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Joe Shantz

He loved Andover

Fifth of a series...

By KARL PEARSON
Staff Writer

Joe Shantz can definitely identify with the adage, "The grass is always greener on the other side."

For five seasons, Shantz was the toast of Andover and the small communities around it that made up the consolidated Pymatuning Valley Local School district for the things he accomplished with the Laker boys basketball team. In that time, he took over a group of boys who were just in the beginning stages of getting acquainted with each other from small high schools like Williamsfield, Richmond and Pierpont and molded them into a terrific program.

In just his second season at PV, Shantz powered the 1961-62 Lakers to a 22-2 record and a berth in the Class B regional semifinals before they lost to Berlin Hiland at Canton Fieldhouse. It was only the eighth team in Ashtabula County basketball history to reach that level.

As it turned out, only six other county boys teams have reached the regional tournament since. No PV teams in the years after that until this year's team, coached by Jeremy Huber, were able to top that, or equal it, for that matter.

That wasn't the last of the fine teams Shantz had at PV after that. In fact, he had three quite respectable teams after that high-water mark.

But human nature hit Shantz, at that time just 34 years old, and he decided he wanted to test him self at bigger schools that presented more challenges. So he moved off after the 1964-65 school year to Warren, Pa., oddly enough to a team that those 1961-62 Lakers had beaten on its path to glory.

He never quite caught the magic he had at PV again. It didn't happen in his venture into Pennsylvania basketball, nor in a later stop in the 1970s at Liberty High School in the Youngstown area. After a stint there, he dropped out of basketball coaching and never went back.

The 77-year-old Shantz was on hand at Canton Fieldhouse during the joy ride Huber's Lakers took the community on during its run to the Division III regional championship game. Although he still lives on his 10-acre lot in Farmdale, he admitted he followed PV with interest. No doubt, as the scene unfolded again at Canton Fieldhouse, his thoughts roamed back to those glory days in Andover.

He also freely acknowledged, that in the clear view of hindsight, his decision to leave PV was a very poor one.

"Oh man, I was dumb," Shantz said emphatically. "Looking at it now, I had it made at PV. That was a dark spot in my life."

It was a bad decision for his entire family, including his late wife, Sylvia, whom he lost after 46 years of marriage in 2005, and their four children, Scott, David, Sherrie and Connie.

"We loved it in Andover," Shantz said. "All four of our children were born while we lived there.

"We lived right across the street (from what is now PV Primary School). We had a nice home, I think we were well-liked and we loved all the people. (Leaving) was just a bad choice. I have no qualms about saying that."

The folks at PV have not forgotten Shantz, either. He is still considered something of an iconic figure, especially by people like the leader of that 1961-62 team, Bob Hitchcock, who would eventually follow him as coach. Shantz and the members of his great team received quite a reception on Dec. 21, 2007 with Hitchcock's 22-1 team from 1987-88 and the 2007-08 team when they were saluted in a big celebration at the school.

"My coach at PV my freshman and sophomore years was Glenn Niday, but when Coach Shantz came in, we had to prove ourselves to him," Hitchcock said. "I think there was a pretty seamless transition from Coach Niday to Coach Shantz.

"I believe he was a player's coach. He wanted us to be classy, disciplined and well behaved, and I think we were. That's had even more impact on me as the years have passed."

Now, Shantz is being recognized on an even grander stage, joining Hitchcock and another star player, Paul Freeman, in the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. That will occur April 6 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.

Shantz still hasn't fully digested that distinction.

"When I originally heard about it, I didn't believe it," he said. "Those things were so long ago. This is such an honor."

A statement he heard long ago has new meaning to Shantz now.

"I was told, ‘You play real hard for 40 minutes for memories 40 years later,'" he said. "The impact has grown with the passing years. When I stop to think about it, they had so much trust in a pretty green coach all those years ago, I think it's all pretty amazing."

The early years

Shantz was born in Pittsburgh, but he and his family moved to the Cleveland area when he was only 2, eventually winding up in Parma. He graduated from Parma Senior High in 1948.

"I loved sports, but I wasn't much of an athlete," he said. "I basically sat in basketball."

But a summer job convinced him that was not the life, either.

"My father got me a job in the steel mills one summer," Shantz said. "I knew pretty quickly I didn't want to be in industry."

So he headed off to Ohio State University, not entirely sure what he wanted to do there, either. A couple circumstances gave him direction.

"I had a roommate who was an education major who talked me into trying it," Shantz said. "Then, when I thought about it more, I realized it would be a way for me to get into coaching, too. That really appealed to me.

"While I was there, I took a football coaching class with Woody Hayes. It was really something. I knew I wasn't going to be a football coach, but I asked a lot of questions. He always said if you had a question, ask it, and he'd always answer it. He was a great teacher."

In 1953, Shantz graduated from Ohio State with a degree in elementary and secondary physical education. He landed a job in the now-defunct Iberia school system in the Galion and Mount Gilead area. While he was there, he met his wife.

"She was from Michigan, and I was actually up at Michigan State working on my masters degree when we met," Shantz said. "She was a teacher, too, and was studying there at the time."

Eventually, they married and moved to an apartment near the schools where Shantz taught. They stayed three more years, but they both grew restless.

