Gregg was next for Falcons
Someone had to take challenge of following Shellie Crandall on the long list of great players at Jefferson & Donna Gregg did just that
By KARL PEARSON
Eighth of a series...
It's one thing to be part of a dynamic duo. It's quite another to have to go it on your own.
So you think that's a reference to Batman and Robin, who made quite a crime fighting pair. But when Batman eventually went out on his own, the productivity didn't drop off.
In the early years of girls basketball, Jefferson coach Larry Meloro had just such a terrific one-two combo in Shellie Crandall doing her magic from the outside and Donna Gregg working on the inside. They were good enough to lead the Falcons (15-6) to a Grand River Conference championship during the 1981-82 season.
When the 1982-83 season rolled around, though, Crandall had graduated and Gregg was on her own. Jefferson didn't enjoy the same level of success as a team (9-11) in Meloro's last season as the coach before he made the transition to administration, but Gregg certainly flourished individually. She set standards for the Falcons that even Crandall hadn't registered, at least for a single season, to that point.
She scored 400 points, averaging 20.0 per game, grabbed the most rebounds (290) and had the highest rebounding average (14.5), made the most field goals (162), had the most free-throw attempts (126) and the most made free throws (76). That big season made Gregg, at the time, Jefferson's second-leading career scorer with 852 points for a 14.2 average rung up in 60 games over three varsity seasons, numbers second only to Crandall.
She was the career rebounding leader with 711, an average of 12.0. She was second only to Crandall at that time in career field goals made (346), field goals attempted (801), free throws made (155), free throws attempted (255), steals (240) and steals per game (4.0). In her junior and senior seasons, she was a first-team Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County and Coaches' All-GRC selection.
Meloro admired Gregg for her adaptability, finding ways to blend well with her teammates when she had capable people to help carry the load, yet having the willingness to shoulder it herself when circumstances called for it.
Most of all, he appreciated the 5-foot-10 Gregg for her unstinting desire to succeed.
"I remember Donna's tenacity," Meloro, now the principal at Rock Creek Elementary, said. "She wanted to win so badly.
"She was a great team player. She was one of the best in terms of the total package. She was a great defensive player. We usually had her guard the other team's best player. Donna was a pleasure to coach."
Gregg functioned well as a complement to Crandall and in her role as the team's go-to player in her senior season.
"Donna and Shellie were good friends," Meloro said. "I wish they'd had the 3-point line back then. Shellie definitely could have shot the three and I think Donna could have, too, if she'd worked at it and I'd have let her shoot it. And in her senior year, we kind of developed the whole offense around Donna."
Crandall came to a deep appreciation of Gregg's gifts almost from the beginning when they first crossed paths in Crandall's sophomore year and Gregg's freshman season.
"Donna always played with a sense of joy," Crandall said from her home in Texas. "She was always a great team player. She did whatever it took to make our team better.
"She was a fun person to be around. She always had a smile on her face. I think we had a bond because we both had a passion for the sport and we played off of each other."
Gregg and Crandall certainly made life miserable for opposing coaches when they played together. It didn't get much better when Gregg was going it alone.
"You put those two together and Jefferson had a good outside-inside game with Shellie and Donna," retired Edgewood coach Bob Callahan said. "It gave them a 1-2 punch that was hard to stop. If you tried to stop Shellie, Donna hurt you inside, and we had nobody that could stop her inside.
"In her senior year, she was their go-to person. She handled that pretty well, too. She was very smooth. I think she was as agile as (Geneva's Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Famer Anita) Tersigni (a playing contemporary)."
Harbor's ACBF Hall of Fame coach Frank Roskovics agrees with Callahan's assessment. He also had a pretty powerful inside-outside punch at that time, too, with Hall of Famers Roberta Cevera and Chris Fitting.
"Jefferson had a good inside-outside combo with Shellie and Donna," he said. "Donna always gave 100 percent. I remember she carried the team her senior year, too."
There was another side to Gregg that opposing coaches appreciated off the court.
"She was a really nice young lady," Roskovics said.
"Donna was a very nice young woman," Callahan said. "She was just a good person."
Serving as the go-to player didn't stop for Gregg when she left Jefferson in 1983. It just was put on hold for a while when she set basketball aside to get her degree in sports administration from Bowling Green. She finished in just three years, graduating in 1986.
Once she got her degree, though, she started working in businesses that really tapped into her ability to be that go-to person. For nearly two decades now, she has been just that for Jeff Jacobs, son of the late Dick Jacobs, former Cleveland Indians owner, as his properties manager and the general manager of the Nautica entertainment complex in downtown Cleveland.
Today, as Donna Votaw, she has also become the go-to person for a family of four that resides in Westlake. She has been married for 14 years to Todd Votaw, brother of former Ladies Professional Golf Association commissioner Ty Votaw. She spends a good portion of her time providing for the needs of 10-year-old Abby, a fourth grader, and 7-year-old Bailey, a first grader, both of whom attend Dover Elementary School in Westlake.
