Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation

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Al Runyan

By CHRIS LARICK


A good coach requires (at the least) intelligence, knowledge of the game and the ability to teach, understand and motivate his players.

And, unless he knows sign language and has players who understand it, he needs a voice.

High school coaches are more vulnerable to voice damage than those at higher levels because most of them teach all day, requiring them to project their voices louder than in ordinary conversation. After four, five or six  hours of that strain on the vocal chords, they must hold practices and shout instructions to their players, more strain on the voice. In game situations, that strain is exacerbated by the need to overcome the noise made by loud crowds.

And so it came about that Al Runyan, after many years of coaching several sports, found himself unable to perform his coaching duties as well as he'd like to simply because he couldn't talk loud enough without great pain.

Runyan, a 1969 Edgewood graduate, played basketball and baseball for the Warriors. Tall for his age in those early years, he started at center for Kingsville Junior High School in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

"I didn't grow much more," he said. "I actually played guard my sophomore and junior years and forward my senior year.

Runyan describes those Edgewood teams as "fairly mediocre, not real successful, under .500."

Runyan played as a sophomore when John Higgins, already in the ACBF Hall of Fame, and Steve Bish were seniors. When Rick Korpi, the leading scorer when Runyan was a junior, graduated, the Warrior seniors consisted of Runyan, Don Kidner, Ron Stowell, Gary Lago, Norm Gloeckler and Chuck Braden. Roger Sterling and Bob Rebera were juniors that year. 

Jack Lammert coached the Warriors during those years, with Ed Armstrong and Jim Hughes serving as assistants.

"I scored eight to 10 points a game as a junior and senior," Runyan said. "I missed most of my sophomore year with mononucleosis."

His bout with that disease had another unfortunate result.

"It got to the point that some of the players called me 'Mono'," Runyan said. "They got a big kick out of it. I'm not sure I thought it was that funny."

Runyan was actually better at baseball than basketball, to a point that he played two years of college baseball at Edinboro in 1969 and 1970. When he needed to transfer to Ohio State as a better fit for his major (physical education), he made the team as a walk-on.

"I was a pretty good hitter," he said. "I could always hit the baseball."

The coach at Edinboro, Gary Conti, had played in the Baltimore Orioles' minor league system with players like Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer.

"He made a huge impact on me," Runyan said of Conti.  "We'd get to play because we were better baseball players. It sounds simple, that you always play the best players, but it doesn't always happen. Some of us got to play over guys that had played the year before."

At Edinboro Runyan batted .295 as a freshman and .285 as a sophomore. After transferring to Ohio State, he hit .265 in eight games before getting hurt and missing the remainder of the year after a freak accident.

"I was playing right field and chasing a foul ball," he said. "I ran into a batting cage, mashed up my legs really bad. I didn't catch the ball either."

After graduating from Ohio State in 1974, Runyan obtained a job with the Ashtabula City Schools teaching physical education. The program was discontinued after that time, but he was able to get a job at Braden Junior High, part of the Edgewood system, teaching science. He spent 33 years there, eventually getting into physical education in his last few years of teaching after Terry Melaragno retired. 

"I enjoyed teaching science," he said. "I seemed to fit in well with junior high kids."

He started coaching from the first year (1977-78) he taught at Braden. By the time he had finished coaching, he had served as a basketball coach, mostly at Braden, but the final six years as Edgewood's head basketball coach, for 34 years.

"My winning percentage coaching the seventh, eighth and ninth-grade teams were all above 60 percent," he said. "I had a lot of kids who hadn't played a lot of basketball. I tried to teach them basic knowledge and skills. That's a big challenge to complete."

Runyan also became a baseball coach at Edgewood in the early '80's, the first three as Dave Melaragno's JV coach, then as head coach for three years. He got out of that to coach his son, Scott, in Little League, then went back into it when Mike Hayes started coaching at Edgewood.

Altogether, Runyan coached baseball for 15 years, eight of them as head coach. He spent 23 years as a basketball coach, six of them as head varsity coach after Jon Hall Sr. retired in 1995. That year his son Scott and the Warriors' other star, Steve Kray, were juniors. He led the team to a 15-6 record that year, 14-4 in the Northeastern Conference, finishing second to Riverside, as Runyan recalls.

