Our own Hall of Famer
Karl Pearson, the dean of Ashtabula County sports, may be the only one who doesn't understand why the ACBF has chosen him for induction
By CHRIS LARICK
Last of a series...
No one would have predicted a career in sports for Karl Pearson in his early years.
A cat on the basepaths, a gazelle on the courts, a cheetah on the track, a lion on the football field, a tiger on the golf course — Karl was none of these.
"It's bizarre to me, because I have no athletic ability," Pearson, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Sunday, said. "My parents were not involved in sports. I did have two uncles who got me interested in sports."
Aha, it's the two uncles who are responsible for Pearson's 40 years in sports, most of them as a sports writer for the Star Beacon. Well, there's more to it than that, of course.
During his junior year at Madison High School, Pearson became a statistician for the Blue Streak football, basketball and baseball teams. Joe Nunney, who coached the basketball team and baseball coaches George Opron and Mel Reed discovered Pearson's talents in accumulating statistics and reporting them to media outlets. It was a natural progression to manager of all three sports as a senior, while Pearson kept the duties as correspondent to the media.
Everything went smoothly. Well, almost everything.
"My first year for the basketball team, we played Thanksgiving Eve at West Geauga," Pearson remembers. "I called in the stuff. John Dorko set the West Geauga record of 38 points. While I was calling in the stats, the bus left.
"I got left in Chesterland on Thanksgiving Eve. My parents had to pick me up at the Chesterland Police Department at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Joe Nunney offered me a cowbell for the next time."
During that time, Pearson took on the duties of writing accounts for the Blue Streak, the Madison school newspaper. When he began college at Cleveland State after graduating from Madison in 1971, he continued his statistical duties on the weekends, after spending the week on campus.
"I'd call the box in," Pearson said. "Not everything we have now, just all of the scoring, the score by quarters and the final score. I did that for the Plain Dealer, the Cleveland Press, the Painesville Telegraph, the Willoughby News Herald, the Star Beacon and the Jefferson Gazette."
Since most of those newspapers paid their correspondents, it proved to be a pretty good deal for Pearson.
"It was a big part of helping finance my college education," Pearson said. "I'd make probably close to $20 a night calling in stats. Most teams then played Friday and Saturday nights, so there were often two games a week."
Pearson's efforts caught the eye of Jerry Masek, a classmate of Karl's at Madison who had become sports editor for the Geneva Free Press.
"Jerry was looking for somebody to cover Madison and Perry sports," Pearson said. "All I had to do was cover the games, get the information and write stories. I came home on weekends and did that."
At Cleveland State, Pearson majored in political science, a suggestion of one of his teachers, Earl Delp, who thought that might help prepare him for a career as a teacher or a possible step into law school.
But when Pearson graduated, he found there were fewer opportunities in the teaching field, particularly in social studies, the field in which he had done most of his studying. But there was a news writing opening at the Madison Press, a weekly tied to the Geneva Free Press and Star Beacon through the Rowley family, who owned all of the papers.
Attending civic meetings, Pearson found little relationship between the things he had studied and what actually happened when a group of citizens in a small town got together to solve problems.
"What I learned in political science had nothing to do with how local government works," Pearson said. "I enjoyed it, but I found that theory and reality did not match."
Though he had accepted the job as a news writer, Pearson made it clear to his bosses that if an opportunity arose to write sports at any of the Regional Press newspapers — at the Telegraph or Star Beacon in particular – he would like to be considered for it. In September, 1978, a sports position opened at the Star Beacon. Darrell Lowe, who had recently become sports editor, accepted Pearson into the fold.
Hired on Sept. 15, Pearson found himself in a football season that had already begun. His first week, he covered JoeKearney and Pymatuning Valley on Friday night and Jim Henson and Grand Valley on Saturday.
Lowe, Pearson and Bill Kurtz made up the sports staff at the Star Beacon at the time. Rick Malinowski and Chris Larick came over from Geneva to help cover football and basketball games on Friday and Saturday nights.
At the Star Beacon, Lowe was beginning with a new staff and he, with a lot of help from Pearson, made some changes. At Pearson's suggestion, he began covering girls' sports which had become officially sanctioned by the OHSAA just a few years earlier in the winter of 1975-76.
"Girls basketball was in its infancy," Pearson said. "Girls athletics started in 1975. I was interested in covering girls sports. I said, 'I'll take on as many girls sports as you want to give me.' I also did wrestling until (Mike) Scully came along."
Lowe also was responsible for beginning the Star Beacon boys and girls basketball games.
"We were probably the first in the area to do it," Pearson said. "We saw the level of basketball around here was deserving of it. We started the boys and girls games the same year, the 1978-79 season."
