October 31, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria grad not slowing down in the sports TV world

When the Pac-12 Conference needed someone to launch its nationwide television network, it turned to Elyria’s own Gary Stevenson.

And why not? It would be difficult to imagine anyone better suited for the job.

Stevenson, a 1974 Elyria High grad and a member of the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame (Class of 1996), has been an innovator in the TV field his entire life, starting the OnSport group in 1997, which he sold to the Wasserman Media Group in 2007.

Prior to that, he was involved in setting up television and marketing for the PGA Tour, and in 1995 started the Golf Channel.

He’s been active on a variety of fronts involving the PGA Tour, the NBA and the Big Ten. OnSport created the Wachovia Championship in golf, the United States Tennis Association’s Open Series and started Nationwide’s relationship with NASCAR.

The Pac-12 launched its network Aug. 15 and will have six regional networks and one on a national level.

“It’s been a pretty crazy year,” Stevenson said by phone from his San Francisco office. “We’ll have 850 live broadcasts scheduled, including 35 football and 150 basketball broadcasts. The others will be Olympic sports.

“You could say I’ve gone full-circle. I grew up in Big Ten country, went to school and worked around the ACC and now I’m out West in the Pac-12. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Stevenson holds a bachelor of arts degree from Duke University and an MBA from George Washington University. He taught at Duke from 2000-07 and continues his association with the United State Golf Association Executive Committee, serving on a number of committees. He’s also a member of the President’s Council for the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst Resort.

He hasn’t forgotten his hometown, where he starred in football and basketball for the Pioneers. In 2010 he established a permanent endowment scholarship to honor his parents, Dr. Robert and Eleanor Stevenson, who have been involved in civic service to the schools and the city of Elyria for many years. The scholarship is the largest presented at Elyria High School.

“Mom and dad both turn 90 this year,” he said proudly. “We had our third (scholarship) winner this spring.”

In the early 1970s, Stevenson followed his older brothers Roger and Randy as a star football and basketball player for the Pioneers. Like Roger, Gary was Elyria High’s quarterback. Like Randy, Gary was the Pioneers’ defensive specialist in basketballm, assigned to guard the opposing team’s top player.

His sister Jan was also an athlete, but women’s sports weren’t as available as much then as they are today.

“When we played East Tech in the regional,” Gary said of the 1973 game against the defending state champs, “it was me and Dave Sellers that had to guard the Boldens (cousins Lawrence and Antonio). We shut them down.”

Elyria upset the Scarabs to make it to the state Final Four. In fact, that year both Elyria schools — Elyria High in Class AAA and Elyria Catholic in AA — made it to Columbus for the state tournament.

Gary, then a junior, was directly involved in what many still say was the most controversial play in Elyria’s glorious basketball past. It came in a loss to eventual champion Cincinnati Elder.

Late in the game, the Pioneers had rallied from a 13-point deficit to pull within 60-59 with 32 seconds left following a long jump shot by Sellers. Elder’s Steve Grote took the inbounds pass and ran over Stevenson in the backcourt trying to advance the ball up the floor.

The official, however, called Stevenson for a block, and Grote sank both free throws to salt the game away.
“It was a charge,” Stevenson said. “No doubt about it.”

One of Stevenson’s friends in high school was Les Miles, the head football coach at LSU. Stevenson was a sophomore during the Pioneers’ unbeaten 1971 season and got to dress for a key game at Fremont.

“Me and a couple other sophomores had to ride home in the equipment truck,” he said. “There wasn’t enough room in the bus. You can imagine the smell with all those sweaty uniforms back there.

“When we got back to Elyria, Les and Jack Sito invited me to ride home with them, but we didn’t go straight home. We stopped at Sito’s Polish Village on West Avenue. It was the first time I drank a beer.”

Sito’s parents owned the well-known, south-end establishment. Of course, at that time, 18-year-olds could legally drink what was called 3.2 beer.

As a junior, due to an injury to senior quarterback Bruce McElroy, Stevenson took over at quarterback to lead Elyria to a second consecutive Buckeye Conference championship. The Pioneers, under legendary coach Bill Barton, wrapped up an amazing five-year run in which they lost only four games, won four Buckeye Conference titles and had three undefeated seasons in an era prior to the state playoffs.

“I had Sito, Ira Perkins and Phil Oliver in the backfield with me,” he said. “My job was easy. Just hand the ball off and get out of the way.”

Maybe so, but in Barton’s run-oriented attack, Stevenson still led the Pioneers in passing in 1972 and ’73.

Like his brothers before him, Stevenson was tough-as-nails whether on the basketball court or football field. Roger was Elyria’s point guard on the 1964 state tournament team and later led Wittenberg in interceptions on a Division III national championship team.

Randy was Lorain County’s first Golden Helmet winner as a linebacker and played a key role on Elyria’s Buckeye Conference championship basketball team in 1966.

“We always played hard,” he said. “The backyard was the toughest place to play.”

No doubt that winning attitude was a factor in his being named President of Pac-12 Enterprises in August of 2011. It’s his job to oversee the promotion and development of the network devoted to the member schools.

“The Pac-12 has far more national championships than any other league,” Stevenson said. “They’ve won over 450 championships. I think the Big Ten is next with about 290.”

And he’s happy to broadcast that fact.

Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.