By CHRIS LARICK
Gene Gephart remains one of the best-known names in athletics ever in Ashtabula County.
Though Gene, a member of the first class in the Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame, passed away a few years ago, the way he influenced the game of basketball in this county continues to pop up.
On Apr. 7, when Jordan Cuddy (Geneva Class of 2003) will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame, few in the crowd will be aware of Gephart’s influence on Cuddy’s life.
It’s sort of like the nursery rhyme "The House that Jack Built." Had Cuddy not had a good relationship with Gephart, he wouldn’t have recommended his college alma mater, Depauw University in Greencastle IN, to her.
Had he not done so, she would probably never have heard of the school, let alone attend it.
Had she not gone there, she probably would not now have the acclaimed career she does. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Cuddy’s earliest memories of basketball came while attending her dad's pickup games at Geneva Elementary in addition to the practices her father coached in several sports.
“I loved being in the gym or on the field,” Cuddy said. "I loved just watching.”
It wasn’t long until she started playing sports herself, mainly basketball. Her father put a hoop in the family driveway and there was no stopping Jordan.
"I would open up the back door of our van and blast some music and shoot for hours, begging my brother, Aaron, or dad to play with me,” Cuddy said. "When the seasons changed, we’d play Nerf basketball inside. My parents added on a great-room with high ceilings and we would play this Nerf basketball game we called 'Jungle Ball’ with our neighbor (Pat Stocker) …we all had bumps and bruises and rug burns from playing for hours.”
From there it was on to the YMCA for organized basketball. The ‘Y’ had co-ed teams at first. When enough girls showed up to have a girls league, Cuddy, Kim Rihn (Ashtabula) and Kara Kreiser (Edgewood) stayed in the boys league, playing there through the sixth grade.
Meanwhile, Jordan was also playing in the intramurals league her dad coached at ACES (Ashtabula Catholic Elementary School) for fourth to sixth graders, something she had been doing since the second grade.
“Initially it was intimidating playing with the older girls,” Cuddy said. "But playing against older girls and sometimes boys advanced my growth. That was a lot of fun.”
By the time she was in the seventh grade at St. John, Cuddy was playing four quarters for the seventh-grade team and one for the eighth-graders.
"Then my dad, who was my coach at the time, got an ‘anonymous' letter (though we are pretty sure we know who sent it) that someone was counting my quarters,” Cuddy said. " I remember my dad kept quite an accurate count so I wouldn’t have to sit out quarters toward the end."
Cuddy played her junior high school years at St. John, at the time coached by her dad and Tony Silva, a family friend and basically, an uncle to Jordan.
“I had some really great coaches in a lot of the sports I played,” she said, though she remembers a time she didn’t appreciate them.
"I knew (my father and Tony Silva) quite well, and I was a grumpy teenager,” Cuddy said. "You could say we had our fair share of blow-ups, and I did my fair share of sprints. Our team at St. John in seventh and eighth grade only had eight of us on the team. I remember one particular practice in which my attitude wasn’t so great. I was probably frustrated with my play that day. And back in seventh and eighth grade, teams were starting to run box-and-one defenses on me, which was often emulated at practice. Anyway, I got frustrated and I’m sure I threw the ball and my dad and I got into it. And Tony and my dad kicked me out of practice — well, sent me to the bleachers.”
At St. John, Cuddy played with teammates Kelly Tinney (who will also be inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame on Apr. 7), Aimee Lennon, Jordan Giangola, Jenna Sharkey, Caitlyn Mackey, Heather Wallace and Randi Bates.
Though she played at St. John in junior high school, Cuddy had her eye on playing at Geneva in high school.
There she joined a quality group that included ACBF Hall of Fame Rhea DeJesus at point guard, Heidi Dragon, at guard, Alisha Sturkie and Kaysha Coy at forwards and Shelley and Melissa Vandervort at guards. Emily Gerkin (point guard), Alexis Koravich (guard) and Amy Case (forward) came on her last two years. Cuddy, who stood 5-foot-7, played shooting guard.
The Eagles were coached by recently-retired Nancy Barbo, headed for the ACBF Hall of Fame when she is eligible.
"Coach Barbo was always and still is really impressive,” Cuddy said. "I loved that she played college ball. Being in proximity to someone who played on the level I wanted to play on was really inspirational. The fact that she was a woman coaching amongst many men, changed the landscape in a positive way and showed us all a great example of what’s possible. She was tough on us, too. She conditioned us beyond belief, which really instilled a different level of mental toughness. And because we were so conditioned we played good defense and we had legs in the fourth quarter. That conditioning helped us when the ball wasn’t going in the basket. Coach also made the sport fun. Drills were always changing, we had competition within practice — she really found a way to give everything meaning.
