Kingsville Hawk soared
By CHRIS LARICK
At one point, before Ashtabula County high schools consolidated into first nine, then eight units (with the merger of Harbor and Ashtabula into Lakeside), there were as many as 22 smaller high schools as recently as the 1960-1961 school year.
All of them offered boys basketball programs, some of them extremely competitive. In the mid-1950s, the best of the smaller (Class B) basketball teams were found in New Lyme (Deming) and Kingsville.
The Kingsville team enjoyed its best season in the 1953-54 season. With Ed Batanian as its coach and Ron Hanson, the "Kingsville Hawk," the best player, the Kings roared to a 22-5 season.
Exactly how many points Hanson scored that season is in question. One newspaper report had him averaging 16.9 points. Hanson says he has boxscores for 23 of the games. The total points he scored in those games add up to 511, 22.2 per contest.
Regardless, there is no question that Hanson was one of the leading players of his era. He was selected to the United Press Class B All-Ohio team as an honorable-mention choice after the season.
Hanson was recently named as one of the inductees of the Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame's fourth class, the Class of 2006.
"I was called the Kingville Hawk because I had the ability to fake guys out and take the ball," Hanson said via telephone from his home in Lyman, South Carolina.
Of the Kings starters, only Ray Reed at 6-foot-6 was more than 6-feet. Hanson himself, who played guard and forward, was 5-8, though he was listed at 5-10 in the newspaper. Brothers Keith Carlson, a senior, and Bill Carlson, a junior, were about 5-10 and guard Joe Brown stood about 5-6. Despite Kingsville's lack of size, the Kings were capable of scoring in bunches.
"We had five games we were over 100 points," Hanson said. "I scored 41 against Austinburg."
In one of their games that 1953-54 season, Kingsville beat Rock Creek,
119-44. Hanson had 32 points in that contest and Reed added 30. In a game
his junior year, the Kings outscored New Lyme Deming, a team that was led by
Hall of Famers Frank
Zeman and Richie Scribben, 107-95. Kingsville ultimately won the Big Seven
championship that year.
In addition to basketball, Hanson played second base on the Kingsville
baseball team and competed in the shot and discus in track. During his
senior year, he finished second in the Orange High School district in the
shot with a throw of 44-111Z2.
"I weighed only about 150 pounds in high school," Deming said. "I weigh a
lot more than that now."
The Kings anticipated great things in the tournament, but were stopped by a
Harbor team they had beaten earlier in the season, 71-57.
Hanson's coach, Ed Batanian, also a member of the ACBF Hall of Fame and
still secretary on the Ohio High School Athletic Association Northeast
District board, recalls that Hanson started at point guard for three years
for the Kings.
"He was just a cat, quicker than lightning," Batanian said of Hanson. "I
don't think I ever saw a kid back in those days as quick as Ronnie.
"We played a lot of pressure defense. The gyms were so small we scored a lot
of points. We played teams like Spencer and Austinburg in the Big Seven. Ron
was a shooter. My theory was that if he was hitting, we'd give him the ball
and I'd just watch him shoot the ball."
Hanson was such a prolific scorer that, when a baker in Conneaut offered a
cake to the team's high scorer in every game, Batanian insisted that the
team decide who was going to get the cake. Otherwise, Hanson would have won
it almost every week.
The manager of the team, Burton Bartram, kept track of who had and hadn't
won the prize. But it got to a point that, despite the baker's idea to let
them eat cake, the Kings no longer hungered for it.
"One time, the kids said, OWe haven't eaten the cake from last week yet,'"
Batanian said. "It would have created jealousy if Ron got the cake every
week. He got the first one and then I spread it around."
One thing that was unique about some of the county basketball courts, which
doubled as auditoriums, was that the teams sat on the stage at one end of
the court during games, Batanian said.
"When you had a timeout, you had to jump off the stage to talk to the kids.
There was no place to move."
When the Kings got to the tournament, Reed, the big 6-6 center, had
pneumonia when Kingsville lost to a Harbor team paced by center Bob Peura
and coached by Elmer Gray.
"Ron (Hanson) was not very big, but he was very quick," Batanian summed up.
