Hitchcock helped PV to unbeaten season
Point guard was key to Lakers run to regionals
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
All that was at stake when Pymatuning Valley traveled to Conneaut to take on the Spartans in the winter of 1988 was the unofficial Ashtabula County championship, the state ranking of each team and the continuation of the Lakers' unbeaten season. Conneaut, which had gone unbeaten through its first 10 games, had been beaten earlier in the week by Madison by one point, and had hopes of delivering a similar fate to PV.
Oh, and there was pride, tons of pride.
Lakers' point guard Doug Hitchcock, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation's Hall of Fame on Apr. 12 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center, remembers the frenzied atmosphere before the contest.
"Jack Root was always a big supporter of Pymatuning Valley basketball," Hitchcock said. "He and my mom left at two o'clock for the game, though they weren't going to open the doors until five o'clock. Conneaut had lost the night before, but that didn't detract from the atmosphere or excitement. Sean Freeman had transferred from there and they were getting on him in warmups, especially the Stage Crew. But he played well. That game was what high school sports is all about."
Garcia Gymnasium quickly filled up and several hundred other fans watched the game on a big screen set up in the Conneaut cafeteria.
Hitchcock set the tone for the game right away, putting what was described as a "body check" on Spartans' star Matt Zappitelli.
Zappitelli managed to score 32 points while connecting from all over the court. But Conneaut shot only 35 percent from the floor as a team and fell to the Lakers, 75-67, led by Steve Oman and Jason Poole, who combined for 43 points.
Pymatuning Valley went on to finish that regular season unbeaten, the first time that had happened since the Lakers team led by Bob Hitchcock, Doug's dad and the PV coach for this unbeaten season did it. Then the Lakers advanced through sectionals and districts until being stopped in overtime by O.J. McDuffie and the Hawken Hawks in the regionals.
Considering his father's credentials, it is no surprise that Doug Hitchcock was introduced to basketball at an early age.
DOUG HITCHCOCK goes for a layup during his time at Pymatuning Valley. As a senior, Hitchcock was the point guard on a Lakes team that went unbeaten during the regular season and advanced to regionals.
DOUG HITCHCOCK (third from the left) is shown with the Pymatuning Valley Lakers basketball team
DOUG HITCHCOCK - family picture of (front, from left) Janna, Grant, Madeline and Doug; (back) Lucas and Samuel
"Probably when I was born," he laughed. "I didn't have a choice. I remember Dad taking me to open gyms. He wasn't the coach at the time. I played in PV Primary in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. In about 1982 he started coaching again. I'd go to the gym after school and practice and do drills."
A few of his teammates in those early years — Rod Brown and his cousin Gordy, for example — would contribute on the great PV teams of the late 1980's.
"Rod had a lot of older brothers and I had an older sister who played," Hitchcock said. "We'd have pickup games as a family."
Hitchcock credits Dave Roberts, who took the PV players all over the place for games in his Bronco, with much of his success.
"He was an integral part of the program at PV," Hitchcock said. "He doesn't get a lot of credit. He always said, 'You've got to start 'em young.' He did that for years for Pymatuning."
In the seventh and eighth grades, Hitchcock's class was coached by Brad Marinchak (now an official) and Tom Batdorf.
"We were a winning team, but the team that always beat us was Grand Valley," Hitchcock said. "They had Lowell Moodt, Carl McElroy and a good group. They were always our nemesis. That helped us out, playing good competition. We played LaBrae and (Warren) JFK. That opened our eyes a little bit, showed us that it's not what kind of talent you have, it's your work ethic."
When he reached high school, he played mostly JV as a freshman, though he got into some varsity games toward the end of the year.
He started as a sophomore on a team led by John Bleshoy and a few other seniors. The Lakers didn't do very well that year, but with Smith, Hitchcock, Mike Weese and Doug Bryan playing as youngsters, the future looked brighter. Oman and Poole added size to the mix and Freeman was headed to PV from Conneaut.
"We started to see how the pieces would fit," Hitchcock said.