"When I was playing in the Koval Classic in the eighth grade, the tournament was hosted at Geneva High School. And of course, Coach Barbo was there. I knew I wanted to attend Geneva High School the following year, and I knew exactly who Coach Barbo was. I remember thinking about that game as though she was scouting me, and I really wanted to impress her. I wanted her to want me on her team as much as I wanted to be on her team. There was definitely a moment where we had an encounter in the gym placing balls back on the rack. It was after we beat Geneva and prior to the Madison game. She told me 'good luck' and I will never forget that. I was ecstatic! “
After Cuddy’s freshman year at Geneva, the Eagles were moved up to Division I, making their tournament task difficult.
“We often (drew) Mentor in the first round,” Cuddy said. “We were up against some really great talent that went on to play in college. I believe we won the NEC my junior and senior years.”
Among the games Cuddy recalls well is an eighth-grade contest, pitting the Heralds against much-larger Madison, in the Koval Classic, a county tournament at the time.
“A tiny team with eight or so players vs. a class of over 100 girls,” she said. "We won in grand fashion and it was at Geneva High School and the stands were filled to the brim. It was just a lot of fun and very emotionally charged.
"I believe that Madison had not lost a game as a seventh-grade or eighth-grade team. They were very talented, had good coaching and their primary players also played on a travel team together in the summer. We were a very large underdog.
"The game started pretty much as most expected. Madison jumped on us and it was 8 or 9 to zip before we knew it. We were totally shaken. My dad and Mr. Silva called timeout and sat us down.
"I remember it was a very calm discussion. They reminded us how far we had come in two years to get there. This is the frosting on the cake, they said. ‘Go out and have some fun.’ Actually, we kind of relaxed and on the next possession I think I hit a three and things started to become fun. By half-time we had made it a game. And in the fourth quarter the game was extremely tight. Nobody in the stands could believe it. Could this band of eight actually hand Madison its first loss in two years? After some very tense fourth-quarter moments, some terrific play by our bench and awesome team play, the final buzzer went off. We had won! And that was the last basketball game my father and I participated in as coach and player. Not a bad way to go out."
Of the high school games, two stand out in her memory, the first a Geneva vs. Edgewood contest.
“The second game of my high school career,” Cuddy said. "We won and I had 31 points including seven three-pointers which I believe could still be a tied record today.”
Then there was the Jefferson game her sophomore year.
“We beat them, and though we didn’t win a title, we sort of changed it so both Conneaut and Jefferson won the NEC, not Jefferson alone. I believe that evening we all went to see Conneaut play and the team shouted ‘Thank you’ in unison to us.
Cuddy became the third-leading scorer in Geneva history (to Rhea DeJesus and Anita Tersigni) with 1,305 points when she graduated. All three have since been surpassed by Lindsay Mayle.
She was a four-year letter winner in basketball, volleyball and softball, something she is incredibly proud of.
"I don’t know if I would have ended up doing that if Kristen Clunk didn’t break her finger my freshmen year during volleyball season,” Cuddy said. "But she did. And that meant they had a gap at middle front. I’m only about 5’7” (on a really good day). Fortunately, I was athletic enough to seek out the role and get it. I ended up playing middle front AND middle back for years. I had a helluva time playing volleyball, though my knees are still paying for that one.
"I also played softball (center field) for four years for Geneva. For a couple of years (junior and senior years) we were actually pretty good. It was all about the pitching. Keep in mind I am in a class with Adrianne Tuttle (Conneaut) Melissa Bovee (Edgewood), and Claire Martin (Jefferson). It was tough to hit off those pitchers."
The awards rolled in for Cuddy: basketball: first-team all-county for four years and Player of the Year her senior year, MVP for Geneva her senior season, first Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s (girls) POY her senior year and was all-district and all-state in some capacity all four years. In volleyball and softball she was second-team all-county her freshman year, then first team her last three years. Not surprisingly, she was selected as the DJ Caton female athlete of the year as a senior. A Star Beacon Scholar Athlete from her sophomore year on, she was selected the Winter Scholar Athlete of the Year as a senior.
In addition to playing for high school teams, Cuddy played many sports in the summer — AAU basketball and ASA/NSA softball. When she was 12 she recalls playing with the Valley Sting, a softball team out of Poland, Ohio, that also included players like Emily Baskin (Conneaut), Pam Dreslinski (Edgewood, who will also join the ACBF Hall of Fame this year), Lisa Steadman (Edgewood) and Melissa Bovee (Edgewood) and was coached by Reid Lamport, Jim Baskin and the late Scotty Raybuck.
"I gotta say, Ashtabula County really showed up on this team,” she said. "I think we won almost 80 games that summer, and only lost 4. It was unreal."
