Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation

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Ray Peet

Peat was hard to beat

By CHRIS LARICK
Staff Writer

Ramon Peet was the best player on one of the best teams in Ashtabula County
history.
But Peet, who will be inducted posthumously into the Ashtabula County
Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame Sunday at the Conneaut Human Resource
Center, won't be found on the Star Beacon's list of 1,000-point scorers. In
fact, Peet would have needed to have started all of his four years at
Ashtabula High School and to have scored more points than he did as a senior
in 1946-47 to have reached the 1,000-point plateau.
That season was the one when the Panthers went all the way in the Class A
tournament to the state semifinals in Columbus before falling. That
Ashtabula team was the first to make it to state in county history. Three
years later, Geneva got to Columbus in Class B. No county or area squad has
been there since, even 56 years after the Eagles made it.
The Panthers clearly didn't do it on the basis of offense. Coached by the
immortal Bob Ball, Ashtabula averaged just 32.9 points per game in going
17-8 and qualifying for state. The Panthers had to step that up as the
season wore on to get even that high. Through their first eight games they
averaged just 29 points per contest.
Peet, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, led Ashtabula in scoring that season with
234 points, averaging 9.36 points (10.3 in the Lake Shore League).
"Mr. Ball would not fast-break," ACBF Hall of Famer Gene Gephart, a
sophomore on that Panther team, said. "That's how he beat the big teams in
Cleveland. On offense, we sent only two players to the boards to rebound;
the other three dropped back so the other team couldn't fast-break.
"Mr. Ball was offensively very, very conservative. He was known in the state
of Ohio as a defensive coach.
"We played in lousy little gyms. You couldn't shoot. Harbor had beams coming
down. Mentor was the only regulation court in the league."
Though the Panthers were LSL champions that year with an 11-1 record (losing
only to Harvey, 27-18), they went 0-6 in their non-conference regular-season
games, losing five times to Erie teams and once to Cleveland Heights.
"We played the good Erie teams and Cleveland Heights," Gephart said. "We
played a strong non-league schedule. I didn't play as a freshman, but Mr.
Ball was 46-2 in league games from my freshman year through my senior year.
We dominated the Lake Shore League and Ramon was a big part of that in his
junior and senior years."
Ashtabula caught fire in the tournament, topping Conneaut, 36-26; Euclid
Shore, 44-38; Shaw, 36-23; Cleveland Heights (avenging the earlier defeat),
40-32; Barberton (17-4 at the time), 46-32; and Cuyahoga Falls, 32-27.
That final regional championship game took them to the state semifinals,
where they finally met their match in Middletown, state champions in
1943-44, 1945-46 and 1946-47. The Middies averaged three inches taller than
the Panthers and used it for a 36-31 victory over Ashtabula in a game the
Panthers led 30-27 after a steal and layup by Peet and a basket by Gephart
halfway through the final quarter.
"We slowed it down against Euclid Shore, Cleveland Heights and Shaw,"
Gephart said. "And some of us scored more points. Against Barberton in the
first half, we probably played the best we did all year."
Ben Klepac, who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 49 in 1979, was the
center on that team, backed up by Delbert Devaughn. Tom Fish, Bob Halgas,
who also recently passed away, and Joe DeChurch also started at times,
though a sophomore, Gephart, also started.
Others on the team included Richard Nelson and Wilbert Jordan.
Peet, a guard, was the leading scorer, though his top performance that year
was 20 points against Willoughby on Feb. 7. Peet was held scoreless in one
game and had two points in another in which he got into foul trouble.
But he impressed enough to be named Most Valuable Player in the LSL, first
team on the Lake Shore District team and first-team all-state tournament
team.
"You know it was kind of ironic," Peet once said about Ashtabula's
tournament run that year. "When I was a junior, I played on what may have
been Mr. Ball's best team. We went 19-1 and then went out and got beat in
our first tournament game to Bedford.
"My senior year, we lose several games but make it all the way to state. How
do you figure it?"
Peet, who died in 2000, was more than a basketball player. He excelled in
football as the quarterback, in baseball as a pitcher-third baseman and in
track, qualifying for state in the discus.
"He was what they call a natural athlete," Averill Peet, his younger brother
by three years, said. "He was a great leader in baseball as a pitcher. He
threw the ball so hard they wouldn't let him pitch, had him playing third
base.
"In basketball, he ran the whole floor. He played his position like Bob
Cousy (former Boston Celtics guard). He was a floor manager who hit the open
man. He was the quarterback in football. When he played in Columbus, he had
pneumonia, but he still went out and played and never told anybody.
"He should be in the Hall of Fame of everything to do with sports. I tried
to get into sports because he was ahead of me, but I looked terrible in
comparison. It was hard because I was his brother.
"I have a picture of me and him and our other three brothers, playing in the
backyard in the mud. We played basketball every day, enjoying every minute
of it. Now, kids don't go outside because there's snow. (Heck), we played
basketball in the snow and mud."
Randy Pope, who played football with Peet and saw him play in most of his
