Carl Stokes - ACBF Hall of Fame!
By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
At 5-foot-11 or 6-feet, Carl Stokes jumped center for the New Lyme Deming Rangers between 1944 and 1948.
"I was as big a player as anyone on our team," Stokes said recently. "I don't know what they feed these guys now."
Stokes, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 7, was the best player for the Rangers. He began his freshman year on the junior varsity but was good enough to be moved up to the varsity after two or three games by then-coach K.M. Retallick. ACBF Hall of Fame coach Russell Bethel took over the reins at Deming for his junior and senior years.
At that time Deming was a very small school, boasting just nine boys and eight girls in Stokes' senior class. The Rangers played other small schools — Orwell, Rock Creek, Andover, Jefferson, Rowe, Pierpont and Austinburg.
"We used to have three leagues in the county," Stokes said. "We were in the Buckeye League. We had about 25 boys in our high school. Since they had junior varsity and varsity teams, all the boys got a chance to play. In my junior year, we played Jefferson in the county championship game at Edgewood, but lost by one point. We should have won."
Stokes was joined on the Deming team by Ellsworth Reeve, Alex Konya, Bill Ahola, Henry Bogdan, Norman Mackey and Bob Schultz. Only Stokes, Mackey and Schultz are still alive.
After his senior year, Stokes was chosen as a first-teamer on the Star Beacon's first annual All-Ashtabula County, All-Tourney Scholastic Basketball Team.
"New Lyme's Carl Stokes undoubtedly won the nod of most county coaches for his steady, consistently top defensive play," the writer for the Star Beacon said. "Stokes was rated one of the best guards in the entire county tournament. He boasted a decent scoring average from the field, also taking over scoring duties when Alex Konya was too well-guarded."
Stokes was also a true scholar-athlete. In his senior year he was voted president of the Ashtabula County National Honor Society.
Basketball was a somewhat different game during his career, Stokes said.
"We were only allowed four fouls. The game is so much faster now, and we were pretty fast. It's a lot rougher now.
"That's a war out there. I can remember when I was playing some boys saying something like, 'Stokes has the biggest rear end I've ever seen. I can't get around it.' I remember one of the refs from Ashtabula saying, 'You have your hand on him. You have to get it off."
According to Stokes, if a team scored 25 or 30 points a game, it thought it had done well.
Stokes was known more for his defensive play than for his offense.
"I never scored a whole lot," he said. "I think the most I ever had was against Rock Creek. I think I had 27."
Stokes considered Bethel a top-notch coach.
"He brought a different basketball game to New Lyme," Stokes said. "We started to run more, run the fast break. He was a good coach. I remember when we were way behind at the half and he chewed us out. We went back out and tied the score in just a little while. We still lost by two or three points though. That was probably Jefferson."
In addition to playing basketball, Stokes also played competed in baseball.
"I played wherever the coach put me," he said. "I pitched, caught, played first base or shortstop. I was a pretty decent baseball player. When I was out of school, I played i a fast-pitch softball league for seven years. Bill Brainard was the pitcher on that team. I played first base or shortstop. We had a league right there in Jefferson. In some tournaments we went to Youngstown and played."
He also played basketball after he graduated, for Jefferson's Clinton Drugs.
"I liked playing ball and I had nothing to do at night," he said. "One night up there I think I had 54 points. We also went to Painesville one night and played against a team of Cleveland Browns' players who got together and went barnstorming. Some of those guys were 6-foot-8 or 7-feet tall. It was tough for us to compete, but they only beat us by about five points."
Though he was a good high school basketball player, college was never a consideration for Stokes.
"Our family has owned a (dairy) farm we bought in 1901," he said. "It's been in our family ever since. My grandfather (farmed), my dad did, I did and now my son and grandsons do. It's on Route 46 south of Jefferson.
As any farmer could tell you, a dairy farm with 175-200 cows is not an easy life.
"We get up at 4:30 every morning to milk and do that three times a day," Stokes said. "When I was 14 years old, my grandfather took sick. I started getting up at 5 o'clock then and do my milking before school."
Stokes has been married (to Joyce) for 53 years. The couple has five children: twin daughters Cindy and Susan, Sandy, JoAnn and Kenneth.
Cindy works on the farm, with help from Kenneth, who also works for a petroleum business south of Orwell. Susan lives in Wyoming. Sandy has a degree in agriculture and works in animal husbandry. JoAnn works with horses at Colorado State University.
Stokes, 83, was a very good bowler for many years, averaging about 180 in leagues at Jefferson Lanes, ABC, St. Angelo Lanes and others.
He hunted for years, but doesn't do it so much any more.
"Now the woods are all overgrown with weeds," he said. "You can't walk through them any more."
One of Stokes' favorite memories in playing baseball on the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, with his son-in-law when he was around 70 years old.
"Some young fellows were playing ball there," he recalls. "We watched them for a while, then I asked if I could have that bat. I took 12 or 15 swings, then my son-in-law did too. About 200 feet from home plate was a corn field. If you hit the ball in there, you had to go hunt it."
About seven or eight years ago, Stokes was stricken with prostate cancer. He went through radiation successfully.
"I have been cancer-free for several years now," he said. "I was lucky they caught it before it got out of hand."
Larick is a freelance writer from Geneva.