"He wasn't the smallest on the team; Joe Brown was. (Hanson) was a very good
When Hanson graduated from high school in 1954, he joined the United States
Air Force, becoming an aircraft repairman and playing basketball for the
Wright-Patterson Kittyhawks in Dayton. He came home in 1955 and played for
the Kingsville alumni team that beat the Kingsville varsity team.
"Ed (Batanian) said we were the best team that they played that year,"
Hanson served four years in the Air Force from 1954 and 1958 and was
reinducted during the Berlin callup in 1960-61, serving an additional 10
Afterward, he began a civil-service career, beginning in Erie, serving 34
years, many of them as a quality assurance specialist, inspecting
He married a woman from Kelloggsville, Alma. They would have been married 51
years in May, but Alma died on March 6. The couple had four daughters and a
son. The family has now extended to eight grandchildren.
Hanson retired in 1990. One year, the Hansons visited one of their daughters
in South Carolina and liked the state so well they decided to move down
"My wife didn't like the cold weather," Hanson, 71 years old, said. "Today
(March 6), it was 75 degrees. My wife's sister lives down here and my son,
Ronnie, is an electrician in a school system down here. Ronnie's 44; he was
born on my birthday."
"McClusky taught me about seeing the floor and organizing practices," Isco said. "I took a lot of his offense like the five-man weave, which most people call the motion offense now. Later on, I found out Knight used it.
"My defense is kind of from all three of those guys. They believed in good man-to-man defense if you could. I wasn't crazy about a zone, but sometimes you had to use it. But you have to go with man defense first. It's easier to go from man to zone defense than the other way."
The coaching wheel
Isco didn't play at Kent State, but he hooked up with the basketball team as a manager, serving in that capacity his freshman, junior and senior years. Those were teaching experiences of a different type.
"I learned the things you don't want to do," he said. "I learned you can't go into practice, or anything, without a plan. I also learned you can't just yell at people. You have to show them how. Many times, you have to repeat things over short periods of time."
Another bonus from his days at Kent State, which ultimately got him to Ashtabula, was meeting his wife, the former Susan Giordan. They've been married 36 years and have five children — Angela Orr, who lives in North Canton with her husband, Steve, Andrea, who resides in Los Angeles, Bill, who lives in Kingsville with his wife, Maryann, Raymond, who lives in Orlando, Fla. with his wife, Suzanna, and Suzanne, who lives in Cleveland. The Iscos have five grandchildren — three from the Orrs and two from the Kingsville Iscos — and another on the way from the Orlando connection.
Isco counts his blessings.
"I'm so lucky to have a good wife," he said. "If you're going to stay in coaching, you need a good wife who understands. Susan raised our kids."
After graduation from Kent State, the Iscos initially headed back to Ashtabula County as he earned a teaching job in Pymatuning Valley Local Schools. He served the 1968-69 school year as Al McClung's seventh-grade boys coach in New Lyme, was his JV coach at PV the next year and served in the same capacity for Bob Hitchcock in 1970-71, as well as being an assistant football coach for Thad Kisnowski.
His first opportunity to be a head coach came at Jackson Center. The three years there were quite a change for two young adults with a young family from Northeast Ohio.
"That was a real education," he said. "It was hard on Susan. It was a nice town of about 500 people who were all related to each other. And you couldn't get a good piece of Italian bread there to save your life.
"I had a lot of ideas I had to change. I learned a lot more things you don't do, like trying to make sure you don't make the same mistake twice."
Back home again
The lure of home brought the Iscos back to Ashtabula for the 1974-75 school year.
"Susan was homesick," he said. "She'd come up here and spend the summers. She told me there was a job opening down at Harbor and she told me to go apply. I think Ange Candela was the superintendent then."
But there was no basketball coaching job at Harbor.
"I was the assistant football coach at Columbus Junior High for Tony Chiacchiero," Isco said. "I ended up coaching track with Ron Chutas and Dean McQuaide when Darrell Sargent was around."
The lure of basketball coaching called for desperate measures.
"I just had to be around the game," Isco said. "I stuck my nose in around Kent-Ashtabula and ended up coaching for two years with Bob Peura."