Basketball had pretty much faded into the background of her existence until she was informed of her induction into the ACBF Hall of Fame, which will take place March 28. It was a bit of a stunning development to her.
"I'm very surprised," the 44-year-old Votaw said. "I didn't even know such a thing existed. It's certainly a great honor."
Her new distinction is just starting to sink in with Votaw and several of her loved ones.
"My daughters are just starting to learn about my athletic career," she said. "They're very excited and very proud."
But it really has hit home with her family back in Jefferson, especially her parents, Don and Marilyn, who still reside in the home she grew up in on Eagleville Road.
"My parents are very excited," Votaw said. "I'm sure they're just beaming. I don't think they could be happier."
Joining her old partner in crime, or fellow crime stopper, Crandall, depending on one's point of view, does resonate with Votaw.
"Shellie Crandall was always my idol," she said. "I'm very honored to be joining her. I never thought I'd be considered in the same class with her."
Crandall doesn't hesitate to return the compliment.
"I believed in Donna and trusted her," she said. "I played on the outside and she played on the inside and Coach Meloro brought it all together. She was a great player."
Those who worked with her or opposed her believe Votaw is worthy of her own degree of adulation.
"She's very deserving," Meloro said.
"Donna absolutely is worthy," Callahan said.
The early years
The first sport that really made an impact with young Donna Gregg was, of all things, baseball. The Greggs' youngest of their four children, following sister Jana and brothers Bob and Tom, admits she was a bit of a tomboy.
"My first love was boys baseball," she said. "I always wanted to be one of the boys. My brother, Tom, got cancer when he was real young (and eventually was claimed by the disease in 1991), played when he was able. And I still played even when he wasn't able to because softball was too boring."
The first girl to play Little League baseball in Jefferson, she even hit a home run by a girl in the league — off Star Beacon Sports Editor Don McCormack in a game between her Dodgers and his Tigers at Proctor Field.
Gregg only played basketball in the driveway in those days
"I liked basketball because of the contact and the competition," she said. "I'd play with Tom or we'd go play with Karl Kolehmainen, who lived across the street and had a driveway where we could play."
Gregg actually immersed herself in a lot of different sports. It even gave her a connection with one of her fellow Hall of Fame inductees this year, fellow Jefferson graduate Phil Miller.
"I used to go over to his house and swim in his pool all the time," she said.
Her formal introduction to basketball came in the ninth grade.
"I remember ninth-grade tryouts in the multipurpose room," Gregg said. "I remember watching Cheryl Hawk, who was an older player, and Shellie. I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow. These guys are good.'"
Crandall found Gregg a kindred spirit and started working with her on her game.
"Shellie kind of took me under her wing," she said. "I really liked basketball, and I wanted to play, so she worked with me a lot."
"It was pretty evident that Donna had a lot of gifts, but she needed to develop a level of confidence in her ability," Crandall said. "We became friends right off the bat. It didn't take her long to develop that level of confidence, either. I came to believe and trust in her."
Gregg was bitten by the basketball bug, splitting time her freshman season between the JV and varsity squads.
"By the end of ninth grade, I couldn't get enough of it," Gregg said. "Hanging around with Shellie was pretty special, too. How cool was that!"
On the varsity
Her work ethic and lots of work with Crandall molded Gregg into a player that became useful to Meloro at the varsity level for her sophomore season.
"I loved playing for him," she said. "I always felt I performed well for him. He was a great help to me because he came out and played with us all the time."
There were times when Gregg and Meloro served as foils for each other.
"He picked on me once," she said. "I had been running around the gym in a pretty crazy manner and he stopped things and showed me what I was doing. It was pretty funny."
She got him back, though, unintentionally.
"I embarrassed him once in a while," Gregg said. "I remember we were playing once against Harbor and I mistook an official for one of my teammates and threw the ball out of bounds. He left the floor and went up and sat in the stands for a while.
"I think we frustrated him sometimes, but then I think he realized he was working with a bunch of girls. I think his wife kept him in tow. He treated us all as equals. I just loved to play ball and win."
The Falcons did just that, going 11-8 in the 1980-81 season.
Gregg continued to work hard on her game. She was ready to be a big contributor for her junior year.
"Shellie was the point guard," she said. "I was the forward-center. The big thing I was told to do was hit the boards."
That definition of roles worked in style as the Falcons fought their way to the GRC title.
"I always remember wanting to beat Southington," she said. "I always loved to play against PV, too."
Crandall and Gregg worked a lot on making their respective skills mesh and click.
"I remember we specifically worked on passing," Crandall said. "We worked on trying to anticipate where the pass was coming from or where it was going to."
The focus turned to Gregg for her senior year. She, in turn, served as a mentor to another player, much as Crandall had done with her.
"In my senior year, Diana Grose took Shellie's spot at point guard," Gregg said. "I actually had to convince her to play and she finally did. I think if she'd had confidence, she'd really have been good."
Gregg did all she could to prepare herself for her new leadership role, actually going to summer camp in an era when that wasn't all that common for area players.
"I went to the Ohio State basketball camp that summer," she said. "I also went to camps at Geneva and Grand Valley."
