By CHRIS LARICK
Playing for Greg Mason-coached Conneaut High School teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s was an offensive player's dream.
"It was a lot of fun," said 1991 Spartan graduate Boyd Griffith, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball's Hall of Fame on April 3. "Our practices were like a game.
"When we lost Mo Wofford, we were not a big team, so we played very uptempo. Defense was discussed, but our style of basketball was to get out and run. Our joke was that we would get in trouble for not shooting the ball.
"We'd often score 35 or 36 points in a quarter. (Mason) had us run suicide sprints before a game so people could see what kind of shape we were in. Then we'd always be fresh to start the game.
"There wasn't a lot of half-court basketball; everything was uptempo."
Using that system, the Spartans scored almost at an NBA pace. Three times they passed the 100-point mark in Griffith's senior year.
Griffith started his basketball career in the seventh and eighth grades. Conneaut High School was only grades 10-12 at the time, so the freshman year was still at Rowe. As a result, freshmen didn't play on the JV team; they were restricted to the freshman squad.
When Griffith moved up to high school as a sophomore, Wofford, a three-year starter for the Spartans, was injured during the season, so Griffith was moved into the starting lineup.
"I didn't play JV even before I was a starter", he said.
Griffith also played football (as a wide receiver and defensive back) and baseball during his time at Conneaut. That meant that he, like so many others of his generation, was involved in sports year-round.
"There was no down time," he said. "We'd go from American Legion baseball with ARC (Ashtabula Rubber Company) to football. I'd put down my glove and go play football. Football overlapped with basketball."
Griffith's basketball teammates during most of his time there included Craig Fails, Steve Wahonick and Dusty Kaczoroski.
"I was probably our tallest player at 6-3," Griffith said. "There weren't many taller in the NEC."
A good outside shooter, Griffith, along with Fails, excelled at three-pointers. He estimates he had 40-50 successful threes, behind Fails, who had 60 or 70.
"Three-pointers were part of my success," Griffith said. "I could always go down low and play in the post."
He also garnered plenty of points off Mason's fast break, a necessary element for a team averaging as many points as the Spartans did.
"A large part of our scoring was our transitional game," Griffith said.
In addition, he was an excellent free-throw shooter, hitting 84 percent of his tries.
Griffith averaged just under 22 points per game as a senior, after averaging about 12 1/2 as a junior and 11 as a sophomore. After his senior year, he was selected as Player of the Year in the NEC.
In fact, Spartans were Players of the Year for five straight years. Matt Zappitelli achieved that honor as a junior and senior and Wofford succeeded him in his junior and senior years. Then Griffith completed the run.
"That was kind of neat," Griffith said.
In football, he played wide receiver and defensive back for head coach Jeff Whittaker.
"That helped me become more assertive and aggressive," he said.
His best sport was probably baseball, however. He pitched and played the outfield, batting .395 his senior year. With an excellent eye, he managed to coax 33 walks in 20 games.
"We won the NEC my senior year (in baseball)," he said. "That was a big deal for Conneaut."
He also played for Mike Hayes on Ashtabula's ARC team with players like Geneva's Brian Anderson, who would go on to play in the Major Leagues, including a stint with the Cleveland Indians.
Griffith probably could have played baseball at the Division III level, but opted instead to try to walk on at Bowling Green State University.
"Mike Hayes, our American Legion coach, had played at Bowling Green," Griffith said. "But I broke my ankle in my freshman year. That year they only wanted pitchers. I was the wrong place at the wrong time. But I don't have any regrets."
Most of the reason he doesn't regret attending Bowling Green is that he met his wife, Sheri there.
He began studies in sports management at first.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do," he said. "I didn't do the leg work to have a game plan. If I had to do it over, maybe I'd choose a different school, maybe at the Division III level. My parents would have loved to see me play.
"My wife wanted to be a nurse, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I changed my majors and transferred to Youngstown State, but I didn't finish school."
Griffith now works at Mohawk Papers, on Route 45 in Saybrook. That company takes 3,000-pound rolls of paper, cuts it and embosses it. Griffith has worked there 18 years and is now an Operations Associate.
Boyd and Sheri have been married since 1987 and have two daughters" Samantha, 16; and Sidney, 12. They both play volleyball and softball, Samantha at Lakeside.
Softball, in particular, takes up a lot of the parents' time, since the girls are in traveling leagues in the summer.
"I can't tell you how much travel is involved in softball," Griffith said."I've been involved with the coaching. One of our girls plays in Willoughby, the other in Perry."
Griffith himself keeps active playing basketball.
"I was never too much into softball," he said. "I played in a recreational basketball league in Conneaut and broke my wrist. Playing basketball is fun and it's high impact exercise."
Among the players Griffith now plays basketball with are Matt Newsome, Jim Chiacchiero and Augie Pugliese from St. John, Mike Czup and Andy Juhola.
"It's a mixed group of guys," Griffith said.
He golfs a bit, too, but his kids' softball schedule puts a bit of a crimp in that.
He remembers his high school days fondly.
"I have good friendships to this day," he said.
Griffith remains thankful to Chuck Guglielmo, who recorded some of his best moments on the high school basketball court.
"He would do play-by-play of the games," Griffith said. "He wanted to get into broadcasting. I've looked at his tapes so many times."