The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

March 24, 2014

Jim Welty Jr. will join his father in ACBF HOF

The pass that was tipped then intercepted to end the San Franciso 49ers hopes of reaching the Super Bowl also put an end to Jim Welty’s dreams of getting there for a second straight year.

Welty, now a pilot for the 49ers’ owners, the DeBartolo family, was hoping to see a happier ending for the 49ers than last year, when he suffered along with the team in their loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But the result of Colin Kaepernick’s pass ended all that.

Welty, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame on April 13 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center, took a circuitous route toward being a pilot. As a youngster, he was more interested in the basketball court than the sky.

His father, Jim Sr., had been an exceptional player at Ashtabula (see related story) and had erected a basketball hoop on the family’s garage. Jim and his brother, Glen Welty, made good use of that basket.

Welty read his father’s clippings, looked at his trophies and wanted to emulate him. So he started playing with the kids in North Kingsville at about 8 years old.

“We had a lot of kids who played ball,” he said. “I could practice my ballhandling (on the outdoor court). I played at Mount Carmel.”

The boys of North Kingsville played all sports, but Welty gravitated toward basketball.

“I liked the athletic end of it,” he said. “That’s what I aspired to do.”

One of the other players was Jay Corlew, later a teammate of Welty’s on the basketball court and a football star at Edgewood and Mount Union (in football) and the most successful football coach in Lakeside High School’s short history. Corlew, whose father, Gerald, was such a successful grounds keeper at Edgewood that the stadium was named after him, was a year younger than Welty.

On one cold day, Welty, Corlew, Jim Sjoestrom and Cline Hunt congregated to play some hoops.

“Somebody said, ‘It’s too cold to play basketball outside; let’s see if we can get in the school,’” Welty said. “We found a window we could open and got in and played basketball. We’d go to any lengths to play. Pretty soon, here came a policeman and Mr. (Gerald) Corlew. Mr. Corlew saw us standing there and threw a fit. But he didn’t do anything more than give us a speech. We didn’t do it to be mean, we just wanted to compete, to play basketball. Mr. Corlew was always a good friend of mine.”

Welty, along with some of his pals, played junior high basketball at Mount Carmel.

“I was just an average player then,” he said. “It wasn’t until I started at Braden (Junior High) that things changed. My dad was my inspiration. I’m a believer in genetics. He worked with me to get a jump shot going. I knew I wasn’t that good and was a little shy  about everything. I didn’t play much. I’d sit at the end of the bench and try to hide so I didn’t get put in. It was less stressful that way.”

At that time Jeff Cicon, now a member of the ACBF Hall of Fame, was the best player in Welty’s class. He and Welty were the only ones from their class to play all four  years at Edgewood.

The Warriors were coached by the late Dave Cline. They were a decent team, but not a great one.

“That was probably a combination of coaching, talent and chemistry,” Welty said. “When I was in the 10th grade, Al Goodwin was my JV coach. I felt very comfortable with him. I was waiting to grow up and mature.”

Welty started as a junior, but the Warriors didn’t click too well that year.

“It wasn’t Mr. Cline’s fault,” Welty said. “His personality was laid-back, soft-spoken. He expected you to give your best without pushing you for it. He wasn’t able to extract our talent.”

Edgewood went 4-15 that year.

“But I could feel we were getting better,” Welty said. “As a kid, I couldn’t define it, but I just knew. Jeff (Cicon) and I were coming back for our senior year. That year was like one of those ‘Boys of Summer’ stories, with components coming together. Jeff and I were coming back, but we needed more pieces of the puzzle.”

Those pieces started to fit when Jon Hall Sr., took over the reins at Edgewood and brought his son, Jon, with him. In addition, Todd Corlew, a good shooter, transferred from Ashtabula to Edgewood.

“We needed a coach, a point guard and some ballhandlers,” Welty said. “Jonny took over at point guard. We had me, at 6-1 to shoot and help with rebounding and Joel Cuffman, who was 6-2, to be a rebounder and defender. I got the feeling we had something going here.”

