CONNOR McLAUGHLIN OF EDGEWOOD AND GEENA GABRIEL OF PYMATUNING VALLEY were named Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Players of the Year on Sunday night.

The Conneaut Human Resources Center was the place to be for local basketball aficionados on Sunday afternoon.

The venue was rife with many of the sport’s greatest players, coaches and other professionals in local history, as the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation 2014 Awards Dinner was held.

The event, which was the 12th annual, featured the induction of 15 new members to the ACBF Hall of Fame, as well as the presentation of the Player of the Year and Coach of the Year awards for both girls and boys. The Star Beacon All-County first teams were also announced, as were the recipients of two scholarships, among other awards.

In attendance was a veritable Who’s Who of Ashtabula County basketball, as many familiar faces from the hardwood’s past as well as the present, were in attendance. Included were many of the 148 Hall of Famers, including 10 of the 15 current inductees, and certainly a good number who will someday be enshrined. It was also an occasion to recall some who have passed away, including 2014 inductee Jim Welty Sr. and Karl Pearson, Star Beacon writer and editor, whose recording of the Star Spangled Banner tipped off the ceremony.

Though it wasn’t a sellout, the significant number of people that did attend was a testament to the popularity of basketball in this part of the state, especially given the warm temperatures outside. The appreciative and enthusiastic gathering was treated to stories and comments about local hoops figures, and included references going back to the days of the set shot, as well as current fifth and sixth grade teams. Past accomplishments were discussed, as well as recent ones, including the regional appearances made by the Pymatuning Valley and Geneva girls squads this year.

As always, the importance of family was talked about, and it was inherent in the ceremony. Though it wasn’t limited to family members who played basketball, among such references were three pairs of current honorees who are related.

Welty Sr. and Jim Welty Jr. became the second father-son combination to be inducted in the same class, joining Jeff and Jerry Puffer. Jonathan Freeman and Sean Freeman, who are cousins (although not first cousins), were also enshrined on Sunday. Jake and Jessica Vormelker, siblings from Grand Valley who have both eclipsed 1,000 points in their career, were each included in the county’s first team.

Phil Garcia was perhaps the busiest person at the ceremony. Himself the son of the late legendary Conneaut coach Andy Garcia, who was one of the original Hall of Fame members enshrined in 2003, Garcia was inducted as a basketball official. In his capacity as owner of Phil’s Catering, he also was responsible for the dinner at the event, as he has been in each year of its existence. Garcia actually wore a third hat as well, as he presented the ACBF Officials’ Appreciation Award.

One of Garcia’s comments upon accepting his own honor perhaps served to help represent the spirit behind Ashtabula County basketball. Garcia related that when he was asked if he handled any big games this season, he responded by saying. “Every game is a big game.”

Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.

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