By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
In the act of shooting a basketball, there’s hot and then there’s hot. Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame coach Beth Helfer of Pymatuning Valley remembers a game in which one of her players was hot.
“I remember one of her biggest moments came when we played a game at Champion,” Helfer said of Heidi French.
“Renea Ackerman, a legendary coach, was the coach at Champion at the time. Heidi was really on. She started shooting 12- or 15-foot jump shots and making them. When (the Golden Flashes) moved out to pick her up, she shot from farther out. The farther out they moved, the farther out she shot it. She was making 18-20-25-foot shots, drilling the shots one after another.
“After halftime, they went out to get her at halfcourt. She went straight up and hit nothing but net. Renea Ackerman walked up to me and said, ‘She’s unbelievable.’ I think she had 28 points (actually 32) that game. She was on fire, couldn’t miss.”
French, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on April 13 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center, now lives in Chardon but grew up in Andover, where she played basketball for PV.
French, the daughter of Myron and Shirley French, grew up in a basketball family. Her brother Mike and sister Samantha preceded her on the Laker courts and she competed against them on outside courts.
“I was the baby of the family,” she said.
Graduating from PV in 1981, French played forward on a team that also included Sandy Stokes, Sue Boggs and Barb Hedden and was coached by Helfer.
Hedden played point guard on that team, with Boggs at shooting guard and French at forward.
“This was back in the early days of girls basketball,” Helfer said. “It was just getting started up in the county. Heidi was probably the purist shooter of any girl I ever had. She had all the skills you could want and was very unselfish. She could pull up and hit the jump shot, drive on you or dish it off if she saw someone else open.
“She was the type of offensive player you liked to have on your team. She was a phenomenal offensive player.
“That was a great crew, a well-balanced team. There was no ‘I’ on that basketball team.”
French played JV ball as a freshman, then started for the varsity for three years, scoring 843 points, averaging about 15 or 16 points per game.
“The most I scored was 32 points in that game against Champion,” she said. “I’ll never forget it.
“We had a pretty good team. We were co-champs of the GRC (Grand River Conference, which included Jefferson, Grand Valley, Ledgemont, Perry and Fairport in addition to PV) in 1981.”
Though she played forward, French remembers shooting from the outside quite a bit, in addition to rebounding.
“And I was a pretty good foul shooter,” she said.
French recalls the Lakers playing a controlled offense under Helfer, with the team scoring in the 50s.
“Beth was a good coach,” she said. “She was always someone you could go to if you needed to. She played everybody; she gave everybody a chance to play.”
French also played softball at Pymatuning Valley in 1978, as an outfielder.
In basketball she was the GRC’s Most Valuable Player in her senior year and played in the games now known as the Star Beacon Senior Classic.
Not long after she graduated from PV, French took a job at Heather Hill, a rehabilitation center and nursing home in Chardon, near the Geauga County Hospital. She has worked there for the past 32 years.
“I assist the therapists there in physical therapy and occupational therapy,” French said. “If you need a hip replacement, you come here.”
French’s golden retriever, Dakota, recently died at age 15, so she obtained a new golden puppy, which is now three months old.
“It keeps me young at heart,” she said. “But I forgot how much work they are.”
She enjoys photography and would like to travel more than she does.
French’s father passed away in 2008, but her mother is still living in Andover, though she goes to Florida once a year.
“My dogs are my kids,” she said. “My sister (Samantha) lives in Bristolville and has three boys. My brother still lives in Andover on Stanhope Road.
“Playing basketball is my most memorable experience. I remember playing against (Jefferson’s) Shellie Crandall (an ACBF Hall of Famer). That was really a big rivalry back then between Jefferson and PV, a big thing in the ’80s. She was a good ballplayer. I also remember (Geneva’s) Anita Tersigni (another ACBF HOFer). She was pretty good.”
Interviewed almost exactly two years to the day of the fatal Chardon school shooting on Feb. 27, 2012, French remembered the effect it had on people she knew.
“I wasn’t affected by the shooting, but people I worked with had kids there,” she said. “That was something, finding out what that coach (Frank Hall, now the head football coach at Lakeside) did. He will always be a hero in my eyes, a great man.”
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sportswriter, is a freelance writer from Geneva.