With Freeman, Gordy Hitchcock, Poole and Scott Vyner in the paint and Brown and Hitchcock at guards. the Lakers moved up to about 13-7 his junior year.
The whole group went to a Mount Union camp the summer before the 1987-88 season, playing against all-Ohioans like John Buford and Treg Lee.
"We came together as a group," Hitchcock said. "We beat some of those teams, had some success, worked together."
Going into Hitchcock's senior season, the Lakers were a confident bunch.
"We didn't expect to lose," he said. "We had the talent to be in every game. When we walked on the floor we didn't think anybody was better than us."
With Hitchcock at the point, Brown at shooting guard, Freeman at the "3" and Poole and Oman in the middle, PV had a potent starting group. But the bench was good, too, with Vyner, Rashan Welsh, Craig Koperhaven, Jason Root, Brad McNeilly and Mark Pittsinger.
The Lakers also had a great coach in Bob Hitchcock.
"I know my dad was one of the better coaches in the area," Doug said. "He was good with personalities. It wasn't all about X's and O's, though he knew those. He knew how to push your buttons. Sometimes we wouldn't speak to each other for a few days, but it made me better.
"On that team, no one cared who scored. That was our M.O. Being undefeated, we got everybody's best shot."
Hitchcock also gives assistant coach (and JV coach) Perry Nicholas a share of credit for the team's success.
"Perry was a tremendous person and educator, a good role model for me," Hitchcock said. "I really respected him."
That perfect 1987-1988 record (20-0 in the regular season, 22-0 before it ended) was almost over before it began. In the very first game against Lakeview, the Lakers needed overtime to prevail.
"I got a little nervous," Hitchcock said. "That brought us down to earth a little bit. We beat Warren JFK in a good game. We had to hit free throws at the end of the game to win that one."
Hitchcock was the playmaker for the team, loaded with scorers in Freeman, Brown, Poole and Oman. But people noticed his contributions. Despite averaging only about 10 points per game, he was named the Grand River Conference's Player of the Year (his father was Coach of the Year) and was a Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County first-teamer and an all-Ohioan. In a poll taken later, he was chosen as "the best point guard to play at PV."
He also played football and baseball, as a wide receiver and defensive on the PV football team on coach Ken Parise's football team and centerfielder on the baseball team. When he was in Little League, the area team won the state championship.
"I played with great players and a great coach," he said of his basketball career. "I played my role and did my thing, tried to make everyone happy by distributing the ball."
After graduating from Pymatuning Valley in 1988, Hitchcock entered Kent State University without an athletic scholarship.
"I was just an average high school player," he said. "From Day One I knew I'd be a teacher and coach. I knew how rewarding it was for my dad and Perry (Nicholas). It was a good decision."
When he graduated, he obtained a job at Grand Valley.
"I had great mentors at Grand Valley in Jim and Tom Henson," HItchcock said. "Evelyn Henson (Jim's wife) was my principal. She always did what was best for the kids. I coached football and basketball with Jim and Tom."
From Grand Valley, Hitchcock went back to PV as a teacher and coach, then to Madison for three years as assistant principal before getting his first job as a principal at LaBrae. He's now in his fifth year as principal at Grand Valley.
"We have a great staff and great kids at Grand Valley," he said. "That makes the work enjoyable."
As an administrator he had to give up coaching, but still coaches fundamentals in the summer.
Doug married Janna (Bowman), whom he met in his senior year at PV. Janna majored in business at Kent State. She is now the school nurse at Maplewood. The couple lives in Roaming Shores with their four children: Lucas, a senior at Jefferson, Samuel, a sophomore at Jefferson; Madeline, an eighth grader at Jefferson Middle School; and Grant, a fourth grader.
Lucas led the Falcons as a quarterback in football and point guard in basketball. Samuel is on the Jefferson teams, too, and both Madeline and Grant are on their school's basketball teams.
"We're blessed to have tremendous parents," Doug said. "They taught us to work hard. Both my parents and Brian and Deanna McGirr (Janna's parents) are a big part of our kids' lives."
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.