The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 9, 2014

A Don McCormack column: Simply... the Best

Sports Editor

— One of the many cool things about this life is how we can “know” someone, but not really know them, isn’t it?

Take, for example, the relationship between yours truly and R.D. (Bob) Best.

For more than a decade, we have spoken on Sunday evenings for several months.

He’s the guy who reports the results of the Amboy Rifle Club’s weekly contests, which appear in our Monday sports section, usually.

And while we’ve spoken many times during his dutiful service in reporting the results of the club, which was founded in December 1954, we don’t really “know” each other.

In fact, we’ve never actually met.

During our conversation this week, like everyone else who lives in Northeast Ohio, the Midwest, in fact, our talk turned to the absolutely crazy weather we’ve all been through, endured, more like.

I asked him how the arctic blast we received this week compared to others he’s seen and, lo and behold, turns out, the guy is one heck of a good story teller.

“Ah, this is nothing!” he said in his typically understate tone. “In the winter of 1963, it was 14 or 15 below for something like 30 days straight.”

But wait, there’s more.

“I remember us trying to set a beaver trap out on the ice,” he said. “We couldn’t reach far enough under, so I took my shirt off, laid it on the ice and got on my stomach to reach into the water and set the trap.”

Hold the horn... didn’t you say it was 14 or 15 below zero?

“Yeah, turns out, I wasn’t too smart,” the guy who turned 78 in October said. “I was 28, at the time... certainly old enough to know better.”

Somehow, he survived that encounter with Old Man Winter, only throw down with him again in 1964.

“The next year, we were trying to set another trap and we just couldn’t get it right,” he said. “So, I stripped down and tied a 20-foot dog chain around my waist. I dove into the water and set the trap.

“Looking back, it wasn’t too smart, huh?”

As our conversation progressed, I asked him about where he grew up.

“I was raised in Conneaut,” he said. “But I went to Rowe High School.”

He graduated in 1954 and was a pretty fair athlete.

“I actually set the school record in the quarter-mile my senior year at Rowe,” he said, a very slight twinge of pride coming through his voice. “I ran it in 52.3 seconds.”

Many years later, Best happened to be at the high school for some type of event and noticed a chart on the wall that listed the school records in track and field.

And he was caught off-guard.

“They had the quarter-mile record listed as belonging to some guy who had run it in like 57 seconds,” he said. “When I asked one of the guys in charge at the school about it, he told me they change them every 10 years or so and start over.

“I told him, ‘well, they certainly aren’t really school records, then!’”

 Best has been involved with the rifle club for decades, now, and still competes.

“Well, I don’t know if I’d call what I do these days competing,” he said with a laugh. “More like participating.”

In other words, he has trouble shooting straight?

“I can still pull the trigger, anyway,” he said through yet another laugh, pausing for effect, “as long as they point me in the right direction.”

Born in 1935 on the cusp of the swing, or big-band era, Best, and his loving wife, still have the same zest for life as he did back in the day when he’d brave ice-cold waters to set beaver traps.

“I don’t dive into freezing water anymore,” he said, laughing again. “And I don’t shoot nearly as straight, either. But I figure, as long as they’ll have me, I’ll keep going.

“You know me.”

Not quite yet, sir, but, I’m getting there, one Sunday at a time...

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at