Before their season began, the elder took the Warriors to the Kenston-Harvey game. Edgewood was scheduled to play Harvey in its first game.

“Harvey had two skywalkers, a point guard and some shooters,” Welty said. “They were really good, but we beat them by 20. I tended to underestimate us.

“I have to give Jon Sr. credit. His style was conducive to the type of kids we had back then. He saw the big picture.”

The Warriors won their first 14 games that year, en route to an 18-2 season. Included in the victims was Collinwood, a team no one expected the Warriors to beat. They were finally ousted in the district semifinals by two points by Lake Catholic, led by All-Ohio center Dave Youdath.

“The thing about that year is that, with so many years of not winning, no one saw it coming,” Welty said. “We just had to learn how to win, had to adapt to that mindset. Mr. Hall was the mastermind behind it.”

Welty wonders how far the Warriors could have gone that year had they not been nipped by Lake Catholic, which made it to state before being edged.

“We were very, very close,” he said.

After graduation, Welty and the younger Hall went to Lakeland to play basketball in 1980-81. He did all right, but didn’t start and left school for a while. When he went back for the 1982-83 season, he found an improved  team. Hall had left by then, but Jay Corlew was on the team.

“We had a good team and traveling was fun,” Welty said. “Everything fit. I was coming into my own, really clicking. I started the year by scoring almost 25 points a game the first three weeks of the season. I saw my name on the walls of the (Lakeland) lobby as being in the top 10 (junior college scorers) in the country. How cool was that?”

But, during a pickup game at Corlew’s,  one of his friends landed on Welty’s foot, buckling a toe. He missed a few games. When he returned, the magic was gone.

The next year, Welty transferred to Kent State. He was warned by coach Jim McDonald that, at a bit over 6-feet, he would have a hard time making the team, but he gave it a shot, anyway.

Then he injured his back badly enough that he had trouble just walking.

“It just tapered off from there,” he said. “I played in recreation leagues for a few years and just stopped playing about five years ago.”

Welty attended Kent for a year, but didn’t get his bachelor’s degree at that point to accompany the baccalaureate degree he had from Lakeland. Eventually, he did receive his degree in aviation from Edison State College in New Jersey.

After leaving Kent, Welty worked for Champion Box in Jefferson and Stone Container. But in the meantime, he had gone flying with his sister’s fiance, a Chicago University Airlines pilot. He immediately got the bug to fly.

“I was in my mid-20s and would go out and take flying lessons with Kettunen Aeronautical, with a guy named Al Gardner,” he said. “I got my private pilot license.”

Welty went on to get his instructor’s certificate and did lessons for a while.

“I worked through the ranks and got some corporate jobs starting in the ’90s,” he said. “My first big job was with the Hanna family (prominent in Cleveland). Once, I flew for the Secretary of the Treasury. I’d fly back and forth from Cleveland to Kentucky and Georgia. (The Hannas) were into horse racing. I’d fly one person and her family to the race tracks.

“(My schedule) allowed me to stay in touch with everybody. I could play sports, had free time to go to graduate school and stay active.”

About 10 years ago, Welty landed a job with the DeBartolo family, owner of the San Francisco 49ers and flies them to their games in their Lear jet. He was able to attend last year’s Super Bowl and most recently flew them to the NFC Championship Game in Seattle.

“After last year’s Super Bowl loss (to the Baltimore Ravens), I was probably more depressed than the players,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of that. I had credentials to be on the field. It was a thrill to be there for the pregame festivities. I met Jerry Rice and Steve Young.”

Now divorced, Welty has two daughters, Riley, 15, who plays volleyball at Edgewood, and Cameron, 7, who attends Royal View Elementary in Willowick. His brother, Glen, lives locally and his sisters, Pauline and Corinne, are flight attendants. His mother, Kathleen, is a big sports fan.

Larick, a retired Star Beacon sportswriter, is a freelance writer from Geneva.

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