Mother knew best
Betty Lattimer began her son, Larry, on the path to the ACBF Hall of Fame
By KARL PEARSON
Fourth of a series...
When talking to a great athlete, especially a man, about the person who had the greatest impact on making him into the success he became, he'll often pinpoint his father or another significant male relationship for getting him headed in the right direction.
To be sure, Larry Lattimer's father, Carl, who died in 1988, had a huge influence on his development. But when Lattimer reflects back on it, he singles out his mother, Betty, for the credit in being the driving force behind any athletic success he and his siblings enjoyed.
"I was very fortunate to have a very sports-minded mother," Lattimer said of his 82-year-old mother, who lives nearby even today and still remains very active. "That started out right from the crib.
"Don't get me wrong. Dad played a lot of basketball and supported us, too, but he was so involved in farming."
Their mother was the enabling force in their hoop dreams.
"All three of my brothers and I were playing basketball all the time," Larry said. "We had a hoop up on our garage and one in the barn. We'd play outside in good weather, then we'd move into the barn in the winter.
"We played so much out in the barn that we'd take my mother's table lamps out there so we could see at night," Lattimer said. "She didn't mind as long as we didn't break them."
Even though athletics was pretty much a forbidden thing for girls of Betty Lattimer's era, her son believes she would have been a very fine player in her own right.
"Even though she's 82, I bet she could still make foul shots better than I could," Larry said with a chuckle.
The license that Betty gave her sons paid off in a big way. Larry, the oldest of the four by three years, owes a particular debt of gratitude to his mother because the skills he has bore fruit in his selection into the 2009 Hall of Fame class for the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation. His enshrinement will take place March 29 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
"My mother was the one who really supported us athletically," he said.
It all works out to be a bit of an early celebration for Lattimer.
"I'll be 62 on April 7," he said. "It will be a nice early birthday present."
Lattimer was definitely an impact player in the two seasons he played at Pymatuning Valley High School after the family moved to Andover from the Urbana-Bellefontaine area in Champaign and Logan counties.
In Andover, young Lattimer encountered Joe Shantz, PV's Hall of Fame coach who was in his final two seasons with the Lakers before he graduated in 1965. He fit right in, starting 40 games for the Lakers. That was particularly true during his senior year, averaging 20.2 points over that period.
That was good enough to twice earn Class A All-Ohio recognition. Eventually, he helped PV reach the Class A district tournament in Canton. In his senior year, Lattimer and his teammates also won the Great Lakes Athletic Conference championship over teams like Grand Valley, Berkshire, Cardinal and Kirtland.
Despite his credentials, Lattimer finds it almost hard to believe in his worthiness for induction.
"I can honestly say this is a very large honor," he said. "My brother, Ronnie (who still lives in Ashtabula) mentioned that Sid McPaul (one of their old PV teammates) had mentioned it to him. I owe a big debt of gratitude to Sid.
"It's quite an honor and quite a surprise to be among so many awesome players."
He is particularly thrilled to be joining Shantz in the Hall of Fame and to be connected to the rich past of PV basketball with players like Hall of Famers Bob Hitchcock and Paul Freeman.
LARRY LATTIMER of Pymatuning Valley
shows off the form that helped him become
a two-time All-Ohioan during his days as a Laker.
"When I first went out for the team, Coach Shantz always emphasized the history and tradition of the program," Lattimer said. "The names of those guys came up a lot. That meant a lot to me.
"I had a lot of respect for Coach Shantz. I'd describe him as a very quiet volcano. He always seemed like he was ready to erupt, but he always seemed to have the right thing to say to the right player at the right time."
All the lessons the Lattimer brothers learned out in front of their garage or in the barn profited the younger members of the family, too. Lenny, three years Larry's junior, was another PV standout, while Ronnie, who was five years younger than Larry, and Randy, who graduated from PV in 1972, also played basketball for the Lakers.
The Lattimers grew up in what is now known as the Graham school system. If that sounds familiar, its high school is St. Paris Graham, which recently won its ninth consecutive Division II state wrestling team championship and set a scoring record in the process.
But, as Lattimer points out, the Falcons are more than just about wrestling this year.
"They're undefeated and the No. 1 (boys) basketball team in Division III in the state," he said. "They're still alive in the tournament."
Despite all the time in their yard, the first organized basketball Lattimer remembers playing was at Rosewood Elementary from the sixth through eighth grades.
In his freshman year, he entered Graham, gradually moving up the ladder from the freshmen team to the junior varsity as a sophomore.
"The best advice I ever got was from Don Hall, my freshman coach," Lattimer said. "He realized I was a pretty good outside shooter. He told me I needed to move around the arc, so he taught me the around-the-world drill. I think it made me an even better outside shooter."
But before his junior year, the Lattimers ended up moving to Andover.
"Being a farmer, my dad got the opportunity to be a farm manager for a man from Cleveland who owned a 500-acre farm outside Andover," Larry said. "I didn't even know where Andover was. I looked it up on a map and couldn't find it. And back then, there was no real easy way to get there."
Naturally, there were concerns when he showed up at PV High School. Those fears were quickly put aside when he found out the students at PV came from very similar backgrounds.
"The most important thing was when we moved from Graham to Andover, we never felt like we were the new kids in school," Lattimer said. "I think they really embraced us there."
There was plenty of other talent on Shantz's squad.
"I played with Clint Schertzer, Bob Boggs, Moses and Al Cooper, Jerry Hitchcock, Tom Roach, Steve Kume and Bill Dick," Lattimer said. "They were great teammates."
That's because Shantz insisted on it.
"Coach Shantz kept pushing us in the right direction," he said. "He totally stressed teamwork. You had to be unselfish to play for him."
