero and Wash Lyons are just a few.
The list of persons with whom Hood has been associated in the sport which he said he truly loves - basketball - is the one that is really impressive. In junior high, he played for Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Famer Ange Candela. In high school, he played for Hall of Famers Gene Gephart and Bob Walters.
He played with other standout athletes like Al Benton, Dan Craft, Pete Jepson, Bill Kaydo, Eugene Miller and Larry Wells. In his three-year varsity career, which ended in 1971, he played against great opponents like Harbor's Bob Millberg, Geneva's Randy Knowles and Mike Blauman, Conneaut's Scott Humphrey, Jeff Puffer and Al Razem, Jefferson's Larry Crowell and Pymatuning Valley's Craig Readshaw.
Even during a brief collegiate career at Youngstown State University, he was associated with legendary Penguin coach Dom Roselli. Then he came home to coach with Walters, through John Higgins, back to Walters, on to Hall of Famer Andrew Isco and finally to Tim Tallbacka.
The 55-year-old Hood readily admits he has been blessed by his associations in sports. But, although he left Ashtabula High School as it's career scoring leader with 937 points, and retained that status for many years, Hood never thought about being in the company of such luminaries until he got the call that he has been chosen as a part of the 2007 Hall of Fame class for the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation. He will be inducted in ceremonies April 1 at 6 p.m. at the ACBF's annual awards banquet at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
"That was all those years ago, and I thought everybody needed to score at least 1,000 points to be considered," he said. "In my era, getting 1,000 points wasn't that big a thing. It was just about getting the wins.
"It was so hard to get 1,000 points because there was no 3-point line. The rivalries were so intense that if you didn't play team ball, you didn't win."
What isn't stated is that Hood is one of rare breed of players to earn first-team Star Beacon Ashtabula County honors for three years. When he graduated in 1971, he was believed to be the only player ever to have achieved that distinction. Even today, Hood would be be in pretty select company.
Having his name connected again to some of his old coaches and coaching colleagues is a point of great pride to Hood.
"It's quite an honor to be associated with the best," he said. "It's kind of interesting to be with those men when you consider someone like Bob Walters was my coach and then gave me my first coaching job. It's kind of come full circle for me.
"My life has been connected with Hall of Famers. I've been very fortunate in my associations."
That applies almost from the time he was in elementary school, first at the old West Avenue Elementary School, which is no longer utilized, then at what was known as Station Avenue Elementary and is now called Thurgood Marshall Elementary.
"Mr. (Bob) Russo was my gym teacher," Hood said. "He taught me how to shoot my first layup. I see kids today trying to do the same thing, which is stop at the foul line and take the shot. He taught me to keep driving in to use the backboard.
Growing up on West 41st Street, Hood and other youngsters like Jim Gilbert, whom he succeeded as Ashabula's career scoring leader in 1971, Eugene Jones, Jim Smith and Wells started a tradition of playing together every chance they got.
"We played at a place on Alfred Drive that we called the Dust Bowl," he said. "All it had was a hoop and a clay court. Every time the wind blew, it would kick up the dust."
As years went by, that group would include boys like Craft, Jepson and Paul Kelly.
"We used to go anywhere in the summer to play," Hood said. "We'd drive to Cleveland, Erie, anywhere to play."
Those early lessons instilled a lifelong love of the game in Hood, even though he was also a standout in football at a variety of positions, including fullback, defensive end, safety and even quarterback for the teams coached by Chiacchiero and Gephart. He was also a fine discus thrower, shotputter and relay runner for Lyons' track squads.
"I just loved (basketball)," he said. "I always tried to give it my all. Basketball was the sport I loved best."
He was willing to put in the time to hone his game.