(Radio) waves of greatness
By KARL PEARSON
Ask Pat Sheldon about his basketball skills and he will tell you that they were very ordinary.
But thousands of area players and coaches, not to mention fans, would quickly reply that few people have had a greater impact on the game in the area. Their esteem for Sheldon has nothing to do with his skills on the court, but the way in which he and his WFUN broadcasting buddies, Jim Cordell and Gene Gephart in the early years and Jon Hall, Ed Batanian and Gephart in recent years, have presented basketball for 38 years.
It is almost with a sense of bewilderment that Sheldon talks about his selection to the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. He will be the media representative of the class of 12 inductees for 2007 at Sunday's annual banquet and awards ceremony at 6 p.m. at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
"I was thrilled when I was informed," Sheldon said during a conversation at his office off Prospect Avenue. "I'm certainly honored.
"If there's a reason for it, I guess I would have to say it's my longevity. There are so many other people who are more worthy of the Hall of Fame than I am. I'm just a support person."
He is proud to be back in the company of broadcast partners Cordell and Gephart, who are previous inductees into the ACBF Hall of Fame.
"If it weren't for Jim, Gene and now Jon Hall, there would be no broadcast," Sheldon said. "I've tried to do a little play-by-play before with matters like Little League or the Conneaut girls softball team when they won the state championship (in 2000), but that only made me realize how much talent it takes to perform that role, and I admit I don't have that talent.
"It's unbelievable to me to be in the same company with Jim, Gene and Ed. When I consider that I'm also joining people I've admired for 75 years like Bob Ball and Bob Walters, it truly is amazing."
If not for Sheldon's intervention, though, the WFUN radio team might never have been formed.
"I was listening to a game on WICA (now WFUN) on my way back home from Geneva in 1969," Sheldon. "The disc jockey was so bad that I called (station manager) Dick Rowley to complain. He asked me if I thought I could put together a team that could do any better, and I said I could. That's when I recruited Jim and eventually Gene, who was retiring from coaching (at Ashtabula). The rest is history."
Long before he got involved in broadcasting, basketball was important to young Carey S. Sheldon Jr. Born Aug. 6, 1925 as the youngest of five children of Carey Seth Sheldon Sr. and Ruth (Dunbar) Sheldon, his mother was the first one to tag him with the name most people who know him call him.
"My dad said he would never name a child Junior," he said. "But when I was born, my mother said my dad was too busy to give me a nickname, so she just started calling me Pat. Carey is just my business name. Most people call me Pat."
He and his sister, Carol Keyes of Florida, who was born in 1923, are the lone remaining survivors of their siblings. Older children David, born in 1916, John (1919) and Dorothy (1921) all died relatively early in life.
"I've outlived all the Sheldon men by at least 25 years," he said. "My sister still lives in Florida. We're very close.
"My dad had kidney disease and diabetes and lost his sight. He died the week of Pearl Harbor. David died of diabetes when he was only 28. John died in 1964 of kidney disease. Dorothy died when she was 64."
Because of his father's work, including service as city manager from 1928-37, the Sheldons were of somewhat better means than most families in Ashtabula, even though young Pat's formative years were during the Great Depression.
"We lived on a seven-acre farm out on West Prospect behind what's now Kardohely's Restaurant and back in where Busy Beaver is now," he said. "We had a barn on the back of the property and we set up a basketball court on the second floor.
"It was about 75 feet long and had a slanted roof. My brothers and sisters and I all played up there all the time. I was probably 8 or 9 when I started playing."
It attracted a lot of the poorer kids in Ashtabula, too.
"We had a lot of kids like (Ashtabula County Football Hall of Famer) Ralph Mauro and Tony Collette play up there," Sheldon said. "I was able to play at the Y and in the church leagues in town. I even had kids going to church with me, not because they wanted to go to church, but because they wanted to play in the church league.
"But there was no church league for the Italian kids, so they came over to our barn to play a lot. My two older brothers took care of things there. My sisters even played there as well."
That was different than a lot of girls of that era.