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Ron Richards

The shootist

Fourth of a series...

By CHRIS LARICK
Staff Writer

The tales of great players waiting by the telephone to get the call they've been waiting for are many. Sometimes, it never comes.

Ron Richards can relate to those feelings. Although the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation is only in its sixth year of existence, the Conneaut resident was beginning to wonder if he might ever hear about inclusion in its hall of fame.

The wait is over for Richards, a 1967 Conneaut High School graduate who was a part of one of Andy Garcia's last teams with the Spartans. A fine playing career didn't end there, either, as Richards went on to be a big-time member of the Kent State University-Ashtabula Campus team that won the Ohio branch campus tournament in the 1967-68 season for coach Orville Steigmeyer.

"This is a great honor, no doubt," the 59-year-old Richards said about his selection into the 2008 ACBF Hall of Fame class that will be inducted April 6 at the organization's annual banquet at the Conneaut Human Resources Center. "I've been waiting for this call. It's great to be recognized after 41 years.

"I didn't expect to be in the first class, but after the second or third class, I was beginning to wonder. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging or complaining. The recognition is fantastic. I think I'm the first Conneaut player to make it since Matt Zappitelli (in 2004)."

It must be remembered that circumstances were quite a bit different when Richards played. He was one of the first standout players for Conneaut following the consolidation of Rowe and Conneaut in 1964-65, meaning Garcia was pulling together talented players from both schools.

It was also a time when no 3-point line existed. From all accounts, Richards, who finished with more than 600 points for his career, might well have topped 1,000 points if there had been such a line.

Richards also played in a time when many fine players who are only beginning to rise to the surface roamed area courts. He went toe-to-toe on nearly a nightly basis with Geneva's Steve McHugh, Gary Kreilach and Larry Cumpston, Ashtabula's Jerry Lyons, Bill Kaydo and Jim Gilbert, St. John's Denny Berrier and Billy Johnson and other fine players from a host of other schools.

Several of his contemporaries can attest to Richards' skills.

"Ron was a year ahead of me, but I remember him as a tremendous shooter and scorer," Kreilach said. "We had some great battles with his Conneaut teams. He was very gifted. And he always gave the fans their money's worth."

"Ron was a tremendous scorer," Berrier said. "He could shoot from outside, but he had good size and could go inside, too. As an offensive player, he must have started clapping every time he saw me walk into the gym because he knew he could at least get 20. He was very physical, too. He could post you up or take you off the dribble."

"I didn't get to guard him because I was a guard, but Ron was definitely a pure shooter," McHugh said. "He was always very competitive.

"My senior year Conneaut was the team and Geneva was the team. We had some great battles. If there had been a 3-pointer, he could have made 45 or 50 against us when we played them at Conneaut."

Don Cannell, who watched Richards from his seat at St. John as the JV coach, missed having to face the youngster as a head coach, and was glad he did.

"Ron was a big guy who could really shoot," he said. "The first time we played Conneaut, he was unstoppable. I thought he hit some of his shots from up in the bleachers. He killed us. And he had such a great grasp of the game. He was really something."

On top of it all, many of the coaches of Richards' era — Garcia and Geneva's Al Bailey, in particular — played a rather deliberate style. Big scoring nights were not that common.

Nonetheless, Richards has finally made the grade. He is proud to be mentioned in the same company as Bailey, Garcia, Harry Fails and the like.

"That really is something special," he said. "I'm proud to be a part of it."

In the beginning

The middle of three sons of Mary and the late Roy Richards got started in basketball by his father. His older brother, Jim, a longtime football, basketball and track coach at Jefferson, still lives in that community, while younger brother Gary resides in Ashtabula.

"It was mainly about basketball and baseball for me," Richards said. "I played football until my freshman year, but basketball and baseball were for me.

"My dad got me started in basketball at Southeast Elementary, where he was a volunteer coach. We won our first tournament when I was in eighth grade. Joe Sanford and Andy Raevouri were on my team. I also spent a lot of time playing against older guys like Fred Minor, Tom Naylor and Tom Ritari."

Moving up to Conneaut High School when it stood by itself, Richards played for Mark Stefanic.

"We had a real good team," Richards said. "I played against Denny Berrier for the first time in the freshman tournament. We lost in the finals."

It would be the first of many such battles in the years ahead.

On the varsity

Richards' sophomore year coincided with the merger of Conneaut and Rowe, although he admits "I've always considered myself a Conneaut Trojan.

"It was tough playing back then. Rowe had a lot of fine players, too, so you really had to work for your spot."

He spent much of his sophomore season splitting time between the varsity and the JV team, coached by Stan Humphrey.

"Early in the season, I was probably the sixth or seventh man, but I wasn't playing a lot, so I went to Coach Humphrey and asked him if I could get some playing time with the JVs," he said. "They agreed to let me do that, so I split time for a while. I probably scored 20 points a game in just a half with the JVs."

