Humphrey was much more than insurance as a Spartan
By KARL PEARSON
Third of a series...
In his present job with the AFLAC insurance company, Scott Humphrey gets a chance to provide the means to supplemental health care for clients throughout Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties.
But when he played basketball at Conneaut High School for Andy Garcia and Harry Fails from 1968-70, Humphrey was anything but a supplemental player. He was one of the primary reasons why those Spartan teams were among the basketball elite, not just in Ashtabula County, but throughout the area.
In that era, it was rare for a player to become a key factor as a sophomore for the team Garcia coached in his final season of 1967-68. Not only did he play, he thrived that first season, helping an inexperienced team to a 9-11 record.
Long before he became the varsity coach after Garcia retired, Fails was well aware of Humphrey's skills, having worked with him even as a junior high and freshman player. But Fails really utilized Humphrey's gifts when he took over from Garcia in Humphrey's junior year.
He did not fail Fails. During Humphrey's last two seasons with the Spartans, they finished 17-5 and 19-4. In the latter season, Conneaut did something it had never done before, reaching the Class AA regional tournament before dropping out on a 62-60 loss to Akron Central. Humphrey did his best to prevent that, too, scoring 29 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Fails, who left Conneaut for Alliance High School and has long since retired, holds Humphrey in high regard.
"Scott was a great kid," Fails said. "We used him inside. I think it's fair to say he's one of the best players I ever coached."
There are plenty of numbers to support that. He finished with 1,049 points in his career, quite a figure for an inside player and in a day when there was no three-point line. In his senior year, he scored 465 points, when he shared Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year honors with Geneva's Randy Knowles. He averaged 20.3 points per game as a senior.
At one time, Humphrey held the single-game scoring record at Conneaut when he scored 46 points in a game against Pymatuning Valley. He also held Spartan records for rebounds in a game with 25 and for a season with 236.
Even now, Humphrey's scoring ranks him 28th of 34 county boys to tally more than 1,000 career points. He is 46th overall among all male and female players out of a list of 57.
He ranks fifth all-time among Conneaut boys. Ahead of Humphrey are Matt Zappitelli, the county's leading male career scorer and a Hall of Fame member, as well as Matt Pape, Tom Church and Dan Coxon, all of whom benefited from the 3-point arc.
For all those reasons, Humphrey is being inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on March 29 at 3 p.m. at the Conneaut Human Resources Center. He is one of 14 persons being inducted.
The 56-year-old Madison Township resident has been around people of towering stature all his life, including his late father, Stan, a well-known coaching figure in area baseball and basketball and in officiating. Yet, he seems somewhat surprised by his new distinction.
"I'm appreciative for receiving this kind of recognition when there have been so many great players in Ashtabula County, especially back when I played," he said. "You know, you don't think about all the things that go on when they happen. It just seems normal.
"As time goes by and you get older, you begin to realize that what you did back then was special. When you realize there are all these kids in all these schools and that only a dozen or so get to play basketball at every school, then it starts to hit you. Sometimes you realize you could have worked harder, too. But to be considered one of the best is really special."
To be back in the company of his old coaches in the Hall of Fame, including Paul Freeman, who was the JV coach at Conneaut during Fails' tenure as head coach, means a lot to Humphrey. Add to that former opponents he'll be joining and it's quite clear Humphrey is pleased. He's especially happy to join Fails.
"Harry was a great guy and a great coach," he said. "There are some guys he'd scream at, but he never said much to me.
"He always seemed to know what buttons to push with each guy. He was a great strategist. I think we scored off every play he ever designed during timeouts. I'm proud to be going in with him."
On the way up
If ever there was a coach-player bond that grew over the years, it was that between Fails and Humphrey.
"Harry was my coach starting in the seventh grade and he just kept moving up with us," Humphrey said. "He had the greatest influence on me.
"He moved up with us to the freshmen team and we were 16-1. Even back when we were freshmen, we felt we could beat anyone."
With him in that group were Al Razem and Jeff Puffer, who would eventually join Humphrey as part of Fails "Super Iron Five" during the 1969-70 season.
In the early years, they found Edgewood a tough nut to crack.
"We couldn't beat Edgewood when we were younger because they had a bunch of guys who were pretty big in junior high, but they just never got any bigger," Humphrey said. "We lost to them twice in seventh grade, once in eighth grade and gave us our only loss when we were freshmen. But they never beat us at the varsity level."
In the big time
As Humphrey entered his sophomore year, things happened to fall into place for him to be inserted in Garcia's starting lineup.
"Andy had lost six seniors to graduation the year before," he said. "Normally, he wouldn't have started a sophomore, but I guess I was born (to Stan and Betty Lou) at the right time."
Humphrey found Garcia to be a unique character when he joined the varsity. Among his teammates his sophomore year were present Seattle Mariners media director Randy Adamack and Scott Wheeler.
"I remember Andy had a million crazy sayings," he said. "He used to tell you stuff like, ‘Pair off in threes.' He was kind of like the basketball version of Yogi Berra."
When Garcia retired to concentrate on duties as athletic director and Northeastern Conference secretary of officials, Fails took over. Fails may have known how to make Humphrey respond, but he had some help.
"Back in those days, you played games on Friday and Saturday night," Humphrey said. "It just so happened we played Geneva (coached by Hall of Famer Bill Koval) and Ashtabula (guided by Hall of Famer Gene Gephart) back to back.
"Paul Freeman scouted Geneva my senior year and came back and told me this new kid, Randy Knowles, was going to eat me up. I was so psyched up for that game. I held him down pretty good. Then we played Ashtabula the next night and beat them, too."
