By CHRIS LARICK
The Northeastern Conference was so competitive during the early 1980’s that the Harbor Mariners went 49-16 over a three-year span and made the regionals one year without a single NEC championship.
So it’s not so much of an oddity that the Ashtabula Panthers had a group of players coaches drooled over in 1983-1984 but who failed to win a title. That occurred because Madison beat the Panthers in the final game of the season to claim the title.
Terry Thompson, Terry Hanna, Louis Taylor, John Marsh and Carlos Aponte (then a junior) all played for that Panther team. Aponte is already a member of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. Thompson will join him this year.
Thompson had come up through the Ashtabula system, playing for coach Joe Rich in the seventh grade, along with Milton Bunch, Robert Gray, Louie Doyle and Keith LaDu. That group moved on to play under the coaching of Roby Potts in the eighth grade.
Getting his height early (he would top out at 6-foot-2), Thompson played center on those junior high school teams.
He played for Lynn Altonen as a freshman, before ACBF Hall of Fame coach Bob Walters moved him to guard as a sophomore, when he played with teammates Ray Davis, Bill Taggert and Tony Ross.
“We were a so-so team then, about .500,” Thompson said. “We were playing against guys like (Harbor’s) Dana Schulte and (Geneva’s) Ralph DeJesus. My junior year we won the NEC, but my senior year we lost to Madison in the last game.”
Walters had moved Thompson to forward that year, with Taylor and March playing the guard positions.
“I think I was the second-leading scorer on the team (to Kevin Hanna) that year,” Thompson said. “I probably ld the team in assists all three years.”
Madison and Harbor were the other top teams in the NEC at the time. Hanna recalls one game against the Mariners very well.
“We played Harbor at home my senior year and I made a last-second basket to win the game,” he said. “Those were all memorable games against Harbor.”
Thompson was very impressed by Walters as a coach.
“He taught me so much stuff I still use in life today,” Thompson said. “Things other than playing basketball, things like respect and hard work."
Thompson also played football for the Panthers during his junior and senior years, playing defensive end on defense and tight end on offense under coach Rollie Mushrush. John March was the quarterback and Isaac Scruggs and Tony Fleming the running backs on that Ashtabula team.
“I had a lot of passes thrown to me and scored a few touchdowns,” Thompson said. “(Mushrush) was a tough coach. We were so-so, about .500.”
He also ran track as a junior, competing in the 440-yard sprint.
After graduating in 1984, Thompson moved on to play basketball for Kent State’s Ashtabula branch for a year, playing alongside former foes like Harbor’s Greg Vandeweel, Conneaut’s Bruce Maenpaa and Edgewood’s Jeff Hall.
“We had a pretty successful second half of the season,” he said.
After his freshman year, his mother died and Thompson quit school and went to work. His first job was at the Northeastern Box Company in Ashtabula. After three years there, he moved on to Premix Plastics in Kingsville.
He took a job in Warren in 1996 and eventually moved to Akron in 2010. He now works for Pull-Apart, a salvage yard in Akron.
Now single, Thompson has two sons, almost 20 and almost 16.
“My older son is a pretty good basketball player,” Thompson said. “He’s 6-4 or 6-5. My younger son is now a junior at Garfield in Akron. He’s starting his first year of organized ball. He’s still learning a little bit.
Thompson tries to help his son out, but not to the point of interfering with his coaching.
“I’m not like some parents. I let him have fun.”
Thompson himself still plays basketball regularly in Akron on the local playgrounds.
“I used to play with my sons,” he said. “Now I find a gym and play with people my own age. I’d been playing with people younger than me. When I can’t keep up with these guys, I’ll quit playing.”