The Lakers didn't possess overwhelming size.
"Bob Boggs was the biggest at about 6-3," Lattimer said. "Clint Schertzer was probably 6-feet. I was only 5-10 1/2 and I still played forward. Mo and I kept running a lot of cuts and the give-and-go."
Looking back, it probably took his junior year for the Lakers to all get on the same page. Circumstances didn't help.
"We only finished 8-11," he said. "We moved up from Class A to AA. We were only three or four boys over.
"We did pretty well against the teams that were more or less our size. I remember we went down to McDonald my junior year when they were ranked in the top five in the state. Their best player was all-state, but Bob Boggs shut him down. I scored 32 and we beat them in their house."
PV dropped back to Class A in his senior season, according to Lattimer, but it still took the Lakers a while to get clicking.
"We were kind of on a rollercoaster ride early in the season," he said. "By Christmas, we were only 4-4 and had just lost to a real good Fairport team. We also scrimmaged Ashtabula right around then, which was tough."
But those experiences seemed to light a fire under the Lakers.
"We won 10 games in a row after that and finished up the regular season 14-4," Lattimer said.
The Lakers really picked it up over the last couple weeks of the season.
"We broke Kirtland's 24-game winning streak," Lattimer said. "Then Grand Valley beat them right after that."
That set up a battle for the GLAC championship between the Mustangs and Lakers at PV.
"We won that game by four or six points," Lattimer said. "Moses Cooper stole an inbounds pass, got fouled and hit two free throws in the closing seconds to clinch it.
"I only had 17 points. I did have six or seven assists. I made the Plain Dealer Dream Team. I was pretty proud of that."
That launched PV into tournament play. Just getting out of the sectional tournament was a battle in those days.
"We won three games in the tournament to get to the district," he said. "We were pretty proud of that."
But the end of the road came at the district tournament in Canton.
"We played Kent State High School," Lattimer said. "They had at least four players that were 6 feet or more, and we couldn't handle that size. You always remember the last one."
Lattimer points to all kinds of opponents with whom he did battle.
"I remember playing Tom Booth and George Duplay from Geneva," he said. "Mickey Zigmund was a great player at Jefferson and I remember trying to play (7-footer) Jim Gilbert at Ashtabula. He showed us how to play above the rim. Tom Naylor was a great player at Conneaut, too."
But college basketball was no more than an afterthought to Lattimer.
"I went to work with my dad on the farm," he said.
A couple years after graduation, he received his draft notice at the height of the Vietnam War. That prompted him to enlist in the Marines. It still got him to Southeast Asia, but on his own terms.
"I went to Vietnam, but at least I didn't have to be a ground pounder (in the infantry)," Lattimer said. "I ended up being an aviation ordinance worker, equipping the aircraft with bombs and rockets."
Lattimer stayed in the Marines through 1978, eventually getting back to stateside. But he grew weary of the politics in the military and went another direction.
By that time, his parents and most of the rest of his family, with the exception of Ronnie, moved back to their roots in Champaign and Logan counties.
"I came back home to Bellefontaine and went to work for Honda," he said. "I worked there for 25 years as a production control scheduler, which is working out things like model, type and color of the cars they're working on at that time. I retired in 2004."
His brothers are at various distances from Lattimer. Lenny resides in Virginia. Randy lives in Spring Hill, about 10 miles from Larry.
He has four children from a previous marriage. Melissa lives in Florida, Steve is in Tennessee, Terri still resides in Bellefontaine and Todd is a business in Kuwait.
For the past 15 years, he has been married to Joni. He has two stepdaughters from that marriage, Casey and Cheri.
Just because he's out of the business rat race, though, Lattimer isn't sitting idle.
JONI AND LARRY LATTIMER
"We raise horses," he said.
But he's never been too far removed from sports.
"I coached my daughters in softball and basketball when they were in high school," he said.
It wasn't strictly about football for Lattimer when he was at PV.
"I played football for Ernie Simpson on the first football team there," he said. "It wasn't too hard. I just handed the ball off to (Ashtabula County Football Hall of Famer) Tony Barnes."
The day after he retired from Honda, Lattimer received a huge flashback.
"I heard a knock on the door and opened it to find Ernie Simpson there," Lattimer said with a laugh. "He'd been living down around here for quite some time."
Together, they have formed a football alliance geared toward picking up the shattered pieces of small programs in their area and trying to restore them to health.
"We started out at Lima Perry and were there for two years," Lattimer said. "We went 1-9 the first year and 6-4 the second. Then we went to Bradford last year and went 1-9, but it didn't go very well there."
So they packed their bags and headed to Ridgemont High School in Mount Victory, a Division VI school, to begin the 2009 season. They are hoping to turn the Golden Gophers around. So far, Simpson and Lattimer believe they have a receptive audience.
"They have 66 boys in the high school," Lattimer said. "We had 41 kids at our first meeting. We're hoping to have at least 30 players so we can have a reserve team, too. That would be about half of the male student body, and that would be pretty good.
"I'm the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. Counting Ernie and me, we have four guys on the staff."
While he's wrapped up in football these days, his thoughts never stray far from his basketball memories.
"I think basketball and sports in general have given me a good respect for the individual," Lattimer said. "I've learned you have to have help and support.
"I think back (to PV) and think that I had to trust the guy that was running down the floor with me to succeed. When I got to the Marines, I had to trust the guy who ended up in the foxhole next to me."
The issue of trust kept coming up after he got back to the U.S., too.
"At Honda, the whole concept was about teamwork. If someone is sick, someone else has to be willing to help out and pick up the slack.
"It works that way with my family, too. If I can't clean out the horse stalls, my wife or one of my stepdaughters has to. We all need help and support."