The next year was even better. Led by Kray and Scott Runyan, the Warriors went 19-5, 15-1 in the NEC in 1996-1997, winning the NEC by three games while suffering their lone loss at the hands of Harvey by a narrow margin. The other starters on that team — Ryan Lencl, Curtis Colby and Chad Weagraff — were all juniors.

"Those were some of the most exciting nights," Runyan said. "The gyms were packed at Edgewood, Jefferson, Conneaut and Geneva. It was such an atmosphere. Now the gyms are bigger and spread out. I loved the excitement of smaller gyms and wall-to-wall people."

In 1997-98 the Warriors went 14-6, 12-4 in the league while finishing second to Conneaut, which had Tom Church and beat the Warriors in both games between the teams by narrow margins, once in overtime. Edgewood started Lencl, Colby, Weagraff, Eric Bibler and a sophomore, Jason Reed.

So young it had two freshmen starting (Josh Roberts and Matt Krause) and a third, Adam Schumann, coming off the bench, Edgewood slipped to 7-7 in the league in 1998-99.

Despite its 11-10 record in 1999-2000, that season was one of Runyan's most satisfying. The Warriors started 2-8 the first half of the season, but hit their stride and went 9-1 the second half.

"We lost to Madison in overtime the second half of the season and to Lake Catholic at the buzzer in the tournament," Runyan said. "With Josh and Adam and Brian Gowday we were using three sophomores. When I look back on our horrible start, I remember sitting beside (assistant coaches) Kevin Andrejack and Dave McCoy and saying, 'Can we be this bad?' But we got it back and were almost unbeatable the second half of the season.

"They kept on working and turned things around, never gave up."

Runyan's final year as head coach, 2000-2001, proved to be his worst, and not only because of the Warriors' record (6-8 in the NEC). 

"I had decided before the season that that would be my last year," he said. "I had issues with my throat after coaching basketball and baseball for so many years, plus seven years of junior high football, two years of JV softball, eight years of summer baseball and six years of YMCA soccer. That doesn't count all the years of teaching

"So many years of projecting my voice wore it out," Runyan said. "I didn't feel that I could coach in a gym like I use to. It's not that I yelled so much, but you have to make yourself heard above the noise in the gym. Vocal chords do not regenerate."

During his years of coaching, Runyan compiled an admirable record. In all the basketball games he was head coach at any level, he posted a 221-145  won-loss mark (.603). As a varsity basketball coach he was 77-49 (.611) overall, 62-30 in the NEC (.674). Those numbers include a 9-3 record against Harbor, 5-1 against Riverside and 8-5 against Jefferson. 

In addition to his teaching and coaching, Runyan spent five years officiating basketball. His contemporaries included outstanding referees like Phil Garcia, Roger Sterling, Jerry Raffenaud, Bud Ruland and Doug Hladek.

"I had a ball doing that," he said. "And I think it helped me as a coach. In most cases I was tolerant of officials because I had been in that position."

Runyan's wife, Kathleen (Leonard) was a year behind him at Edgewood. They married in 1972 and have two children, Heather and Scott. Kathleen worked at Tim Brown Chevrolet for 10 years before moving to Premix in North Kingsville, where she worked as an account clerk for 31 years before retiring recently.

Heather is a physical therapist assistant in Willoughby, and with her husband, Jon Moon, a physical therapy assistant in Lyndhurst, has two daughters, Grace, 11, and Maggie 9. Scott was a physical therapist in Willoughby until recently, when he took a job building cabins in Harperfield that will be used for tourism. Scott lives with his wife, the former Katie Kauppila, in Geneva, with their sons, Noah, 9, and A.J., 7, in Geneva. Katie teaches fourth grade in the Mentor School System.

Al himself retired in 2010. He and Kathleen keep themselves busy tending to their 10 acres of land, though Al did help Steve Kray with the Edgewood girls basketball team last year. 

"A lot of it I miss," he said of coaching. "I truly enjoyed teaching the game of basketball. I always found it enjoyable working with kids."