Lowe originally went to Harbor Principal Bill Clark and asked what it would take to run the game. Clark listed expenses for floor rental, officials, police and a few other things.
"It came up to significant bucks," Pearson said.
So Lowe, who was impressed with Ball Gymnasium as a facility, went to talk to Adam Holman, then the athletic director at Ashtabula High School.
"Adam said, 'Wonderful! As long as we have kids participating, you won't have to pay anything, just for police and maintenance people.' If not for Adam Holman, there might not have been an all-star game. God bless Adam Holman."
If Lowe was the one who dreamed up the Star Beacon Senior Classics, Pearson was the one who did most of the work involved in their execution. He did — and continues to do — most of the player and coach selection. But that was the mere tip of the iceberg.
"I won't lie, a lot of work goes into these games," Pearson said. "I inform them of practices, get uniforms, organize officials, get them food, call college coaches (to watch the players, looking for recruits).
"I'm always running around the day of the game. I announced the games for quite a few years. Now, Dave Simpson does it and does a fine job. Don (McCormack, the Star Beacon sports editor) takes me out of the writing of it. That helps."
KARL PEARSON (left) of the Star Beacon will enter the
Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on
But the effort Pearson makes is justified by the satisfaction he takes in the games themselves, he said.
"The organization is the work part of it. I love the game itself. There's nothing like the game. The organization can be overwhelming at times, but the event itself is wonderful."
The success of the Star Beacon senior all-star basketball game led to the development of similar games in other sports — in volleyball, baseball, softball, wrestling and track. Pearson organizes all of them.
"Wresting was probably the last (sport to get an all-star game)," he said. "That was done in recognition of Mike (Scully)," he said. "Wrestling coaches loved Mike (who died of cancer not long after leaving the Star Beacon) and they didn't have anything. We thought it was a great tribute to Mike and helped fund our scholarships."
Over the years Pearson, has organized hundreds of the Star Beacon senior all-star games. At most of them he has sung the "Star-Spangled Banner."
"I just took it upon myself," he said of his renditions of the national anthem. "People liked it well enough to ask me to do it. If people ask me, I will do it. I never impose myself on anyone." Over the years, Pearson has sung the anthem hundreds of times — at baseball games, football games, basketball games, Little League tournaments, etc.
For a period of years in the late '80s and early '90s, Pearson served as sports editor at the Star Beacon.
"I don't even remember how long it was," he said. "My (writing) duties didn't diminish a lot. I still got in my fair share of games.
"I don't miss being sports editor. It did tie me to the desk more than I liked. I like to be out there in the action.
"Don (McCormack) gives me a lot of freedom in what I do. In a lot of ways I'm almost an associate sports editor. He frees me up to do things. I'm exceedingly grateful to him for the opportunities he's given me, even before he became sports editor. I got to see Michael Jordan and talk to him. I covered the NBA All-Star Game (at tthen Gund Arena) and the baseball All-Star Game in 1997 at the Jake because of Don.
"Darrell Lowe made our coverage of the Browns possible, but I got to cover my fair share of Browns' games. I'm also grateful to Steve Goldman for the opportunities he opened up with the Indians. I got to cover some Indians games, including some in the ALCS (American League Championship Series)."
Then there have been the state tournaments Pearson has covered. According to his estimation, he's covered about 25 wrestling and track tourneys along with select cross country, baseball, volleyball and softball tournaments.
Sadly, no county basketball team has made the state tournament in Columbus since 1950, so Pearson can't list that among his credentials.
"My biggest desire — I've been rooting like crazy to see a team at Value City Arena in the state finals. Nowadays, with the way sports in Ohio stand, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to do that. Public schools from around here would have a difficult time getting there. Plus, we have an ever-shrinking population base."
There were times when Pearson felt the possibilty of an Ashtabula County basketball team making it to state was there.
"Rod (Holmes' Jefferson girls) team when Haley Kapferer was a sophomore would or could have been at state. Lake Catholic (which beat Jefferson) wound up going to the Final Four. PV's boys team might have been last year if they'd slowed the ball down against VASJ. I admire what Jeremy (Huber) has done this year. He lost Jeff (Meddock) and had the principal's job dumped on him."
Pearson has seen more than his share of great players in Ashtabula County during his tenure at the Star Beacon, including Andy Juhola at Harbor and Diane Davis at Ashtabula, both of them already in the ACBF Hall of Fame.
"People might think it bizarre, but the greatest player I've seen come out of county high schools is Andy Juhola. He got the quietest 20 points a game and double-doubles of anyone I've seen at any level. He's also a wonderful young man and still a great player who can hold his own against way younger players.
