Growing up, Tim Bowler and his friends didn’t miss a chance to play their favorite sport.
Not much has changed over the last several decades.
Oh, the venues are nicer, the time is tighter, the joints are creakier.
But the love for hoops remains unquenchable.
“Basketball will be part of my life forever,” Bowler said. “It’s molded my character.”
Bowler will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on April 13 at Conneaut Human Resources Center.
Bowler first started basketball at the old Chestnut Elementary School in Ashtabula. His dad, John (“Jack”) was the assistant basketball coach there, helping out Bill Mercilliot.
“My father would rebound for me,” Bowler remembers. “He fed me the basketball for hours. Some of the guys I played with as a kid were Dave Welton, Bill Law, Mike McKinney, Larry Johnson, Jim Holley, Skip Gray, Pete Candela, my brother John and Frank Tuttle.
“We would play all day until dark. Then, Frank (Tuttle) would bring out a floodlight and extension cord and hang it on the fence so we could play all night. We’d shovel off the snow and play until our fingers split.”
The group of boys would also play in a barn in bad weather.
“It was a chance for me to meet people,” Bowler said. “I met a lot of people playing basketball — Ray Groce, Phil Soltis, Bob Maney, Joe V. — playing in a barn. It was crazy the way we’d go at it. We’d go to different schools to play.”
At the age of 55, Bowler is still playing, in a 30-and-over league. One of the commissioners of the league is Hall of Famer Andy Juhola.
In fact, the group of players Bowler competes with now could make up an entire chapter in a “Who’s Who” of Ashtabula area basketball, people like Juhola, Jim Chiacchiero, Dave Golen, Jim Welty, the Osborne brothers (Bill and Mike), Bill March, Louis DeJesus, Ernie Pasqualone. John Bowler...
“They’re guys I’ve played with for a long, long time,” Bowler said.
After his days at Chestnut Elementary, Bowler went on to play for Roby Potts and Joe Scardino at West Junior High School, then on to Ashtabula High School, where he played for coach Bob Walters from 1973-77, starting as a freshman guard after a few games. One of the Panther stars on that team was Bill Osborne. Roosevelt Corpening was also a good player.
Bowler would eventually play forward, too, at 6-foot-3.
“It wasn’t like it is today,” he said. “Players now are huge. But I think we had more love of the game.”
By his senior year, at least before he hurt his foot, Bowler was playing with Scooby Brown, Tom Hill and David Benton. But that was a year before Ashtabula really took off, with Deora Marsh, Lou Murphy and Perry Stofan all contributing to that fine squad
Bowler is pretty definite of his contributions in those years, before he graduated in 1977.
“I could shoot; that was it,” he said. “I shot the ball. That was pretty much what they had me doing, even to this day. I didn’t have a lot of speed and couldn’t jump high. I’d get into position, get a pick, get open and shoot.”
Under Walters, the Panthers were a high-scoring team.
“We were always up in the 70s and 80s, even 100, sometimes,” Bowler said. “We scored a lot. We ran a motion offense and had a lot of good players, players that understood the game, the same as we do now. It was a lot of fun passing to the open guy and have him hit the shot.”
Ashtabula was on a roll early in Bowler’s senior season, winning seven straight games. Then bad weather forced cancellations that brought about a 15-day period without a game. Worse, during that lull in action, Bowler broke a foot, costing the Panthers their leading scorer.
“I don’t think we won the NEC (my senior year),” Bowler said. “We could have if I would’ve been able to play.”
Much of the Panthers’ success has to be attributed to their coach, Walters, Bowler said.
“I would praise Bob Walters highly,” he said. “He taught me the right way, the fundamentals. Without a learning process, you don’t grow up. Now it’s all run-and-gun, not playing defense or passing the ball.
“I never had a problem with (Walters). We got along well. He was the coach. Nobody likes to lose games. If you listened to him, you got better. To me, that’s the right way to go.”
Even though Bowler played only about a half a year his senior season, Lakeland Community College offered him a scholarship. Playing guard and sometimes forward, he continued to shoot and, when he left Lakeland to get married two years later, he held the school scoring record.
He then married Eileen Rebera, who had been the cheerleading captain her senior year, as Bowler was basketball captain.
“We’re childhood sweethearts,” Bowler said. “We’ve been together a long time.”
Bowler got a job at Tim Brown’s Chevrolet dealership for a while, then to Premix’s management training program. After that, he had a stint with TCI’s telecommunications company.
Eventually he took a job as marketing manager at Wheeler-Rex, now Rex International-USA Inc.
“They’re a manufacturer of pipe tools,” Bowler said. “That’s why I’m going to Japan (in April, causing him to miss the ACBF banquet). We have factories in the United States, China and Japan. I’m their vice president and am going to a global meeting in Japan.”
Rex International is a family business employing 350 people, 22 of them in Bowler’s Ashtabula division. Bowler has worked for Rex for 25 years and has been vice president since 2008.
“I’ve traveled all over the world,” he said. “It gives me an opportunity to get out of all this weather.”
Tim and Eileen have two children: Marie, 28, and T.J., 25. Both played basketball for Lakeside. though Marie started with Harbor before consolidation. Area fans will remember T.J. as a great 3-point shooter and Marie as a point guard.
Marie graduated from Mount Union and now works for Progressive Insurance in their big office off Route 271. T.J. sold cars for Greg Sweet Chevrolet in Conneaut for a while and is now a salesman at Mentor Honda, living in Mentor.
Eileen got her master’s degree and teaches fifth grade at Erie Elementary in Ashtabula.
“My wife is great,” Bowler said. “All these years, she’s let me play the game I love. She’s been helpful and loving and raised the kids. She makes my life so much easier. I was traveling a lot in the beginning and she was always there for everything. Life has turned out real well for us. We’re living a dream.”
Bowler’s mother, Carmel, is still alive. His father, John (or Jack) died when he was 50, when Tim was 21 or 22.
In addition to basketball, Tim plays a lot of golf.
“I probably play five or six times a week when I’m in town,” he said. “I don’t travel a lot in the summer. I joined the Madison Country Club and golf at Harbor Golf Club. I’m a 15 handicap, am just figuring it all out now.”
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sportswriter, is a freelance writer from Geneva.
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