By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
When T.J. Furman was a student at Jefferson Elementary, Tim Mizer was the boys basketball coach at the High School. When Furman returned to Jefferson as a teacher and coach, he worked at Mizer’s side as an assistant junior varsity coach, eventually taking over the team when Mizer retired from coaching.
“They’ve molded me,” Furman said. “ (former coach Steve) Locy had a big part in that, but it started even before I got a teaching job. I owe a great amout of gratitude to those guys. Mize, Loce, even current coach Jeremy Huber is teaching me a lot of new things.
“It’s just a passion for Jefferson basketball.”
There are a number of similar stories sprinkled throughout the history of the Falcons’ basketball program.
With the team kicking off the program’s 50th year on against Cornerstone Christian on Friday at Perry’s Alumni Gymnasium, Mizer and Furman have planned a celebration.
“Ohio started consolidating schools in the ’50s and ’60s throughout the state,” Mizer said. “This is the 50th years since the formation of Jefferson Area Local Schools took place. The first graduating class of what was the new school was 1962-63.”
Between the JV and varsity games with Girard, the school will recognize every senior class of basketball players in the team’s history.
“The plan is to invite back all of the senior basketball players,” Mizer said. “We want to be able to send out invitations to all former senior basketball players from each of the past 50 years. We want all the coaches, varsity and JV, during this period of time to come back, as well.”
It’s an ambitious endeavor. According to Mizer’s last count, there have been nearly 275 players who took to the hardwood as seniors for the school and between 15 and 20 coaches during the that span of time.
“The goal is to fill the gym,” Mizer said.
With that many former players and coaches with their wives and families, it’s quite possible it will be a standing-room only night at Falcon Gymnasium.
“If that happens, I guess we’ll stand them along the ends and the sides,” Mizer said. “The players from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and into the 21st century would say they were used to that in the old gym, anyway.
“We played games in the old gym where there was no room to even take the ball out of bounds anywhere.
“It would be a good problem to have. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I would love to see it. There’s nothing like playing before a packed house.”
There were also players who remember taking the court in the old gym when it was completely empty.
“I heard from some of the guys who played in ’62 who said they remembered practicing in the old gym before there were bleachers.”
The Falcons’ JV game will start at 6 p.m. that night. The celebration will take place between games and a reception will be held after the conclusion of the varsity game.
“The group will meet together in the third or fourth quarter of the JV game,” Mizer said. “We’ll introduce the players and coaches by class. After the game, we’ll have a reception in the junior high cafeteria.
“Maybe we’ll have some old game tapes playing as a way for the former players to interact with guys they haven’t seen in a long time.”
The celebration is for any every player who was a part of the program over the years, regardless of the success of any one individual or team.
“We’re not singling out any particular individual or team,” Mizer said. “We want to recognize everybody. Like in any sport, whether you were a starter or on the bench, you went out and practiced. You put in the time. You put in the effort. It’s a chance to recognize everyone for that time and effort they put in whether they graduated in ’65, ’75, ’85, ’95 or last year.”
Mizer wants to make it clear that all former senior players are welcome, regardless of whether they know right now whether they can make it the night of the celebration or not.
“I want any former senior player to attend,” he said. “We’ve asked them to let us know by Dec. 1, but that’s just for the purpose of making a list. We want to make sure we introduce everybody.
“That’s not an RSVP by that date. Forget that. It’s open all the way up to the last minute. Plans change. They can decide that morning to attend the game and they’ll be welcome.”
Though they’ve spent countless hours trying to contact every one of the players, Mizer and Furman have not been able to find all of them. Those who have not been contacted can visit the Jefferson Area Local Schools website at www.jefferson.k12.oh.us and click on the links to either the alumni or boys basketball pages and find the invitation. There’s also a lsit of players there that they have yet to find and welcome any information in regards to those players’ current whereabouts.
Mizer spent nearly 30 years in the program as the head coach from 1982-91 and an assistant from 1991-2010.
“I know the players and coaches of the last 30 years, though I retired (from teaching) eight years ago. I knew all of the players and athletes who have been here for 30 years. I’ve gotten to know quite a large number of players from the ’60s and ’70s.
“It’s been kind of an interesting project. I guess I’ve coached basketball for 40 years. I watch basketball. I just like the game. I like doing something like this to promote the game, and, in this case, I hopefully to promote Jefferson basketball.”
Furman, who grew up in Jefferson, has been around the program since his early days. He was a player from 1992-96 and became a volunteer assistant in 2000. He’s currently on coach Jeremy Huber’s staff.
“I helped Locy the year I was student teaching,” Furman said. “I started out as a volunteer.
“It’s just important to get everyone together. Fifty years is a lot of tradition. I feel it’s important for the younger players to know what the older guys did and keep the tradition going.
“I was really excited when I heard the news. I like the idea of being to match the faces and the names of the guys who led in scoring or rebounding.”
There are a number of people who Mizer has relied upon in pulling this celebration together. Without them, it would not be possible.
“The administration from the superintendent on down has been great,” Mizer said. “I talked to them late last winter and told them what T.J. and I had in mind. They gave us their blessing.
“Pat Inman was born and raised and graduated from Jefferson and really helped me. Ron and Virgie Butcher both started teaching at Jefferson in the ’50s and and both retired in the ’80s. They were all a great source of information.
“I have to also mention Don McCormack,” Mizer continued. “Much of the background information for who to look for was done by Don way back when he worked for The Gazette. He’s just a fountain of knowledge.
“Another source of information was my wife, Sue (Williams) Mizer. She was born and raised in Jefferson. If I had a question, she was the first person I asked.
“I don’t want to slight any one person. There were a lot of people who helped here and there.”
And, of course, there is Mizer’s former student and protege.
“I couldn’t do this without T.J.,” Mizer said. “This wouldn’t be done if it wasn’t for him.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.