The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 3, 2014

A Don McCormack column: Legendary voice of county sports goes quiet

Jim Cordell, the lead man of the storied WREO/WFUN radio crew, has passed

By DON McCORMACK - donmac@suite224.net
Sports Editor

— I was saddened to hear a man whom many described as “The Voice of Ashtabula County Sports” through the 1970s and a good portion of the 1980s has died.

Jim Cordell, who teamed with Gene Gephart, Pat Sheldon, Ed Batanian and later, Jon Hall, passed away May 24 in Springfield, Mo.

Jim, who was the first media member inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame in 2006, was 86.

He possessed a perfect radio voice, which led to him handling play-by-play duties for the storied radio crew, first at WREO, which eventually became WFUN, that brought countless high school football and basketball games into living rooms and automobiles across the region for decades.

For comparison’s sake, I would equate Jim’s inflection and style to that used by the late-great Pat Summerall.

His longtime partners, all of whom have since followed the trail he blazed into becoming members of the Hall of Fame, certainly have an appreciation for the captain of their ship, so to speak.

“Jim was the dominating personality of our team,” Sheldon said without hesitation. “We were the only broadcasting group in the Ohio Association of Broadcasters that was strictly volunteer.

“He was professional in every way.”

Gephart, himself a brilliant multisport athlete during his high school days at Ashtabula, from which he graduated in 1949, agreed.

“Jim made us into a great team,” he said. “I think Jim could have, and did, succeed at anything he put his mind to.”

Cordell & Co. began broadcasting high school football games in the fall of 1970. Basketball games came the following school year, 1971-72.

“Jim brought a great voice to the team,” Sheldon said. “With his officiating background, he had a real knowledge of the game.

“He also brought a great deal of confidence to the role. He always knew what he was talking about.”

“Jim has a natural speaking voice for radio,” Gephart, who has preceded his colleague into the ACBF Hall of Fame as a player and coach, agreed. “Neither Pat nor I have a great voice, so Jim was the voice we really needed.”

Cordell and Sheldon were two of the initial elements of the broadcasting trio, starting with the 1970 football season. In 1971, when Gephart retired from his job as the Ashtabula High School head basketball coach.

“Pat and I were interested in doing basketball, and Gene’s retirement gave us a natural entry into the sport,” Cordell said in a 2006 story about him being inducted into the ACBF HOF. “Dick and Dave Rowley were happy with what we had done in football, so they said to go ahead when we brought up doing basketball, too.”

In the 2006 story, authored by our own Hall of Famer, the late Karl Pearson, Cordell recalled some of his most memorable broadcasts.

“I think the top memory was broadcasting Harbor’s game against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the regional finals (in 1984), and also the game before it against Warren JFK,” he said. “I also remember when Ashtabula lost to (current CBS basketball analyst) Clark Kellogg and St. Joseph at Eastlake North (in 1978).”

Jim Cordell’s life will be celebrated locally with calling hours June 20, at the Ducro Funeral Home in Ashtabula, from 4-6 p.m. and services will be held June 21 at The First Presbyterian Church, located at 4317 Park Avenue, in Ashtabula at 11 a.m., with The Rev. Dr. Stephen Long officiating.

Prior to their collaboration in 1971, Gephart and Cordell did not know each other.

Considering the seamless way they, along with Sheldon, and later Batanian and Hall, handled their broadcasts, is remarkable and a testament to not only their abilities, but also their willingness to sacrifice the spotlight to be part of a team.

A Hall of Fame team, it turned out.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at donmac@suite224.net.