"Diane Davis was the best girls player due to the fact she was 5-2 yet is almost 500 points ahead of the best boys basketball players without the 3-point arc. She would have been above 2,000 points with it, with no one near here."
Pearson also admires the trio of Tony Lyons, Mike Pape and Dan Coxon of Conneaut's great teams under Kent Houston.
"They should be admitted (to the Hall of Fame) as a trio. They were all great scorers. What a group!"
Pearson also admires Jefferson's Anita Jurcenko, a member of the ACBF Hall of Fame herself, for her hustle, drive and intelligence.
"She's just a great kid," he said.
Though Pearson didn't get to see much of it, the Bob Walters' team of 1977-78 also stands out in his mind.
"It was a wonderful team, with Tom Hill, David Benton and Deora Marsh. One of the things I've thought about is that because I don't have kids myself, these kids are my kids. I love it when they succeed and it hurts when they don't."
Pearson also has had the opportunity to work with many county coaches, several of whom are memorable to him.
"(Coaching) is a tough industry," Pearson said. "When coaches first meet you, they don't know it they can trust you and you don't know if you can trust them. It's a somewhat adversarial relationship between the media and coaching. But the vast majority of them are not just coaches to me; they're friends."
Geneva boys coach Bill Koval is one coach that stands out in Pearson's memory and not just because of his red sports coat and Bronko cheer.
"When I was younger, he was one of those guys I wasn't sure he thought he could trust me and I wasn't sure I could trust him. We warmed up to each other as the years went on. Now I'm proud he's a friend."
Other basketball coaches who made an impression on Pearson include John Higgins of Harbor and Ashtabula ("He did so much for me as a coach and continued as athletic director, took up where Adam Holman left off") Frank Roskovics ("Nobody has done more for sports in this county. A lot of people associate him with girls sports, but he's been influential in boys and girls sports"), Bob Walters, Bob Hitchcock and Tom Henson.
"They're all gerat friends, but I almost feel like I'm leaving some people out."
Among the great teams Pearson has seen he includes Andrew Isco's team of 1983-84 that made it to the regional finals, Huber's PV team from last year ("They played the game the way I think it's supposed to be played — up and down the floor, great defense, great fundamentals), several of Rod Holmes' Jefferson's girls teams ("He probably has the most reason to brag about what he's done and toots his own horn the least of any coach I've ever met"), Houston's Conneaut teams with Pape, Lyons and Coxon and Tom Ritari's Conneaut girls' team of 2000-01.
Pearson admits that basketball is his favorite sport.
"I used to like football the best, but as time went on, basketball became my favorite. It's artistry, a combination of poetry, artistry, music and dance — large bodies functioning in such a small space and doing it with grace."
Everything has not always not gone smoothly for Pearson. Both of his parents, Karl A.E. and Winifred, died relatively young, as did a sister, Sonja. A brother, Jim, who lives in Eastlake and works as an auto parts manager, still lives, as does a second sister, Faith, who is Ashtabula County Coordinator for Brighter Horizons, a company that deals with nursing home care. Faith has two children, Tabitha, a sophomore at Kent State University's home campus, and Cody, 10, a student in Jefferson schools.
Religion has always played a huge role in Pearson's life. He has been a member of the First Baptist Church of Perry for more than 50 years and is currently serving as Moderator for the Ashtabula Baptist Association, which includes American Baptist churches in Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties. He also has worked at Camp Koinonia, where he was camp director for 20 years and is on the board of directors.
"My faith means a lot to me," Pearson said. "(Sports writing) is kind of a tough job, with demanding hours. It's tough on relationships and includes driving around in bad weather late at night, a dangerous situation.
"I feel I have something extra on my shoulder when I'm out driving around. It helps me through stressful situations.
"God gave me a lot of gifts. I'm able to communicate through writing, somewhat through speaking and through music to some degree. They may not be athletic gifts, but they're gifts anyway. If a person has one gift, he has a lot of gifts. Hopefully, I explore all of them."
Pearson, also a member of the Ashtabula County Bowling Hall of Fame, admits he's humbled by his selection to the ACBF Hall of Fame.
"My thanks to the ACBF," he said. "I couldn't be prouder of my association with it and proud of my association with the (Ashtabula County Touchdown Club) Hall of Fame. Those are two groups of people who have their hearts in the right place, who want to see the best for those who have been involved in those sports in the past and present.
"I love Ashtabula County. There are a lot of people who put Ashtabula County down unfairly. We have a lot of problems here, but there are good people here, salt-of-the-earth people."