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Sue Pokelsek

Pokelsek flashed across the basketball horizon

Former Harbor great played the game only 7 years, but set a state record and then played at BGSU

By KARL PEARSON
Staff Writer
Sue Pokelsek's basketball career didn't last long, a mere seven years. But when she was on the court, she definitely made an impact.

Basketball also has had a profound effect on her life in the years since she graduated from Bowling Green State University. It has had a great influence on her course through the business world.

The lessons learned on the courts of Ashtabula County and at BG have helped her structure her life as a wife and mother as well. Known now as Sue Pokelsek Ioas, she and her husband of 15 years, Michael, reside in Cincinnati with their sons Stephen, 9, and Adam, 7. 

"I've stayed at home with the kids the last three years," she said during a break in the action on the home front. "I still do consulting work (for John Morrell and Co., owned by Chiquita Banana), but being Mom is the best job."

Ioas, 42, is grateful for all the skills she's acquired. She is very pleased to have her court skills acknowledged again, 25 years after she graduated from Harbor High School in 1979 and more than 20 years after she departed the competitive sphere, as she is inducted Sunday into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation's Hall of Fame. That will happen at the second annual ACBF banquet at the Conneaut Human Resources Center at 6 p.m..

Among her accomplishments on the court for the Mariners were the distinction of grabbing 39 rebounds in a game against Conneaut on Jan. 4, 1978 that still stands as a state record. She helped get the coaching career of another of this year's ACBF hall-of-fame inductees, Frank Roskovics, who registered a 109-58 record off to a solid start.

With her numbers, Ioas made enough of an impression on Bowling Green coach Kathy Bole to bring her in an era when women's collegiate basketball was ruled by the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) and scholarship money was doled out only after candidates had been subjected to tryouts. The 6-footer from the small school in the northeastern part of the state in a time when northwestern Ohio was considered the hotbed of girls basketball must have stood out, going on to play four years for the Falcons.

She proved to be a worthwhile investment for BG, finishing just short of 1,000 career points as she had at Harbor. Her contributions made a lasting impact, earning her selection to Bowling Green's All-Century Team in 2000.

Introduction to basketball

Involvement in athletics began at an early age for Ioas. It was natural that would happen, since her parents, Alyce and John, made sure Sue and her sister, Cheryl, a 1977 Harbor graduate, were athletically active.

"I remember swimming at the YMCA from the time I was little through my freshman year in high school," Ioas said. "I swam for Beverly Windle at the Y. She was a tremendous motivator."

Alyce Pokelsek didn't just lavish her love for athletics on her daughters. She helped Windle out at the Chalk Box when the latter struck out on her own with her gymnastics school. She continued to teach neighborhood youngsters the basics of swimming in her own backyard pool at her home behind Columbus Junior High virtually until her death in 2000. In Alyce Pokelsek's memory, her daughters have presented a scholarship to a senior girl the past three years at the Ashtabula County Women's Scholar-Athlete Association awards banquet.

"My mother grew up in Collinwood," Ioas said. "She never had the opportunities to play that girls today do. She just wanted us to have those opportunities. I'm glad I had the chance to play three sports in high school, and we played on into the summer, too."

Proudly, Ioas noted that she was Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County and Coaches' All-Northeastern Conference in volleyball, basketball and softball. Her sister became a cheerleader.

Basketball really just was another thing to play in the backyards or on neighborhood driveways.

"I used to play at the neighbors' houses," Ioas recalled. "I remember playing a lot at Paul Everett's house. I was the only girl playing."

The Harbor coaching staff realized what they had, at least in some degree, when Ioas arrived. Jennifer Lautanen and Crena Baker were the coaches her freshman year.

"I played volleyball and softball as a freshman," she said.

But basketball wasn't on her agenda until her sophomore year, when Baker convinced her to join the squad. The urging of classmates like recently retired Jefferson volleyball coach Jeanine Bartlett, Lori Davis, Rita Wagner and Lori Herpy (Mercilliott) may have also helped.

"I was 6-feet tall and I was left-handed," she said. "They probably said I should be on the team.

"We had a group of about five or six girls who did all three sports and had good success. It was neat. I remember going to camps together in the summer at Otterbein and at Dayton."

It was a fortuitous decision, although things didn't really start to happen in hoops until her junior year. It also helped her cope with the death of her father that year.

"My sophomore year, we had some success, but my junior year, Rosko was definitely the coach and things really started to happen," Ioas said. "I remember Randy Gephart sat behind me in class and was kind of my personal press agent (as a student worker at the Star Beacon)."

That really wasn't necessary. Her performance spoke for itself, especially the 39-rebound night.

"Jeanine and I have a standing joke that she missed a lot of shots to help me get the record," Ioas said with a laugh.