Finally, the freshmen basketball job at Harbor came open for the 1976-77 school year. Isco spent five years in that post, first for Ed Armstrong, then Higgins.
"That was great," he said. "When you coach freshmen, you're on your own. It was a chance to work on my new philosophies. Ed and John let me teach the motion offense."
A connection with the players that would make him at success at the varsity level, guys like Andy Juhola, Tony Lignetta, Chris Jones, Al Altonen, Joe Sadler, Scott Johnson, John Light, John Ringer and Chris Lunghofer, was developed.
"That was a good group," he said. "They were very close."
After the 1981-82, Higgins took the head coaching job at Madison. Isco stepped up to head coach.
"I was elated," he said. "I knew that group, and I wanted to make sure they achieved excellence.
"There was no pressure with that team. Putting in the motion offense was easy with those guys because they'd played it. The fact they were an intelligent group made it even easier. All I wanted to do was help them reach their potential."
Which they did in the 1983-84 season, reaching the Class AA regional championship game at Canton Fieldhouse before falling to an Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary team that featured future Cleveland Cavalier Jerome Lane and future NFL player Frank Stams. No Ashtabula County boys team has been that far since.
"That was a hard loss to take. It still is," Isco said. "But Tony Lignetta kind of put it all in perspective when we were having dinner after that game. He said, ‘You know, we could play that team 20 times and they'd beat us 20 times.'
"If I had to do it over, I'd probably slow the ball down more, but we only had one day of practice to put it in, which wasn't enough. That (season) was probably the highlight of my coaching career."
Strangely, those Mariners did not win an NEC championship. Two later Harbor squads did.
"Now that was pressure," Isco said. "I can't tell you the sense of relief when we won the NEC the first time."
His Harbor days still resonate with Isco.
"I feel good about my time there," he stated. "I have a lot of fond memories of Harbor, of all the great kids and great assistants I worked with. I loved coaching there."
When he arrived at Ashtabula for the 1994-95 season, he found a group of players eager to enjoy the type of success his Harbor teams had and return to the glory days of the Panther program.
"The kids at Ashtabula wanted to play just as hard as anywhere else," he said. "I just had to get them to play as a team, rather than individuals."
It took two years for everyone "to get comfortable.
"After that, I felt we were starting to gel," he said. "We had a great group of kids like Carlos Cancel, Alan Dunbar and Joey Boggs. We got off to an 8-1 start, and then we found out we had an ineligible player, someone that was way down our bench. We forfeited three games, which dropped us to 5-4. We never got it back after that."
His fourth season was also solid but, in his 30th year of teaching, Isco decided it was time to leave.
"We had a good year," he said. "I remember we played a fantastic game at Edgewood. I got a little burned out that year. But I think I left the program (to his former Harbor player and Ashtabula assistant Tim Tallbacka) in good shape."
His expectations were no different when he took over the Lakeside girls job.
"I never thought of the girls as anything other than athletes," he said. "I think that it helped that I had three girls at home.
"My expectations weren't different. There are hard workers and not-so-hard workers among girls, the same as boys. The girls at Lakeside did the same workouts and worked just as hard as any of my boys teams. I really enjoyed myself."
Those who think Isco is done on the area basketball scene might be surprised. After all, coaching is his passion.
"I'm not closing the door on coaching again," he stated. "It would have to be the right timing and the right circumstances, but I think I'm still physically and emotionally capable of doing it. I haven't forgotten my name yet.
"I still have goals. It hurts that I haven't reached those goals. I still hope I get the chance."
Isco realizes he's received a whole lot from the game, even if he never coaches again.
"I worked with a lot of fine young kids over the years," he said. "If I've been able to help them grow in any way, to be honest, that's far more important than any win."
Besides, there's one other achievement in which he ultimately takes pride.
"I'm most proud of my family," he stated emphatically, the emotions showing again. "Getting the chance to coach my kids has been one of the best parts."
For now, Isco just enjoys being around the game, even if it's on the fringes, because he loves it.
"I like to go to a game and say hello to (Tallbacka) or (Conneaut's Kent) Houston or (Jefferson's Steve) Locy," Isco said. "I think I had a good relationship with other coaches, and even officials. We're all in it for the same reasons."