By CHRIS LARICK
Once upon a time, near here on the shores of Lake Erie, college sports were contested.
Those were the days when Kent State-Ashtabula Campus boasted athletic teams among its offerings, including baseball, basketball, cross country, tennis and golf.
A long time ago those contests, played by many but attended by few, were suspended by the administrators who run the Kent State system.
For people like Ned Roach, a 1971 Pymatuning Valley graduate who benefited greatly from their presence, that’s a shame.
“I think it’s terrible that they don’t have sports offerings,” said Roach, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 7. “That’s what attracted me to go to school there.
“I went there two years basically for free. They were offering grants to some athletes. You didn’t have to pay them back. (The grants covered) tuition and books with a little left over for living expenses. It was a nice little scholarship, basically two years of free education.”
Some of the best athletes from the county played for the KSU-Ashtabula teams. Just in basketball, four players — Billy Johnson, John Wheelock, Bill Kaydo and now Roach — have made the ACBF Hall of Fame.
Growing up in Andover, Roach learned to play basketball and baseball when he was nine, coached by Frank Mason, Bill French, Ross Boggs and his older brother Tom.
“They had a strong positive influence on me,” Roach said. "Little League baseball practice and open gym basketball practice as a youngster were always fun and the fundamentals were always taught. These coaches taught the spirit of competition and sportsmanship and were an extension of everybody’s parent. They cared and to this day I still think of them and others that were involved.”
Roach played football his freshman and senior years in high school, but made basketball his priority sport.
"I loved the game of basketball and would practice all year long,” he said.
When he started organized basketball in the seventh grade at Pymatuning Valley, Les Chaney was his coach.
"As a three-year varsity starter in high school and a two-year starter in college, most of my teammates changed each year,” Roach said. "Some were older, some were younger and some were classmates. At 5’ 10”, I played point guard and my job was to run the offense and be the coach on the floor.
" I liked to get the ball to the shooters, and there were a host of them throughout the years I played high school and college: Bobby French, Craig Readshaw, Billy Johnson, John Wheelock, Bill Kaydo, John Colson, George Bucko and Al Landphair, just to name a few. Special high school teammates were Ray Sheets, Kim Mason, Carl McIlwain, Mike Bittikofer and Dave Malyk. These guys always encouraged me and practiced hard.”
Roach felt blessed to be coached by two Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame coaches, Bob Hitchcock in high school and Ed Armstrong in college.
“Both were role models as a coach, parent, husband, father, friend and a man,” Roach said. "Basketball and their players were always special to them."
Roach’s senior year (1970-1971), the Lakers went 9-9 in the county and NEC, but went fairly deep in the tournament, winning the sectional championship after an upset 88-75 victory over second-seeded Newton Falls, a game in which Roach recorded 17 assists and Readshaw put in 28 points. Hitchcock commended Roach after the game for “ an outstanding floor game. The Lakers were defeated by Champion, which went to state and finished fourth that year.
"The NEC was a very competitive league back then and most of the schools were bigger than PV,” Roach said. " We held our own and competed. My sophomore year at Kent-Ashtabula, we were 12-4 and shared the KSU Regional Campus League Championship.
"Jefferson was always a rivalry game and both games my senior year were special. They had a very talented team and defeated Ashtabula (the league leader) twice that year on the eve of playing PV for both games. We were at our best and defeated Jefferson both times.
"The KSU Regional Campus League championship game was special in 1973 as well. We were short-handed and outmanned but fought the whole game to win it on a last shot by John Colson and a defensive stop. It was very exciting.”
Roach’s best season was his senior year (1970/-1971) when he ranked 13th the county in scoring with a 12.83 points-per game average. More impressively, he recorded 11.47 assists per game (241 total assists), including a game -high total of 17, and shot 85 percent from the foul line for the year. Those last two statistics are high for any player for any season.
His career high-school scoring came to 632 total points and an average of 10.89 points per game.
After his senior season, Roach was named second-team All-Ashtabula County, and second-team All-NEC in addition to honorable mention All-State Class AA. He was also honored with the Team Captain and Most Valuable Player Award and was a Hoyle Basketball Tournament participant. At KSU-Ashtabula he was selected by coach Ed Armstrong for the 1971/1972 Co-Most Valuable Player Award and AS the 1972/1973 Co-Most Valuable Player Award winner.
Roach drew some limited interest from colleges like Kent State (main campus), West Point and Marquette, but pretty much had Slippery Rock State (Pa.) and KSU-Ashtabula to choose from. He feels fortunate to have chosen the latter. After two years there, he transferred to Kent’s main campus, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Education.
But he never became a teacher. Instead, he went into the field of manufacturing management, where he has now spent 43 years, starting at Union Carbide (which became Elkem Metals) for 17 years. Currently he works in Albion, PA for the Rogers Brothers Corporation. He is set to retire on March 31 of this year. During his years he has had such jobs as shift supervisor, department manager, plant manager and quality manager.
“I’ve done about the full gamut of management jobs,” he said.
Roach has been married t o Jean (Lago) Roach, who is originally from Ashtabula. He met her at work back in the mid-‘70s. They’ve been married 39 years.
"We don’t have children, but have spoiled several four legged critters throughout the years,” Ned said.
“Today I participate in golf and exercise by walking and working in the yard. I’ve basically become a spectator and fan of Ohio’s high school, professional and college sports.”