By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
It’s human nature to want to be part of new things. That philosophy can lead to many new and wondrous occasions. At the same time, there definitely are advantages to maintaining and cultivating traditions from past years.
The Westside Shootout basketball tournament has been part of Ashtabula activities for 54 years now. Throughout those years, there have been up and down times.
This weekend’s event provided a great opportunity to keep the tradition moving in the right direction. Those involved for many years had a good time, and those just finding out what it entails it is an introduction to something that means a lot to the community.
Started 54 years ago by co-founders Lonnie Cooper and Larry Wells, among others, the shootout provides a chance for friendly competition at a setting most players and fans can appreciate — the outdoor court at the West Avenue where West Junior High used to stand.
“I helped start this thing over 54 years ago now,” Lonnie Cooper said. “A lot has changed over time, too. These kids now have more speed in their game. I played with some really fast guys, but overall, the game is a lot faster now. I think back in my day, we had better fundamental skills in the game of basketball. The kids today are having a terrible day shooting the ball.
“I don’t think, over the first couple games, that I’ve seen more than three or four jump shots go into the basket.”
Sitting next to his good friend and the oldest player in this year’s event, James Holley, Cooper still enjoyed being part of the shootout.
“I’m thrilled to be part of this again this year,” Holley said.
He had given an admirable effort in Friday night’s 3-point shooting contest, and at the ripe young age of 59, he still got out on the court.
Between 300 to 400 people were in attendance to watch family, friends or just take in some basketball.
Roby Potts, former Ashtabula girls coach, and Scooby Brown, who have spent many years together in various hardwood efforts in the city, gazed at the event.
“I really miss the old West Junior High,” Potts said as Brown nodded in agreement. “I can remember all the times when Mr. Farello would open the gym for us to play. We both graduated from high school in 1963, and things have changed a lot since then.”
“These kids have a lot of skill,” Brown said. “I kind of think that they don’t appreciate what they have around them now, though. We always had open gyms to play, but I can also recall the custodian reminding us that we had to take care of the gym while we were there. If we didn’t pick up after ourselves, or broke something, we weren’t allowed to use the facility any more. That taught us a lot of life lessons.”
The competition was fierce all day. In the end, it all came down to the team sponsored by Chick’s Bar being able to come out of the loser’s bracket to beat last year’s champions, the Riding Dirty team from Cleveland, who had sent them into the loser’s bracket earlier in a tough battle.
Skinner was very appreciative of the effort Chick’s, paced by former Lakeside stars Emilio Parks and Ace Jones. They were joined by Tom Parker, Geovanti Rose, Rich Austin, and Kevin McCaleb.
“I thought is was really a good effort that Chick’s put out to come out of the loser’s bracket to win like they did,” Skinner said. “It was so hot out today, but they battled back against the red team (Riding Dirty) to win two games that they had to win.
“Everybody played hard all day, but I think everybody sure did miss a lot of layups and easy shots.”
Tournament MVP Rich Austin, in the process of transferring to Gannon College from Lake Erie College, noticed the differences in playing on an outdoor court with double rims.
“I just came out here to have some fun and play with these guys today,” he said. “I wanted to play my game and give all the glory to my lord Jesus Christ for the chance to be here. We had to make adjustments, and shooting was tough.”
Tournament director Mike Osborne thought the weekend event was a success.
“Overall, I think this was an excellent weekend,” he said. “I have so many people and sponsors to be thankful for. I have to thank Jessica Cancel for keeping score for us all day and keeping the games running smoothly. My staff was great, led by my brother, Bill Osborne. All the guys who officiated were sharp, and most of all, I am thankful for our community for its support. We do this for them, and they really come out in support.”
Cancel, a former Ashtabula Panther star who also had to keep track of her own three children, was happy to be apart of the event.
“I’ve been keeping score since I was in high school,” she said. “It’s very hectic keeping score and taking care of the kids, but it’s something I enjoy doing.”
With so many former Ashtabula and Lakeside players taking part, some fans were there to just watch such as Cherly McClintic.
“My nephew, Harry Story, is playing today,” she said. “I like to think it’s important to support him and the things all the kids are taking part in. It gets bigger and bigger each year, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Official Tim Bell, in his third year officiating, liked being part of the shootout
“This is something good to do, that I can still be part of,” he said, “and it doesn’t hurt to earn a little extra income.”
On a hot and humid day under sunny skies, a crew of six local officials rotated in keeping things under control.
The officials were Tim Bell, Damien Hunt, Hobart Shiflett, Adrian Mathers, Mike and Bill Osborne.
After battling all day, Chick’s Bar found itself in the loser’s bracket on the strength of balanced scoring from Riding Dirty, who won last year’s shootout at G.O. Ministries.
They wanted a repeat, but stellar efforts from all six Chick’s players, keyed by Austin, made sure it didn’t happen.
In a contest they had to win to keep playing, Chick’s took a 15-11 win as Jones tallied eight points.
Then, in the winner take all tilt, Chick’s rolled to a 15-9 win using balance from all six players. Austin tallied four points, Jones, Parks, and Parker each added three, Geovanti Rose had a pair, and McCaleb forced several turnovers.
As was the case for many teams throughout the day, Riding Dirty missed too many shots, while Chick’s made a few, especially from the free throw line, and came out on top just before a rain storm came through the area.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.