By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
It didn’t matter if he was playing a game at home with his sister or was on the gridiron with his Ashtabula High School teammates, Vaughn Tittle simply hated to lose.
If he did come out on the short end, he would work as hard as he could to rectify that for the next time he played that person.
“Judy (Park, his high school sweetheart and first wife) beat him at jacks,” Lorene Rapose, Tittle’s sister, said. “It was awful. He didn’t want to lose at anything. He came home and sat there for hours practicing.”
“He was determined,” Park said.
Park, to her delight, kept beating Tittle at jacks, but she was one of the fortunate ones. For most others, especially his foes on the football field, didn’t fare quite so well.
Tittle came by that competitive fire naturally.
“He was always competitive,” Rapose said. “It was born into him. He didn’t look at any given opponent and say, ‘I have to beat them.’ He just hated to lose.”
Tittle, who passed away in October 1988, will be posthumously inducted into the Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame at the Touchdown Club’s annual awards dinner Monday night on the heels of that success.
“I think he would have loved (being inducted),” Park said. “He’d have been honored.”
“He would have enjoyed seeing the young kids (on the Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County team),” Rapose said.
During his career with the Panthers, from 1957-60, Tittle served as a captain and was named All-Northeastern Conference, All-Coaches’ Team, Best Beacon All-Ashtabula County, Best Offensive Back and Most Valuable Player.
“Pound for pound, he was one of the finest competitors that I was privileged to coach,” former Ashtabula coach Tony Chiacchiero wrote of Tittle. “He sparked the 1960 AHS football team, which led to its emergence as a football power in Northeast Ohio and the state during the ’60s.”
Tittle, who was listed at 5-foot-7, 155 pounds while playing college football at Western Reserve University (now known as Case Western Reserve University) and once called “Little Vaughn Tittle” by the Plain Dealer, had a good reason for his success in football.
“The reason I scored as many touchdowns as I did was because that way I knew they wouldn’t jump on me,” Tittle explained to Rapose, whom he referred to as “Beanie.”
Kidding aside, Tittle’s football was put on hold after freshman season with the Panthers because his father, Ross, thought it best to let his diminutive son mature a bit before letting his body take a beating on the varsity level.
“There’s a big difference between a freshman boy and a senior,” the elder Tittle, who is 95 years old, said. “That couple of years is a big difference.”
“Dad thought he was too small,” Rapose said.
Tittle had his own reason for not playing that season.
“He’d have had to sit the bench,” Park said. “He wouldn’t want to sit the bench.”
Tittle’s prowess as both a football and baseball player was such that he was recruited to play both baseball and football.
He ended up playing both sports at Western Reserve. In a way, he was furthering a dream once held by Ross Tittle.
“Dad was a very good athlete,” Rapose said.
“I was offered a scholarship to Johnstown,” Ross Tittle said.
But that was a bit of an understatement on the elder Tittle’s abilities.
“He was offered a scholarship in 1935 to go to Harvard,” Rapose said.
“I just couldn’t afford to go,” Ross Tittle said. “But that shows you the advancement we made as a family. My dad got through fourth grade and he left home. I got through high school and Vaughn got through college.”
Tittle had a way about him. His oldest daughter, Stacey Lazarow, may have the best way to describe her dad.
“He was a people person,” she said.
That might be understating it a bit.
“That view of the people he’d meet was a bit frustrating for those around him at times.
“He’d come home and say, ‘My friend...’ ” Rapose said. “My mother and I would say they were not his friend. He had just met that person.”
Tittle may have gotten the last laugh on that account.
“When he passed away, there was no place to sit,” Rapose said. “We couldn’t even get in to the church.”
Edythe Tittle wrote about the day of her son’s funeral before she had passed away in 1996.
“Arriving at the church, we found a regular bread line of people extending almost to the corner,” she wrote. “They kept coming from all directions...
“We were really awed. The first-floor pews were packed and a line of people were standing across the back. The adjoining memorial hall where we were to receive people at the close was solid with chairs and people were standing. Directly in front of us, the choir loft was absolutely filled. They figure the crowd was close to 600 people. It was the largest group our church ever held. They came from Cleveland, Conneaut and Ashtabula... whole sections of judges, lawyers, policemen, firemen, teachers, coaches and players to a little girl from Conneaut.”