The Sting claimed a national championship that year, coming out of the loser’s bracket.
"Winning a national championship is an unbelievable feeling,” Cuddy said. "That team might have been the best team I ever played on: from no drama to talent to hard work to accountability and discipline to FUN. It was special."
She also played AAU Basketball for The Vipers, at times having to play both sports in the same day.
As her high-school career ended, she drew attention from colleges, getting looks from Ivy League schools like Cornell and Yale, who wanted her to walk on. Bucknell, Case Western Reserve, St. John Fisher, Hiram and Wittenberg also expressed interest and came to watch her play. With Gephart’s encouragement, she applied to Depauw University. She received academic scholarship help and made the team there, playing on the basketball team for two years, playing in 59 games with averages of 16.6 minutes while hitting 41.6 percent of her two-pointers and 44 percent of her three-point shots, averaging 6.9 points per game. And playing in the NCAA DIII Tournament, making it to the Sweet Sixteen her freshman year.
"I wanted to study abroad my junior year and our coach didn’t want me to leave the team as I remember,” Cuddy said. “It was either play or study abroad. I opted to step away from basketball at Depauw. I believe I still hold some top-ten statistics at Depauw University. After studying abroad in London, I came back to Depauw and became a student coach for the volleyball team.
She graduated with a liberal arts degree, majoring in creative writing with minors in religion and sociology.
Since then, she has parlayed her talents into success in a creative industry.
“I am stoked to have found success in a creative industry,” she said. “In my current role, I'm an Executive Producer for an experience and design agency, called Jam3. The company is headquartered in Toronto, and almost three years ago they asked me to join and lead their Los Angeles-based office. The LA office has since expanded to 10 people, and looking to be at 20 by 2020. By then, I'll be working toward becoming Managing Director. It's a ton of fun building that awesome innovative “thing” that joins people and technology for utility and/or an engaging experience. I've been a part of some really great projects that have garnered many awards, a real currency in my field. I've gone to movie premieres, traveled the world, and met some really smart and creative people. Some of my main clients include: adidas, Oculus, Disney, Pepsi and Fox TV."
Cuddy lives in a Los Angeles suburb.
"Home life is pretty simple,” she said. "My partner, Kathryn Fergerson (of pole vaulting fame in El Dorado Hills, CA), and I live together in Marina Del Rey, California with our pup, Ducky. We live on the water and love being outside, so we spend our time at the beach, and in the summer hanging on the patio, paddle boarding and kayaking and swimming. We are looking to start having kids in the next year.
"My family comes to the west coast quite often. My parents spend half of each year in Palm Desert, California. My brother (Aaron Cuddy), his wife (Elise Coneglio Cuddy) and their daughter (Harper Pearl) live in Akron, Ohio but come out to California a lot. It's fun because my brother is a big golfer, played in high school and college, so he will take us to some pretty exciting courses out here to play. And I've known his wife since we were in middle school, so it's a lot of fun continuing that friendship into adulthood.
"My parents were my coaches in a lot of respects. My mom (Molly) would wake me up at 5 a.m. on game days in high school and we’d go to the YMCA to shoot hoops for an hour before coming home and getting ready for school. This would also happen every Sunday. Or sometimes the evening before we would head over to Kent and try to use their gym for shooting. My dad gave me plenty of advice, too, and feedback on my game -- but only if I asked for it. They both had high of expectations for me — both in sports and academics. The biggest thing they instilled in me is the value of hard work. To this day hard work is the cornerstone of my character, and I think most people that know me professionally, would say the same thing. And it’s mainly because I’ve seen the benefit. The benefit doesn’t necessarily mean winning the game. The benefit for me, is confidence. And confidence then gets translated in actions and the byproduct is often winning. This cycle keeps propelling me forward. It’s a trait I hope to give to our kids someday.”
Cuddy’s parents have a condo on a golf course in Palm Desert that Jordan, who has taken up golf in the past five years, plays on year-round.
" I like to play most in the summers, albeit temperatures are in the 100’s because there aren't a ton of people on the course and I can play at my own pace and play multiple balls,” she said.
She has replaced playing basketball with running and has for the past 10 years run six miles in the morning five or six times a week. She has done a marathon and half-marathon, but now just dabbles in the five or 10 k’s to save wear-and-tear on her knees.
"Running has become an outlet for meditation, too,” she said. "By spending my morning running prior to work, I'm able to spend some time with myself, plan my day and set my intentions in the right
direction. Running has helped me well beyond the physical realm, making real impact on my mental well being, too.
Through it all, Jordan looks to the support of her family and appreciates everything that sport has given her in her life: unforgettable memories, an unshakeable work ethic, and an appreciation for time spent doing the things she loves.