By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
The game of basketball has changed drastically from the 1980s, let alone from 1944 when Ashtabula County Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Carl Stokes was beginning his career at Deming.
“From the early ’80s, the game has changed,” inductee and St. John graduate Marianne Meola said in addressing the crowd at the 2013 ACBF Awards Dinner at the Conneaut Human Resource Center. “For a perimeter player, with the 3-point line, I would have had a higher scoring average. The shorts were short, they’re longer now.
“But the fundamentals of the game and the life lessons haven’t changed.”
Meola, who was one of the leaders of the “Davey’s Angels” teams under Dave Fowler, still uses those life lessons in her career as a district business administration vice president for banks in Florida.
“Those life lessons include the values of teamwork, respect and leadership,” she said. “Teamwork — I wouldn’t be here without those ‘Davey’s Angels’ teammates. What a year we had.
“Leadership — as a senior point guard (in 1981), I had to step up and be a leader. I had a great coach to learn from. Dave wouldn’t have called us angels. He taught us how to play hard and work.”
Inductee John Higgins, who spent 32 years as a coach before retiring, made a point of trying to teach those aspects to his athletes.
“As coaches, we stressed balance, teamwork and defense,” Higgins said in his speech. “We emphasized rebounds, assists, team steals and points — what we called team points.
“It was important to develop our athletes as players. It was more important to prepare them for life.”
Higgins went on to tell about a recent conversation he’d had with a Lakeside graduate. He had talked about how the game is more of a one-on-one game.
“He was playing with some older guys and he said, ‘the old guys play a different game,’” Higgins said. “The athletes have improved, but the game is suffering.”
There are, however, young players who still adhere to the values Meola learned as a player and Higgins had taught as a coach.
“Teamwork is the most important part of basketball,” ACBF Girls Player of the Year Natalie Thomas of Geneva said. “You can’t do anything unless the team is working together. It’s not about one single person. It’s all about the team.”
“I think basketball was a way for me to develop as a person,” Angie Zappitelli of Conneaut said. “I think it helped me mature more as a person than any other sport.”
“My goal in high school was to be a team player,” ACBF Boys Co-Player of the Year Tim Cross of Pymatuning Valley said. “(Being Co-Player of the Year) was a team accomplishment, not an individual accomplishment.
“My teammates created so many shots for me over the years. I just tried to do what it took to win. My teammates did a great job of helping me to do that.”
Carl McIlwain made a point to specifically address the young players in the crowd.
“I’d like to say to you younger people in the crowd working on making memories, practice, playhard, have fun and enjoy the game,” he said.
The overwhelming message delivered by the inductees, however, was one of thanks.
“I want to thank my coaches and teammates,” Kelly (Hitchcock) Emerine said, as she began to get tearful. “Most of all, I want to thank my parents.”
“It’s an honor to be recognized and remembered,” Tiffany Leonard said. “My parents were always there to support me.”
The love of their sport was also conveyed.
“Though, I haven’t dribbled a ball in a lot of years, I still enjoy the game,” Meola said.
“Those were the best years of my life,” ACBF director Paul Stofan relayed in a message from Steve Hanek, who was unable to attend. “I loved basketball with a passion.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.