His teammates at the varsity level were Jeff Garvey, Don Goodman, Bob Naylor and Joe Sedmak. By tournament time, they formed a strong enough unit to win one of the sectional tournaments held at Ashtabula High School before losing to an Edgewood team led by ACBF Hall of Famer Dan Foster, who had transferred from Jefferson because sports had been cancelled (then later brought back), at North High School.

"Foster was one fine player," Richards said.

By the time Richards was a junior, he stood 6-foot-3 and became a full-time starter. But it was not necessary to be the inside man for the Spartans as his old buddy Raevouri stood 6-5 and took on those duties.

"We won the NEC that year and got beat in the sectional finals," he said. "We lost to West Geauga that was coached by Jim Dolan (another ACBF Hall of Famer). I was second-team all-league and all-county that year."

Richards' senior year, as McHugh and Kreilach attested, was a war between Garcia's Spartans and Bailey's Eagles. Richards helped his team win the battle at Conneaut, but Geneva won on its home court and in tournament play.

"I scored 32 points in our game at Conneaut, which tied the school scoring record at the time with Tom Naylor," he said. "We lost by a couple at Geneva.

"The sectional game was a nightmare. We were down 20-1 in the first quarter. We came back on them, but we lost by one."

Richards led the county in scoring that year. He and Raevouri were joined by Cumpston, McHugh and Berrier on the first all-league and all-county teams, while Kreilach made the second team.

There is a hint of mixed emotions on Richards' part about his time playing for Garcia.

"Andy was a disciplinarian," he said. "We probably played a little slower than I would have liked. But we were very successful. We maybe lost nine or 10 games during my career. I had a good career.

"Andy really emphasized defense. He would say, ‘If you hold your man to zero points and you score one, we'll win."

By the end of his high school career, Fails was on the scene as the freshman coach. Four years later, Fails led the Spartan varsity to the regional tournament.

"I'd always like to have seen how our team my senior year would have done against that team," Richards said.

He has one other regret.

"I'd have loved to have the 3-point line," Richards said. "I remember in one game, (noted area official) Bud Ruland called me out of bounds twice and said my heels were out when I shot."

Richards also had a great high school baseball career, ultimately earning a spot in the Ohio East-West All-Star game.

"Rex Kern (who would lead the Ohio State football team to the national championship 18 months later) was on my team and played third base," he said. "I pitched and played first. (Future Los Angeles Dodgers catcher) Steve Yeager was on the other team."

On to college

Richards was ticketed straight out of high school for West Liberty State College in West Virginia, but soon returned home. Fortunately, Paul Reichert, an administrator at the school, got him on campus. That worked out well for everyone concerned because Richards played for the Vikings for two years.

"I played with (Harbor graduate) Al Goodwin and the Dunlap brothers from Painesville, Dan (now the Lake County sheriff) and Darrell," he said. "We had a great time with Coach Steigmeyer. He let us get out and run."

It all led to the branch campus title.

"We beat KSU-Stark County branch up here," Richards said.

In his second season with the Vikings, eventual Edgewood track and cross country coach Don Gill coached the team. St. John great Billy Johnson was added to the team, which enjoyed another successful season, although it didn't repeat as champions.

Then Richards headed off to Kent State's main campus. But there was no more time for playing. Instead, he concentrated on his studies and got his degree in 1972.

Into coaching

His graduation from Kent State came at a good time as his brother, Jim, told him of a teaching and coaching opening at Pymatuning Valley.

Richards was kept busy at PV, starting out as an assistant football, basketball and baseball coach, then moving over to track. Eventually, he took over the head track job when Ron Weaver moved up to athletic director and held that job for more than a decade. He later took on duties as PV Middle School athletic director before retiring after 30 years in 2002.

While at PV, he also met his wife of 31 years, Marie, who is in still teaching at the school. They have a daughter, Holly, who is 24 and a 2001 Conneaut graduate and 2005 Kent State graduate. She is a general news reporter for the Zanesville Times-Recorder.

Troublesome knees pushed Richards into retirement as much as anything.

"I had my left knee replaced in 2002," he said. "My doctor's talking to me about the other one."

He spends his time now playing golf, fixing cars and visiting with his mother, 82, who still resides in Conneaut.

"I help run the Thursday Night Golf League at Village Green with the help of Tim Scanlon," Richards said. "I've always been a car enthusiast and I'm always fixing up cars. I'm working on a 1988 Astro Van that has never seen the snow."

The truths basketball taught Richards still apply.

"I'm still competitive," he said. "Life is a competition. It all carries over into things like dedication and being dedicated to what you're doing. That applies to playing, coaching and even things like running a golf league.

"I still love the competition."