Clyde could glide
Guard helped lead the Harbor Mariners to three consecutive WRL championships
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
When Clyde Koski signed up with the Pruden Chicks, an independent basketball team of the 1950s and 1960s, he was introduced to a new style of the game.
The Pruden Chicks were led, at the time, by Al Bailey, the Spencer and Geneva High School coach who became a charter member of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s Hall of Fame many years later.
Bailey recruited Koski and Al Ziegler to run the team from their guard positions— and Bailey really meant run.
“That was probably the first big-time basketball I ever played,” said Koski, who will be inducted into the ACBF’s Hall of Fame on April 13 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center. “He was a great player at Duquesne and wanted you to run as fast as can be, up and down the court like you see them play today, run and gun and play defense.”
Koski, who played at Harbor from 1953-1955, found that unusual. Like most coaches at the time, Mariners coach Elmer Gray stressed movement of the ball and working for a good shot.
“He was a bit laid-back and easy-going,” Koski said of Gray. “He didn’t get all emotional; he was a nice person.
“It was a different game back then. We did play some zone, but we set up plays, not a real fast type of basketball. The scores would be 40 to something or 50 to something. I look at the 3-point line now and think that’s right about where I was shooting from.”
Koski had begun his basketball career in his neighborhood, playing at the old Washington School. He remembers little of his junior high team.
At Harbor, he was a 5-foot-9 left-handed guard. Lefties are often thought to have an advantage because right-handed players aren’t used to them, but Koski doesn’t recall any edge. He did have to change his game because of it, though.
“When I played against Ashtabula the first time as a junior, Bob Ball was the coach,” he remembers. “I scored about 10 or 12 points against them. The next game, (Ball) put a player on my left hand. I couldn’t move to my right then. But from then on, I started going to my right.”
The Mariners won the Western Reserve League championship three years in row between 1954 and 1956 and notched victories over some pretty potent teams — Mentor, Cleveland St. Joseph’s and Ashtabula.
But Harbor was a small team. Its center, Bob Peura, was a 5-11 junior in Koski’s junior season.
On the other hand, most teams lacked the height that they have in the present day. Exceptions like Geneva’s Dave Love (probably 6-5) and Kingsville’s 6-6 Ray Reed were rare.
Harbor went 12-8 (7-1 in the WRL) in 1953-54 and 10-8 (7-1) in 1954-1955, Koski’s senior year, winning the WRL championship for the third straight season that year. In addition to Koski, Gray started Bob Sidbeck, Bob McNutt, Keith McCullough, Donald Jones, Bob Lampela and, at times Joe Pinney.
CLYDE KOSKI of Harbor (far right), shown with fellow Ashtabula County standouts (from left) before the 1954-55 season — Dave Love of Geneva, Neil Volk of Edgewood, Ron Hinkle of Conneaut, Dick Schwarz of Edgewood and Ray Kovocs of Ashtabula. Koski will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on April 13.
THE 1954-55 HARBOR MARINERS won the Western Reserve League championship for the third year in a row under the direction of coach Elmer Gray. The Mariners were (seated, from left) Don Jones, Bob Sidbeck, Keith McCullough, Clyde Koski and Bob McNutt and (standing, from left) Ken Swanson, Joe Pinney and Ernie Thomas.
CLYDE KOSKI 1955
CLYDE KOSKI Present-day
CLYDE KOSKI and family.
“Bob Sidbeck was our big man, but not big for a forward or center, probably 6-1,” Koski said. “He played inside. Bob McNutt was a guard, like me. Keith McCullough was about 6-foot and was a junior forward. We had a bunch of good junior players (my senior year). Elmer (Gray) moved some of them back and forth.”
Koski was the team’s leading scorer, notching 119 points in eight WRL games (14.9 per game), third in the league behind Madison’s Chuck Woldtke and Kirtland’s Armand Hernandez. He was named to the All-WRL first-team. Though he ranked in the top five in the All-Ashtabula County voting, he was assigned to the second team, since two other guards received more votes.
“I felt kind of deflated about that,” he said. “They went by position. I was pushed to the second team that way.”
The All-Ashtabula County first team that year included Geneva’s Love, Rowe’s Dick Hill, Chuck Naso from Jefferson and Ashtabula’s Jim Welty. Hill and Naso are already in the ACBF Hall of Fame and Welty and Koski will join them this year.
“Hill was a good little guard from Rowe,” Koski said. “Love was a big, lanky kid. Chuck Naso was a good shooter. Welty was a nice player from Ashtabula, one of the first players I saw that did things a little fancier, like reverse layups. He was a little ahead of the field that way.”
Koski also fought through injuries. He was heavily taped against Geneva.
“He couldn’t drive in on his ‘stop-and-go specialty’” the Star Beacon wrote. “But he still had 14 in a 63-58 loss.”
Koski didn’t start until his junior year, a fact he attributes to talented players in the higher grades.
“It’s all about the competition,” he said. “We’ve got more competition up here (in the northern part of the county). It’s a whole different ballgame.”
In Koski’s senior year, Harbor won the sectionals at the Edgewood gym — now Braden Junior High.
“We played those up on the stage there,” Koski said. “We beat Kingsville to win the sectional but then got beat by Lowelville.”
Some have said that the small gymnasiums prevalent during those times held down the scoring in games.
Koski claims it helped him.
“I was a good ballhandler,” he said. “I could fake a guy out of position, go to my left and take a jump shot or pass the ball. I was a good passer.”
He was also an excellent free-throw shooter. He won the sectional foul-shooting award by making 19 free throws, 13 of them in one game.
Despite his high school success, Koski had no interest in playing basketball in college.
“I took the general courses in high school,” he said. “My dad was an old railroad worker and I liked it on the railroad.”
Koski himself took a job on the railroad after graduation, then moved on to work for Union Carbide for 12 years. After that, he labored in sheet-metal construction in Cleveland for three more years.
“Then I saw the light and got a job on the coal dock as a foreman. My last five years I worked on maintenance on the dock.”
When Conrail took over the company Koski was working for, he took a severance package at age 59. That was almost 18 years ago.
“I’ll be 77 in a week,” he said. “I don’t do a whole lot.”
Koski married his wife, Nancy, whom he met at an Ashtabula bowling establishment, in 1962. The couple has two children: Kevin, who played basketball at Harbor, graduating in 1984, and Brian, a 1986 graduate who played baseball for the Mariners. Kevin is married to Kathleen (Perry) and Bryan to Gina (Tredent). There are three grandchildren: Jenna, 16; Matthew, 13; and Everett, 5.
Two of Koski’s grandchildren play basketball in Mentor. Jenna is a sophomore and plays both varsity and JV ball. Matthew, an eighth-grader, plays for a Mentor junior high team. Both play a lot of AAU ball in the summer.
For fun, Koski plays golf, mostly at Harbor Golf Club. He has a 13 handicap there. He has often played with another ACBF Hall of Fame 2014 inductee, Mike Blauman.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.