basketball games, considered Peet an "excellent football player and
exceptionally good basketball player. He was just an exceptional athlete.
"He came from a nice, large family. He and his brothers were never in
trouble."
Pope played football on the Panthers' 1946 team, a squad that tied for the
LSL championship with Willoughby after being beaten by Painesville, which
had Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula as its star.
"We lined up in the T but shifted to the single wing," Pope said. "Ray had a
lot of plays and had an excellent arm. He could throw the ball. Mr. (Chic)
Guarnieri was not a passing person. I don't think we threw more than five or
10 times a game. His backfield pretty much shared the running. As fullback,
I weighed 170-175 pounds and weighed more than (Peet).
"Bob Halgas and Nick Dellerba were the halfbacks."
Though Pope didn't play basketball, he attended most of the games, including
the tournament contests, until Ashtabula reached Columbus.
"Ray was a hustler, a good shot with his set shot. That was before the time
of a one-arm shot. Anyone who played for Mr. Ball played good defense."
Jim Sardella, a linebacker and center on the football team, said of Peet,
"He was very athletic. He could throw the ball 70 or 80 yards and was very
accurate as a quarterback. In basketball, he was a real flashy dribbler and
was pretty quick, too. He was just pretty good in everything.
"He was well-liked by everybody. He came from a big family. We had a good
team."
Ashtabula went 6-3 that year in football but tied Willoughby for the LSL
championship with a 5-1 mark. Though the Panthers beat Willoughby, 14-12,
they lost to the Shula-led Red Raiders. To cap the season, they blanked
Harbor, 27-0, on the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Day game.
There were good reasons why Peet led the team, why he was the Panthers'
captain.
"Number one, he was the only starter who started as a junior," Gephart said.
"He was on that good team of 1945-46. His strength was his versatility. He
was a really good passer for his day and the leading scorer his senior year.
At about 5-11, he could play defense against the pivots or the outside
shooters He could guard any player."
In announcing the LSL All-Star 1946-47 team, the Star Beacon pointed out
that Peet, along with Willoughby center George Hilderbrand, was a unanimous
selection. The two shared honors as "co-captains" of the team.
"Peet, an all-around athlete, proved well-balanced in all departments of
play during the league season," the article said. "A dangerous long-range
marksman, Peet could break with the fastest forwards to register from up
close. Fortified with plenty of hustle, he helped instill a winning spirit
into a green Panther team. The blond West Sider excelled at passing and was
sharp on defense."
After graduating, Peet turned down a basketball scholarship to Syracuse
University to sign a minor-league baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs.
He played three years in the minor leagues, before being drafted into the
Army.
He served two years in the service, fighting in Korea before being
discharged in 1952 while holding the rank of sergeant. In 1954, he married
Dolores (Sippola).
"I met him when he was in the service on leave," Dolores, a 1949 graduate of
Harbor, said. "A bunch of us girls were dancing at the Moose Club on Sunday
night. He went with his sister, Gloria.
"He had malaria at the time. Eugene DeGeorge and he were on leave. He drove
back to camp and got quinine. Anyway, we started going out."
The couple had two sons and a daughter.
The oldest of the Peet siblings, David, graduated from Harbor in 1973 after
starring in football and baseball for the Mariners. He moved on to play
baseball for Kent State University, lettering all four years and earning
All-Mid-American Conference honors as a senior in 1977.
Carl was an All-Ohio baseball player for St. John, graduating in 1977, then
went on to play collegiately at Central Oklahoma State, becoming an NAIA
All-American. He now lives in Texas and is a school photographer for Provine
Studios.
Nancy (now Gardner) graduated from Harbor in 1983 and spent a year in Spain
as an AFS student before moving on to Robert Morris College, from which she
graduated cum laude. She is now a banker in Erie. She and her husband have a
daughter, Isabella, 3.
A grandson, Mike, became one of Ashtabula County's best golfers at Lakeside,
earning Northeastern Conference Golfer of the Year honors and a scholarship
to the University of Charleston (W. Va)., for which he still competes.
Peet himself never went to college. He worked at Reliance Electric for 36
years before retiring in 1991.
In 1997, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Panthers' trip to
the state tournament, Peet talked to Star Beacon Sports Editor Don McCormack
about his fond memories of his high school days.
"It was a great honor to represent the students and the administration of
Ashtabula High School," Peet said. "Mr. Ball was the greatest high school
coach Ashtabula or this county ever saw. I also had a great coach at West
Junior High in Mr. Don Hogan.
"As for that '47 team, we all played so well together. We were a true team.
I remember playing that season against (Don) Shula when he was at
Painesville (Harvey)."
The person Peet remembered the most from those days, however, was the
Panthers' coach, Ball.
"I never went into a game where I was not prepared to play, and that's
because of Mr. Ball," he said. "He could have gone on to bigger and better
things, but he loved Ashtabula. He was such a special man... I was asked to
be a pallbearer at his funeral.
"I consider that to be my greatest honor."