The Spartans were NEC champions in Humphrey's junior and senior seasons. He was a first-team Star Beacon Ashtabula County and Coaches' All-NEC selection, as well earning all-district and all-state recognition both years.
Humphrey filled a variety of functions for Fails.
"I jumped center, but I played what you'd call a forward," he said. "Harry ran a shuffle offense, so everyone handled the ball. There was a lot of passing and cutting. I ran a lot of postups and got a lot of points off putbacks. He had me help break the press when it was needed."
Fails relied on Humphrey's ability to find cracks in the defense and to serve as a tough rebounder.
"Scott was real smooth," he said. "He wasn't very fast, but he was just so smooth. He had great moves.
"Scott was a great team player. He always carried out his role very well."
Even though the Spartans had great self-confidence, Humphrey felt their opponents tended to take them lightly.
"Nobody picked us to win the league either my junior or senior year," he said.
But the Spartans always seemed to prove their pedigree, especially at tournament time at North High School. Making one's way on the tournament trail was much tougher then.
"Back then, you had to win three games just to get to the district," Humphrey said.
Which is exactly what Conneaut did his junior year. It beat Jefferson for the third time in the 1968-69 season, Madison for the second time and won the rubber match of a three-game set with Ashtabula to reach the district before losing to St. Joseph.
But even that final loss turned out to be a blessing, in Humphrey's eyes.
"I think losing that game helped prepare us for the next year," he said.
Fails did everything he could to get the Spartans ready for the 1969-70 season. He would even get out on the court and mix it up with his players occasionally.
"Back then, you didn't go to camps like they do now," Humphrey said. "You didn't have open gyms and usually when you played in the summer, you were outside.
"Harry loaded us up on the bus and took us down to Tallmadge and we played against all kinds of great competition there. He took us over to Farrell, which was the Pennsylvania state champion back then. We played against Akron Hoban. We played some great teams."
By that time, junior John Colson and sophomore Tim Richards had joined Humphrey, Puffer and Razem in the "Iron Five.
"That's pretty much how it was," Humphrey said. "Jeff Gross came off the bench and so did Robbie Ferl and Dave White."
Again, Conneaut was not picked to win the NEC, but the Spartans proved the doubters wrong again. Their only conference loss was to Ashtabula.
"We lost to a couple Erie teams (McDowell and Prep), too," he said. "Nobody picked us to win the NEC either year and we won them both."
Again, the Spartans caught fire at tournament time. They defeated Ashtabula in the rubber match of another three-game set, 53-45 in overtime, to win the sectional title.
They defeated a loaded Harvey team coached by John D'Angelo that featured OSU football recruit Chuck Baxter, Tim Cannon, John Wooten and other fine players in the district semifinal, 70-64. They slipped past South, 60-59, for the district title. Humphrey was chosen MVP of the district tournament.
To this day, Humphrey believes Conneaut could have won its regional semifinal game against Akron Central if Fails had been able to scout them.
"Harry couldn't scout them, so we depended a lot on the advice to a lot of people," Humphrey said. "They told us we couldn't press them in the first half, and we were down by 16."
Again, it wasn't for lack of trying by Humphrey, who scored 25 of the Spartans' first 41 points in that game.
"We decided to press them in the second half," he said. "We got it back within two.
"The atmosphere at regional was great. The fans were incredible."
It's hard to imagine anybody could have worked harder than Humphrey, even though even he refers to it. About the only thing one could point to was problems at the foul line.
"I was a pretty bad foul shooter," Humphrey said. "I shot 54 percent from the field and 51 percent from the foul line. I wish I could have shot them like my dad."
He believes the Spartans of his era would still do well today.
"I think our teams would be as good as any today," Humphrey said. "Tim Richards and Jeff Puffer would have been great 3-point shooters. I think we played good defense. It was a great team."
Humphrey had the opportunity to play college basketball at Mount Union, but soured on the experience after two years, transferred to Youngstown State and earned his degree.
"I came to the realization nobody was going to pay me for playing basketball," he said.
Fails, who lived in Alliance by that time, tells it differently.
"I don't feel the coach at Mount Union handled him right," he said. "He wanted Scott to play outside and I think he should have played him inside."
Instead, he finished his business degree at Youngstown State in 1975 and worked for many years as the chief financial officer of a couple companies. For the past seven years, he has worked with AFLAC as a district manager. One of his co-workers is former standout Conneaut athlete Mark Wheeler.
Humphrey has been married for more than 30 years to his high school sweetheart, the former Tona Bartone, also a member of the CHS Class of 1970. She is a seventh-grade literature teacher at Madison Middle School.
The Humphreys are the parents of Bryan, a 1998 Madison graduate who participated in the Star Beacon Senior Classic his senior year and scored seven points for the victorious Red team. Bryan, who attended Baldwin-Wallace College was married this past summer to Emily.
Until recently, Scott kept his hand in basketball, too. Aching knees finally forced him to the sidelines.
"I still played in the Mentor Men's League with (old teammate) Tim Richards and guys like (old Geneva foes) Mike Blauman and Al Landphair until last year," he said. "I finally retired after my third knee operation. I have no good knees left."
Even though he followed his father's lead and was also involved in football and baseball, basketball was always Humphrey's main outlet.
"The smaller the ball gets, the worse I get," he said.
Basketball is still his passion.
"I loved playing basketball," Humphrey said. "It was a great way to stay in shape.
"I see a lot of parallels between basketball and life. You can work like crazy and still lose. You just have to pick yourself up again.
"There are no guarantees."