By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
When Greg Showalter was a junior at Conneaut High School, his father made him a wager.
The bet was that If the Spartans went through the season undefeated, his dad would buy him a car.
Though Conneaut had won its first game against Erie Prep, a tough opponent, the Spartans would face Kenston in its second game. Historically, that contest had not been a happy experience for Conneaut. And, of course, the Spartans would have to win their final eight games as well.
So Rich Showalter felt pretty safe.
However, Showalter, Conneaut’s quarterback, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Hall of Fame on Dec. 9, led the Spartans to that undefeated season.
“At that point, only three Conneaut High School teams had gone undefeated,” Showalter said. “My grandfather, Frank Berta, was on one of them, in 1939. That made it very special. He was alive at the time, but passed away several years later.”
Showalter, the son of Rich and Pat Showalter, who lettered in football, basketball and track for three years at Conneaut (from 1982 to 1985) first became interested in football when he entered Punt, Pass and Kick contests as a youngster. He didn’t play organized football until the eighth grade, however, because his parents feared injury.
“In the eighth grade, I decided I was going to play, anyway. I started playing my freshman year at Rowe. We were horrible. We went 0-6-1.”
At the time, the number of boys from that class who played football was pretty small.
“By the time we were seniors, there were only eight of us left, but those were eight good football players — Adam Parma, Paul Esterer, Greg Woods, Steve Kehoe, Dan Evans, Joey Arcaro, Dave McLaughlin and me,” Showalter said. “Steve Nolan was our coach for my sophomore and junior years, then coach (Jeff Whittaker) came there my senior year. My coach in the ninth grade was Rob Eager. He was there (as an assistant) through my senior year. He helped me a lot on and off the field, one heck of a guy.
“Two other coaches of mine who I really enjoyed playing for (and they coached track) were John Peaspanen and Bill Halter.”
The Spartans were a running team, with Dave Murzynski leading the way before he graduated after Showalter’s junior season.
“Dave rushed for over 1,200 yards that year. He was probably 5-10, with a playing weight of 200 pounds, but he benched 300 pounds,” Showalter said. “He looked and ran like Earl Campbell of the Houston Oilers. I watched him carry three guys into the end zone on his back.
“When we played Kenston, we had never beaten them and were in the last year of the contract. Dave was just a monster, had 220 or 240 yards that night.”
When Showalter did throw (and he passed for 1,021 yards and accounted for 20 touchdowns while completing 54 percent of his passes), he connected with Parma, McLaughlin, Murzynski, Neil Usher, Jim Allen, Chris Johnson and Steve Dain as well as Bill Higley and Jim McCluskey.
“We ran a lot of short routes out of the backfield,” he said. “When we threw downfield it was mostly to Steve Kehoe, our tight end. The receiver was Don Giddings, who was a junior when I was a senior.”
“Those were great memories, playing with those guys every year,” Showalter said. “You can’t replace them.
“We ran a wing-T and had some good players with Murzynski, Mick Kehoe and Bobby Wardrop. One thing about Nolan and Eager, they let Bill Fails and Mike Clancy draw up the game plan. That would be a piece of art, mixing in the run and pass. There was always a purpose to the plan, setting something up for later in the game. It seemed to work every time. Ron Whitcombe was the defensive coordinator and did a great job. We worked well as a team. Everyone did his job.”
Showalter remembers one threat to the perfect season, when the Spartans trailed Madison by four points in the eighth game of the season.
“There was probably no more than a minute and a half in the game,” he said. “We thought our perfect season would be over. But for some reason, Madison threw the ball and Mike Bamberger intercepted it and ran it to the 25. In two plays, Murzynski and Mick Kehoe ran it in and we won the game.”
The only downside to the season was that the Spartans missed the playoffs by .003 computer points. At the time, only two teams from each region made the playoffs.
Showalter remembers avidly keeping up with what people were saying about the team that year.
“Every Thursday, I’d read what all the writers would say,” he said. “Then Saturday, I’d read what they said about the game.
Nolan left after that perfect season, but Whittaker came in and kept the program humming, going 8-2.
“He was an outside hire from the Youngstown area,” Showalter said of Whittaker. “He was another great guy and good coach. He got the job of picking up the program where it was and not making too many changes right away. He let the seniors do what they did.
“It was a team effort,” Showalter said. “We had some tough games. We’d show up every Friday night and lay it all out there.”
Showalter was a unanimous selection to the All-NEC and Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County first teams as a junior and senior and received all-state consideration.
After graduating, Showalter was recruited by several Division III schools, but settled on Division II Wooster, partially because his uncle, Ron, had played there in the ’70s and had set several records there that were still listed on the wall by Greg’s time.
When Showalter first showed up at Wooster, the Fighting Scots had 14 would-be quarterbacks competing. Several of them, including Showalter, were told to choose another position. Showalter picked wide receiver, a position he had played at Conneaut as a senior.
“I didn’t start, but got some playing time,” he said. “I enjoyed it, but gradually got more serious about school.”
He graduated from Wooster in 1990 with a major in business management and finance. “There was a poor job market at the time, a little bit of a recession,” he said. “I ended up working at People’s Bank in Ashtabula as manager there. I stayed in banking for a while, then moved into sales.”
He went to work for GE Capital for a while, then hooked on with Daimler-Chrysler in finance and sales.
Currently, he works as regional product manager for Toyota Financial, covering four states, often working as a liaison between the corporation and dealerships in their lending programs, working with both the Toyota and Lexus divisions.
“We try to find better ways of dong things for ourselves and our customers,” he said.
Now 46, Showalter married a Christine, a Warren girl whom he met while working in Ashtabula. The couple, who now live in Corona, California (50 miles southeast of Los Angeles), has three children: Bryan, 24, now a law student at the University of Akron; Adam, 20, a sophomore at USC; and Rachel, 16, a junior at Corona High School. Showalter keeps active, playing golf and tennis. His daughter is on the varsity tennis team and they play together often.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.