"Sylvia had grown up near Lake Michigan and she really loved the water," he said. "Finally, she asked if we could find somewhere where we could live near a lake. I looked on the Ohio map and saw there was a lake in Trumbull County (Mosquito) and in Ashtabula County (Pymatuning).

"I contacted George Morar, the Trumbull County superintendent, and he got me in touch with Bill Searcy, who was the superintendent of Ashtabula County schools. He forwarded my information to Bill Porter, who was the superintendent at PV, and he invited me up for an interview."

Shantz must have made an interesting impression.

"I had a friend who owned a junkyard and he offered to fix up a Cadillac for me for $500, so I bought it and drove up to Andover," he said. "I pulled into the yard at Bill Porter's house and he said, ‘I'm not sure we can afford you because people in Ashtabula County don't drive Cadillacs.' Of course, he was only kidding."

At PV

Andover proved just the place for the Shantzes, who soon started building their family. Other than being near the lake, he found the students at PV much like his first posting at Iberia.

"I taught phys ed and a lot of history, which was my minor in college," Shantz said. "Eventually, I also taught a lot of driver's ed. I was also hired to coach basketball and baseball.

"My first year (1960-61) was Bob Hitchcock's junior year and Paul Freeman's sophomore year. I found out I had a lot of the same type of kids I'd had at Iberia. I had kids who lived 15 miles away in New Lyme and sometimes I wondered how they got back and forth to practice, but they did."

It was a period of adjustment for the young Lakers, too, but Shantz didn't change things too drastically from the system Niday had put in place.

"We still played tough man-to-man defense and we'd take the break whenever we could get it," Hitchcock said. "The system Coach Shantz put in worked well. I think the kids were pretty receptive to his ideas."

Shantz said his coaching philosophy was derived from a variety of sources.

"When I was at Michigan State studying, I took a lot from Freddy Anderson," he said. "But I really tried to learn from everybody. I think everybody has something they can show you.

"I believed in pressing, man-to-man defense and running the fast break. We tried to make the other team play too fast. Defensively, I wanted the defender to get in the other guy's shirt and stay there."

As much of an impression as Freeman and Bob Hitchcock made, the latter's brother, Gordie, caught several people's eye for his leaping ability and tough inside play.

"I remember when we played Hiland in the regional, their superintendent came in raving about Gordie," Shantz said. "They had a big (6-foot-5) center named Andy Ahijevych who ended up going to Ohio State, but Gordie played right with him."

It all made for quite a combination with Roy Brown and Richard "Butch" Woodin, the other starters, and key reserves like Royce Adley, Rollin Spellman and the late Danny Paul and Jerry Horton.

The best thing about his PV teams was the chemistry.

"They all worked so hard," he said. "Bob was a kid who couldn't run and couldn't jump, yet he'd end up leading the break and was our second-leading rebounder. Paul was a great shooter."

Shantz knew he had a special team in the 1961-62 season when the Lakers traveled to Warren, Pa. for a game. It even surprised him a little.

"We stayed overnight for that game, with one of our kids staying with the family of one of their kids," he said. "We practiced over there on Friday before the game and Bob sprained his ankle and didn't even dress for the game the next night.

"Before the game, I wasn't sure how we'd do, so I just told them to go out and have fun. Those kids went out and beat Warren. After the game, they came in razzing me about, ‘Do you think we had fun?'"

More successful seasons followed that special one. Perhaps, Shantz admits, it convinced him he was ready for the big time.

"I guess I thought I was a pretty good coach," he said.

Moving on

That led him to accept the offer from the folks at Warren, Pa. to coach there.

"Their boosters came to me with an offer and they talked me into it," Shantz said about heading there after the 1964-65 season.

But his teams there never caught fire. In five years at Warren, it just didn't work.

"We didn't win there," Shantz said. "I had an assistant coach there that kind of had it in for me, too. And after a while, I wanted to get back to Ohio."

George Morar provided the opportunity at Liberty to succeed Pete Prokop, a coach with a fine reputation at that school. It was a tough act to follow.

"Pete had developed quite a winning tradition there," Shantz said. "I was not as successful. After five years, I got canned."

Shantz left teaching briefly after that, but was soon back in education, again thanks to Morar and Searcy.

"I managed a gas station for a year," he said. "Then I got an offer to get back into teaching. The state had started a program of teaching school bus drivers. George Morar and Bill Searcy got together and set it up so I taught drivers in a seven-county area, including Ashtabula, Lake, Geauga and Trumbull counties. I did that for the next 12 years until I retired in 1990."

During that period, he and Sylvia bought their acreage in Farmdale in 1978 and built their home there. With her passing, it has become a bit of a lonely existence.

"We each had a tractor and we kind of ran around the property with them," Shantz said. "It's not as much fun doing it alone."

All of his children graduated from Maplewood High School. Three of them and three grandchildren live in Florida, while one still resides in Euclid.

The old fires started to burn again this year when PV athletic director Ross Boggs, whose younger brother, Bob, played for Shantz, invited him to attend some of the PV games.

"I got a chance to relive some old glories," Shantz said. "I really enjoyed it."

Shantz said basketball still contains great truths for all generations.

"Where else can you learn teamwork and how to sacrifice?" he said. "What's taught in basketball turns out to be a part of life. I hope the things kids develop from athletics carry over into the lives."