Despite having such a solid team, though, the Mariners never claimed an NEC championship during Ioas' career. They hit a barrier in Sally Toukonen (Dulak's) Geneva machine of the late 1970s.

"Rosko and (assistant Dik Pavolino) really had us going," she recalled. "But we kept running into Geneva with Anita Tersigni, Lori Korver, Nadine Cox and Ellen Beitel. We were in a very good league and we had some great rivalries."

Certainly, her 39-rebound game is one of Ioas' high-school highlights, but she has others.

"I remember my last game in the tournament down at Champion," she said. "I scored 35 points (against Lakeview), and we made a big comeback, but we lost the game.

"I remember playing in the (Star Beacon) Senior Classic (in 1979). I think it was the first one. That was a lot of fun."

College basketball

However, those achievements meant little to college coaches of the day. Girls had to almost be self-promoters to play at the next level, since recruiting budgets were nearly non-existent. Fortunately, Ioas had a coach looking out for her interests.

"There was not nearly the kind of recruiting back then," Ioas said. "Rosko was very good about sending out information on me to schools. I'm really grateful to him for that..

"I had interest from schools like Edinboro and Otterbein. But I got invited out to BG for a tryout. You would go out and practice with their team."
Apparently, Ioas' tryout was very successful.

"I was offered a 50 percent scholarship my freshman year," she said. "My freshman year was a phenomenal experience. I remember playing at places like Ohio State that year."

The Falcons must have thought after that first year that Ioas was worth the investment.

"My last three years, I was on a full ride," she said. "I'm pretty proud of that."

It gave her something to brag about when she got into her career, but she's kept a low profile about it.

"A lot of people in the business world purposely hire former athletes because they know what to expect of them," Ioas said. "Throughout my career, I've worked predominantly with men. It's funny to listen to them brag about their achievements. I get the last laugh because when they're talking about paying off student loans, I know that my career paid for my education."

But she shrugs off the notion that she and players like Tersigni, who played four years at the University of Cincinnati, were pioneers.

"Yes, I guess I think we were somewhat pioneers, but I also feel somewhat lucky," Ioas said. "We were just athletes. Basketball just happened to be my best area of success."

Balancing their athletic commitments with their academic responsibilities was more demanding for female players of Ioas' day than what today's players face.

"College basketball was really eye-opening," she said. "It was a very different time with the level of work demanded, like lifting weights for the first time, and still being expected to get good grades. You didn't get the breaks or the flexibility from professors that they get today, either. You had to find a way to keep up."

All the demands made team members a close-knit group.
"We had a group of five girls who all played four years together," Ioas said. "We weren't just teammates, but good friends. My roommate was the team star. I played with Deanne Knoblauch (briefly the BG women's coach, who worked with Jefferson product Kelly Kapferer). She was an outstanding player. They were great teammates."
Still, Ioas feels the Falcons didn't accomplish everything they could have.

"I think we could have been more successful if we had played for Fran Voll (the legendary coach who succeeded Bole)," she said.

Ioas feels she did continue to grow as a player.
"I think I got better every year," she said. "It was a growing experience. I started developing back problems my junior and senior year or I think I could have done better."

At that time, there were no avenues for women's players beyond college. Her back problems, plus her intended career path, pretty much closed the door on basketball when her time at Bowling Green ended in 1983.

"I was a business major," Ioas said. "I never had an interest in coaching or teaching."

After basketball

The principles learned in her athletic career have continued to influence Ioas, though.

"Basketball had a huge impact on my business life," she said. "The fact it's a team sport helps you with matters like working as a group and getting along with other people, but I had also learned to be self-disciplined and self-motivated."

It has a great impact on her family, too.

"I've tried to steer my kids into a lot of outdoor activities," she said. "Our family attends a lot of sports, and it's getting bigger all the time. We have (Cincinnati) Bengals season tickets and we go to Reds games and UC basketball games.

"So many of my friends complain about the running around they do for their kids' sports, but I enjoy it. We're into something at least three times a week."It even prompted her to take a stab at coaching Stephen's basketball team, which reinforced her previous reluctance, at least for now."I didn't like it very much," she said.Stephen is also into swimming, which Ioas wishes her mother could see. Andrew also is getting starting in basketball at the local YMCA and plays baseball and soccer.She tries to apply the lessons her parents, Windle and Roskovics instilled."Of course, my parents had a big influence on me," Ioas said. "My mother taught Stephen the beginning strokes, just like she did for so many of my friends' kids."Beverly Windle never got enough credit for all the kids she helped and the positive role model she was. She used to tell us, ‘The sky's the limit.'"And Rosko was always an outstanding advocate for girls sports," Ioas said. "He was, and is, a great champion for them. We all owe him a lot."