As an example of how widely loved Tittle was, Park offered a story.
As a member of the Wenham Truckers baseball team in Cleveland, Tittle played with future professionals Jim Redmond and Steve Stone. Stone later became a broadcaster for Chicago Cubs’ games.
“I just happened to know somebody who had randomly turned on a Cubs game after Vaughn had gotten sick the last time,” Park said. “(Stone) said, ‘I want to tell you about my friend’ and went on to tell his viewers about Vaughn.”
Tittle could make friends just about anywhere.
“He was one of those people that if he met you once, he knew you forever,” Rapose said.
“He never met a stranger,” Park said.
“We’d go to Toronto or Chicago and people would say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ ”
Tittle made a name for himself in other ways, too. Losing contacts was one. The Star Beacon once ran a picture of Tittle, Ashtabula coach Bob Ball, and several players on hands and knees searching the Ball Gymnasium court for one of those missing contacts.
On another occasion, he spent the morning after a game with his family and girlfriend searching the grass at Guarnieri Field for another missing lense.
His dad even once handed him a rake and drove him back to a beach in order to find a lost pair of glasses.
“He was famous for losing everything,” Rapose said. “Contacts, especially.”
At times, he was known to finish games with but one of his two contacts in his eyes.
Above all of that, he simply loved sports.
“He gave up Cub Scouts (as a kid) because it interfered with sports,” Ross Tittle said.
Tittle never tired of being a fan of his teams. Unlike most others, Tittle believed in positive support of his teams.
“The night before he went into the hospital in 1988 (just days before he died), he was down behind the end zone at an Ashtabula game,” Rapose said. “He was complaining that everyone was being negative toward the team. Even then, he was saying, ‘This is your team. You need to be positive.’”
Tittle wasn’t just positive when it came to being a fan. He was positive in his approach to life, too. Even while he was battling for his life, he was positive.
“He was ill for a long time,” Rapose said. “Even through that, he was more positive.”
Tittle was also a prankster.
“Who knows if this is true because dad was such a kidder,” Lazarow said. “But he was struggling with Spanish and he was studying all the way to a game while he was at Western Reserve. He got a concussion and said that all the way home he would only respond to questions in Spanish.”
That was just who Tittle was.
“He was crazy,” Lazarow said. “I was 19 when he died. I didn’t know him as an adult. All of my friends thought he was a hoot. I was embarrassed. Everyone knew who he was. It was very weird (for a teenager).”
After the game
Tittle was such the competitor that when his college career as a baseball and football player came to an end, he found a way to continuing competing.
After high school, he repeatedly tried to latch on as a professional baseball player. He tried out for the Pittsburgh Pirates at least twice and possibly with other organizations along the way.
“I felt like I was a baseball orphan,” Lazarow said. “He would take us to the field and tell me to watch my sister. He would go off and play. He was right there if we needed him, though. I was 8 or 10 and my sister was three years younger.”
Tittle loved all sports, but football was king. He was a routine visitor to Cleveland Stadium for Cleveland Browns games, often taking Lazarow, her sister, Melissa Barrickman, or his niece, Julie, with him.
“He taught me a love for football,” Lazarow said. “He loved football enough that I knew the rules.
“He had two daughters who never played sports. But that’s what we did.”
Tittle came by that love of the game naturally.
“We all loved football,” Rapose said. “On Sundays, we went to church then we went to see Vaughn play football, basketball or baseball. I idolized him.”
He loved the Browns enough to — at all times — just when they would open their next season.
“We were at the Denver game (made famous by “The Drive” in January 1987) in garbage bags to keep the wind out. It didn’t matter how cold it was, you just didn’t leave.
“He could tell you at any time — even when he was sick —how many days there were until the Browns’ opening day. He had season tickets.”
When WREO began broadcasting high school sports in the 1970s, Tittle was a part of the first group of broadcasters, joining Pat Sheldon, Gene Gephart and Jim Cordell — all three members of various halls of fame — on the crew.
