Craft blessed to be from Ashtabula
Point guard credits his success to where he grew up
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
"As I've gone through life, I've come to realize how well-taught and well-coached I was," said Craft, who will be inducted into the Ashabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on April 12 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
"I look back and realize that all my coaches were outstanding people as well as coaches. I think about their words to this day. I met some great people going through Ashtabula schools and have a lot of great memories."
Craft's father was himself an athlete at Harbor High School. Dan grew up watching him play fast-pitch softball with some of the outstanding Ashtabula teams.
Some of Craft's fondest memories are from when he started learning sports by playing catch with his brother Jeff.
DAN CRAFT established himself as one of the best point guards in the area during his time with the Harbor Mariners
He began his organized sports career in the fifth grade at Station Avenue Elementary School, after learning his craft in driveways and back yards.
By the time he reached West Junior High School, Craft had established himself as one of the best point guards in the area on a loaded team that also included Jim Hood, Eugene Miller, his brother Jeff (two years younger) and Joe Lyons and was coached by Ed Bento.
When he moved up to his freshman year, Craft came under the tutelage of Bob Walters, assisted at the time by Bill Oppenheimer. From there, it was on to Ashtabula and Coach Gene Gephart. The Panthers were an excellent team in that era.
"We had a lot of good teams going through," Craft said. "We were 20-2 my senior year (1969-1970).
Though Craft was one of the main cogs on those teams, there were plenty of others, including 7-foot center Jim Gilbert , Miller and Hood.
"They were big and great leapers," Craft said.
He did manage to average 15 or 16 points a game, though, and was All-Northeastern Conference, Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County and All-City as a junior and senior.
"Basketball was probably my favorite sport," he said. "We played basketball all summer, went against players like Randy Knowles and John Hejduk. We'd get five or six of us in a car and go to Conneaut.
"Bill Fails was the coach at Conneaut at the time and he'd say, 'We're having open gym. Bring your boys.' We'd play for four or five hours. We'd go to Euclid and play. There was a lot of competition. When you play against good competition, you get better."
Craft played quarterback on the football team, coached by Tony Chiacchiero, with Randy Pope and John Warren as assistants.
"They were all cool guys, but were old-school," Craft said. "We worked 'til we dropped. We always opened up (the schedule) against Warren Western Reserve, one of the best teams in the state at that time.
"We were more a run and option quarterback team, but I would throw the ball to Doug Humphrey and Pat McNamara. Philip Coleman was a great running back. Charles Moore was young then, but he was one of the best running backs I've ever seen."
Craft also played a lot of baseball, particularly as a shortstop or second baseman with the American Legion team in the summer.
"I probably got more notoriety from that than anything else," he said. "Their games were always in the (Star Beacon). I played with guys like Mark Wagner, Kenny Laveck and Jim Rose from Jefferson. We'd play 44 or 45 games a summer, play double-headers almost every Saturday or Sunday and twi-night doubleheaders on Friday."
When he graduated, he found the decision of which college to attend a simple one.
"It was based on money," he said. "I went to Baldwin-Wallace for free. That made my choice easy; we weren't rich, didn't have a lot of money. And I liked the coaches a lot."
Craft played three years of football for the Yellow Jackets, before injuring a knee on a clip.
"It was pretty severe," he said. "I didn't play much after that."
As a freshman and sophomore at B-W, he played some at quarterback until the team instituted the run-and-shoot offense and a much better thrower took over the position. He was then moved to cornerback and free safety.
He also played baseball his freshman year.
"I was led to believe that I could play both sports," he said."But they had spring football practice and football is what got me there, so I stuck with football."
Like so many college students, Craft wasn't sure what he wanted to major in. He originally entered the science program but finally decided on education.
He had remained in close contact with his high school coaches, so when he graduated in 1974, he found an opportunity in Ashtabula.
"Frank Farello was instrumental in helping me get into teaching and coaching," Craft said.
Craft was hired as a teacher and coach at West Junior High, where Farello served as principal and spent two years there before being asked to take over the elementary physical education program.
"I was coaching the backs in football for Ashtabula and got the head baseball job my second year," he said. "I remained as backfield coach under Wash Lyons, but there were no openings in basketball."
Meanwhile, varsity wrestling coach Dave DeLeone needed an assistant and, though he had never wrestled, Craft took the job. Then DeLeone had a heart attack and Craft was moved to the head wrestling position, where he served for four or five years.
It took him a while to get a coaching job in the sport he loved — basketball. When he moved to Harbor to take the health and physical education job, Dik Pavolino resigned from the head baseball job there and Craft took that, along with the junior high basketball position, coaching with Andy Isco, and serving as head football coach Mike Hassett's freshman coach. When Isco became varsity basketball coach, Craft became his assistant, a job that included coaching the JV team. When Isco retired, Craft moved into the head coaching job, which he kept until Harbor and Ashtabula consolidated into Lakeside, when he became Tim Tallbacka's assistant, a job he held three years until he retired in 2004.
His longest coaching stint was in baseball, as head coach at Ashtabula, Harbor and Lakeside for 29 years.
After retirement, Craft moved to Florida and substitute-taught at the Crystal River school district. Recently he moved to Texas, where he subs with the Frisco schools, about 40 miles north of Dallas.
"I find it relaxing," he said. It's a very affluent area and one of the fastest-growing in the country."
Currently single, Craft has a son, Chris, who is nearing his doctorate degree and lives near Dan; a daughter, Cari, who has a daughter who is a freshman at Louisiana State University; and a son, Devan, who lives in Florida and is in his first year of nursing school.
Dan started the soccer program for Ashtabula City Schools with the Columbus Junior High team when his son Devan became interested in soccer around 2000 and coached it for four or five years.
"We had to buy our own uniforms until so many players came out for the team at the high-school level that the system began paying for them.
He plays golf with his son Chris, whom Craft terms his "instructor." They play two or three times a week when the weather is nice enough.
"I played with some great people, including Randy Knowles, Billy Johnston, John Wheelock, Jim Hood, Eugene Miller, Tom Church, Scott Humphrey, Jeff Puffer and Al Razem," Craft summarized. "I have great memories of coaching Ryan Turner, Ken Daniel, Carey Estok, Jamel Parker and Jamie Presciano."
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.