She also tried to test herself against other competition.
"I used to love to practice with the boys," Gregg said. "I always kept playing with the guys."
Crandall wasn't surprised at all at how well Gregg assimilated her new responsibilities.
"You could see Donna blossoming and maturing as a leader as she went along," she said. "I knew she would do a great job."
Other key players for the Falcons in the 1982-83 season were Darlene Covell and Annie Lehnert. But Gregg was the undisputed leader.
"I was very confident," she said. "I loved to shoot outside and I loved to steal the ball. Coach Meloro always used to tell me to watch their eyes to try and steal the ball, so I did and I think I did have a lot of steals."
Unlike a lot of her contemporaries who complain about the limitations of their game, operating with no three-point shot and being forced to play with the larger boys ball, Gregg didn't seem to mind those restrictions.
"I don't like the girls ball they play with today," she said. "I didn't mind the boys ball at all. I don't think I'd have shot many 3-pointers."
Callahan not only admired Gregg for her competitive spirit, but her friendly attitude off the court.
"Donna was always such a nice girl," he said. "I remember she used to work at the Dairy Queen in Jefferson and they used to have a certain flavor of ice cream they served at the time. After a while, they stopped serving it, but I stopped one day and asked for that flavor of ice cream.
"Donna came outside and put a piece of tape over that flavor on the board, so I didn't get the ice cream I was looking for, but it gave me quite a laugh. She was just a delightful person."
She always knew she had a faithful band of fans to support her athletic pursuits. Apparently, she was an inspirational figure to at least some of that contingent.
"My mom and dad were always so supportive," she said. "My mom never missed a basketball game. They always brought (her niece) Laurie (who became a key player for Rod Holmes' fine Jefferson teams of the mid-1990s) and her sister, Amber, along to the games."
Gregg's basketball career ended with her high school days, although some opportunities were available. Her performance did get some attention from smaller schools closer to home, but she had her mind pretty well set on other goals.
"I had offers from schools like Slippery Rock, but I visited Bowling Green and I fell in love with it when I saw it," she said. "I tried to walk on with the basketball team out there, but they had a female coach and I didn't care for her style.
"Plus, the first day I was out there, I saw all the other talent and I just went, ‘Whoa!' "
Bowling Green isn't the biggest city in the world, but Gregg admitted it was a lot bigger atmosphere than that to which she was accustomed.
"It was a bit of a culture shock going from a small community like Jefferson to a school that size," she said. "I have to admit, I enjoyed being coddled back in Jefferson. I just decided to concentrate on my studies."
So she threw herself into a feverish academic pace at Bowling Green and, by attending summer school, blazed her way to her degree in sports administration in just three years.
"My idea was to work for a pro team in some way," she said.
At least initially, that's the career path she took. She started with an internship for the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
"They had me write stories for the magazine they put out," Gregg said. "I liked it because I was still around sports."
That gave her connections to the next step in sports, working as the assistant sports information director at Cleveland State University for the late Merle Levin. She started there in 1987 and worked there for two years.
"I got to travel with a lot of the women's teams and I'd get to practice with them a bit," Gregg said. "I think I held my own. I really liked it, but I needed to make more money."
In 1989, she started working with Total Events Services, a company that was charged with the operations of a number of big events at big venues in Cleveland.
"I actually got to run things like the National Rib Cookoff because we did all the operations for it," she said. "I also helped set up a lot of the big concerts at the old Cleveland Stadium. I did that until 1991."
While involved in that enterprise, she made her first connection with Jeff Jacobs. It started with work on a lot of the concerts conducted on the Nautica stage and gradually evolved into managing the properties of the Jacobs family in the Flats and other areas throughout downtown Cleveland. She worked for him ever since
"My office is down in the Flats," she said. "It's about a 20-mile drive right off of Interstate 90 for me."
Working for Jacobs turned out to have another side benefit for Gregg. It's how she met Todd Votaw.
"I started shopping at his hardware store (Sutton Hardware, located in downtown Cleveland)," she said. "It's like a mini-Home Depot, only it's more personalized.
"He used to cut all my keys. He told me later that he'd miscut my keys all the time so I'd have to keep coming back."
They have been married for 14 years. Westlake is the home of many Cleveland professional athletes, although Donna said she hasn't had much contact with them.
"I did see (Cavaliers coach) Mike Brown in the store one time," she said.
Votaw isn't around sports much anymore, something she misses. She's hoping at least one of her daughters is bitten by the bug, although it isn't looking like it will be basketball.
"Both of my daughters are dancers," she said. "(Bailey) seems to like volleyball."
She does admit her daughters have been duly impressed by their mother's new distinction.
"They're learning about my athletic career," Votaw said. "They're very excited and proud."
The skills she learned on the court have served Votaw well in the business world.
"Basketball was very good for me because of the discipline and the focus I learned," she said. "It taught me to get the job done right the first time.
"Certainly, the teamwork was important. I probably oversee 25 people. You have to treat them all differently to get the most out of them."
The same truths hold true with her family.
"I try to do the same thing with my family," she said