Tittle’s attitude toward sitting on a bench may have changed quite a bit following his teen years. Or, at least, the meaning of sitting the bench changed for Tittle.
After several years of practicing law and an unsuccessful attempt at becoming the Conneaut city prosecutor, he was appointed Conneaut Municipal Court judge in 1981.
Initially, Tittle wanted a career in education. That changed, leading him down the path to law.
“He wanted to teach and coach,” Rapose said. “He planned to be a guidance counselor.
“He knew somebody who was going into law and they said he should take the law boards. He got a very good grade on them and decided to go to law school.”
Tittle was an innovator as a judge. He instituted night court in Conneaut in order to allow people to attend their hearings without having to miss work.
As a judge, his ability to make friends never wavered. Even with the youngest of citizens.
“This little girl came through (the receiving line at Tittle’s funeral) just sobbing,” Edythe Tittle wrote. “I hugged her and told her it was all OK. She still cried. Her mom, who was also crying, said her daughter had breakfasts on Wednesdays with Vaughn at the diner. At one time, she needed someone to come to school for ‘Show and Tell.’ She asked Vaughn and he went.”
Being a judge in no way hindered Tittle’s love of sports or ability to continue competing.
“He played soccer, he was 39 or 40 at the time, with a bunch of 18 or 19 year olds,” Lazarow said. “He was exhausted afterward. I said to him, ‘You’re playing against a bunch of 19 year olds. What did you expect?’ He felt that there was no reason he shouldn’t be out there.
“One time, I was in the back of the courtroom — I spent a lot of time in the back of courtrooms — he was in full softball uniform under his robe. I was in high school at the time and I was terribly embarrassed.”
Tittle was sick for a number years before he died.
“In 1969, he had mono and was supposed to be in the hospital for 10 days,” Rapose said. “In ’71, he was diagnosed as having Hodgkin’s disease.”
In that era, leukemia was treated with cobalt, which was not good for the human body.
“We think he died because of an anemic condition brought on by the cobalt they had to use to try and kill the leukemia,” Rapose said.
It was believed Tittle had won the initial battle with the disease.
“They thought they’d gotten it all,” Park said.
But the disease eventually returned.
“In 1975, he had experimental chemo,” Rapose said. “That was just awful.”
But Tittle fought on and again, he was clear of the disease for a while. But it would, again, raise its ugly head.
Tittle remained himself to the very end. He was offered a chance to undergo experimental chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant and never thought twice about accepting it.
“The chances were small for him,” Rapose said. “But it was a no brainer.”
“He said, ‘It might not help me, but it could help my children or somebody else,’ ” Park said.
“No matter what bad thing was happening to him, he was helping somebody else,” Lazarow said. “He and I had even talked about that at some length.”
He would die from what the family believes was an anemic condition brought on by the cobalt used in the radiation process in his early bouts with the leukemia.
Even to the end, Tittle remained optimistic.
“I was at Ohio State at the time and we started school in the middle of September,” Lazarow said. “I asked him what he wanted me to do. He told me to go back to school. He died the first week of October.”
Officially, it was a fungal infection that took Tittle’s life at such an early age.
At the time of his death, Tittle’s survivors included his wife at the time, the former Juanita Andrego, his first wife, Park, his daughters, Lazarow and Barrickman, his parents, Ross and Edythe Tittle, and his sisters, Lois, who had donated the bone marrow to help save his life, and Rapose.
Since then, his daughters have added four grandchildren to the mix.
As long and hard as he battled the disease that would eventually contribute to his death at just 45 years old, Tittle never felt sorry for himself over the time he lost.
“That wasn’t his focus,” Rapose said. “He was sick for many, many years. But he had many good years.”
“He always looked at the time he had as a gift,” Lazarow said.
Passing the torch
Tittle’s love for sports has been passed to his grandchildren.
“He has four grandchildren and the oldest, my son, Mitchell, started football this year,” Lazarow said. “Who would have thought ‘Little Vaughn Tittle’s’ grandson would be a center?
“He would’ve been a great grandpa. Him and my sons together might have been a problem, though. They would’ve gotten into so much trouble together.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.