By KARL E. PEARSON - email@example.com
There were plenty of highlights, with a few lowlights, mixed in when Larry Cumpston arrived on the varsity for his junior year of 1965-66 for Al Bailey, even though Andy Garcia’s Conneaut team won the Northeastern Conference title outright.
“My junior year was actually pretty easy,” he said. “The only thing was that we lost a couple games because of foul shots.
“Mr. Bailey always emphasized defense and free-throw shooting. He’d have us shoot 50 free throws on our lunch break and 50 after practice. One time, Steve (McHugh) and I made 50 in a row. Steve went on to make 55 straight.”
It was a fairly young team in Cumpston’s junior year.
“Jim Boyner was our only senior,” he said. “Gary Kreilach started as a sophomore with Steve, me and Mark Debevc.”
There were some memorable games from that 14-7 season.
“We played St. Joseph’s here,” Cumpston said. “We came from eight points down to tie the game, but eventually lost. Steve and I both played well in that game.
“We played Harvey when they were undefeated. Mr. Bailey really had them scouted and he came back and told us how we could beat them. We shut them down and upset them. I had 27 points and Steve had 28 in that game.”
Cumpston became Bailey’s defensive stopper, at least out front.
“My first assignment was against John Smith from Ashtabula, who was the county’s leading scorer,” he said. “I held him to 11 points.
“I ended up guarding guys like Lou DiDonato from St. John, Mark Andrews from Harbor and Don Andersen from Riverside (eventually the Beavers’ head football coach).”
The Eagles got hot in the sectional tournament, reaching the district semifinal at North before dropping out.
“I had the flu for that game,” Cumpston said.
Cumpston, who averaged 12.8 points, and McHugh, who had 14.1, made first-team Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County and Coaches’ All-NEC honors.
With a veteran club coming back for their senior year of 1966-67, big things were expected of Cumpston, McHugh and Kreilach. Debevc didn’t go out for basketball, deciding to concentrate on football, which earned him a scholarship to Ohio State and eventually to national championship honors with the Buckeyes. But the Eagles had able replacements in players like Doug Warren, Dave Birsa, Ron Cerjan, Marty Skidmore and Tim Lanigan.
“I thought we had one of the strongest teams,” Cumpston said. “I knew Conneaut was loaded, too.”
It turned out to be a wild season in an era when every game was a battle.
“St. John beat Conneaut, but Ashtabula beat us,” Cumpston recalled. “We lost to Conneaut over there, but beat them at home.
“We were down to them by six with two minutes to go at home, but I stole the ball twice and fed Steve. With four seconds left, I fed Steve and he hit about a 12-footer at the buzzer to beat them.”
There was another big game against St. Joseph during the regular season.
“We played up there,” Cumpston said. “Steve had 30 and I had 27, but he twisted his ankle. We lost by two.”
Geneva and Conneaut would meet again. The final time came in the sectional tournament at Ashtabula’s Ball Gymnasium. The atmosphere was electric and somewhat toxic as both Bailey and Garcia complained afterward about the conduct of fans, mainly adults.
Geneva built a lead as high at 28-13 at halftime and still held a 42-30 lead after three quarters before Conneaut came storming back to fall just short, 58-57. McHugh scored 29 points, Kreilach had 13 and Cumpston had 10 to offset 20 from Conneaut’s Andy Raevouri, 19 from Ron Richards and 11 from
“I had the flu for that game, too,” Cumpston said. “We had a big lead and ended up beating them by a point.”
Cumpston’s high school career was ended by Shaw in the district semifinal at North, 65-46. He finished with eight points against the Cardinals, while Kreilach had 16 and McHugh had 13.
The Geneva and Conneaut players got together again on the Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County and Coaches’ All-NEC team. Cumpston, who averaged 15.3 points, and McHugh, who had 18.3 points, were joined by Richards, who scored 19.1, Raevouri, who had 17.6 and St. John’s Denny Berrier, who had 16.8.
With those numbers, it would have figured that the 6-foot-1 Cumpston would have been an intriguing college prospect. But some other numbers, chiefly his grades, held him back.
There is an amusing sidebar to that, though.
“During my junior year, I got called out of English class by a guidance counselor, who told me there had been a call from the Naval Academy about me,” Cumpston said. “But I knew I didn’t have the grades.
“Later in the day, I got to practice and Mr. Bailey had all the JV and varsity players saluting me.”
Cumpston also had a big impact on other Geneva teams.
“My senior year, (legendary tennis coach) Arnie Bradshaw didn’t have enough players for his team,” he said. “Mr. Bailey liked to play tennis, and he came along and told us, ‘You’re playing tennis.’ We did and I really liked it.”
Winning an NEC championship probably helped with that enjoyment.
Bailey tried to give Cumpston further guidance. He advised Cumpston if he got his grades up that he could probably walk on at some other four-year school. So he decided to try it.
“I got ready and went to Kent State-Ashtabula,” he said. “When I got there, they had an all-star team. They had Ron Richards, Dan and Darryl Dunlap, Sid McPaul (from Pymatuning Valley), Al Cooper, Bob Niemi and Al Goodwin (from Harbor).
“Richards and I became pretty good friends. He and I, the Dunlaps and Niemi started. We lost the first game because we had no chemistry, but after that, we won the rest of them while I played. I remember we won a game at Jamestown where we were way down at half, but Ron came out in the second half and hit 11 in a row. That was before there was the 3-pointer.”
But the academic life was not for Cumpston at that time. He has come to regret that a bit over the years.
“I flunked out,” he said. “I had a brand new car that I had to pay for.
“Looking back, I would have liked to have an education. I had a dream of playing college basketball.”