Bob Walsh and Clearview basketball. Forty years ago, it was a match made in heaven … and it still is.
Walsh guided the Clippers to the 1974 Class A boys basketball state title at St. John Arena in Columbus. Walsh, who won 642 games and two state titles over his Hall of Fame career at five schools, returned to Clearview this past season to assist coach John Szalay, his point guard on the title team.
“Basically, it’s still the same way,” Walsh said of the Clearview community in Sheffield Township. “The generation that followed my teams, they’re now following John’s teams — the same people, the same names, the same families.
“It’s the greatest mixture of people in the world. There’s every ethnic background — it’s all right there in a small community. It’s so tight-knit. It’s the original melting pot.”
The state title was set in motion a decade before by a guy who thought he’d coach football not basketball.
“I graduated from college,” Walsh said. “I was looking for a job in education. I wanted to teach social studies and I wanted to coach. I was in the Pittsburgh area and the only thing I could get was an English job. I had a minor in English but I didn’t want to teach it. I was also 1-A and I was going to be drafted. I was coaching a CYO football team (in the Pittsburgh area). I said I’ll finish coaching my team, I’ll stay here for the holidays and I’ll join the service and get my two years done. Then I’ll come back and look for a job.”
Destiny had other plans, and they came in the form of a phone call from the Lorain County Board of Education.
“Pack your bags and come,” the caller told Walsh. “You’re hired.”
Walsh graduated from St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa., which became a pipeline for teachers to Lorain County that included Ed Adelsberg, longtime athletic director at Midview who’s retired.
“Talk about dumb luck,” said Walsh, who wanted to be a football coach but lost that job to Phil Sheffield. “They didn’t know I wanted to coach football. I had seniority at the school but Phil had the coaching credentials.”
Roger McFredrick was Clearview’s basketball coach but eventually was promoted to junior high principal, opening the door for Walsh to take over the basketball team in 1966-67.
Walsh knew there was something special about Clearview when he had Roy “Froggie” Davis that first year. Davis still holds the two highest-scoring nights in Lorain County history with 57 points against Midview in November 1966 and 56 against North Ridgeville in February 1967.
After making it to regionals in 1973, it all came together for Walsh and Clearview the next year.
Walsh had a great nucleus led by Larry Harris, who was named Ohio’s Player of the Year in Class A, the smallest of the three divisions. Harris earned a scholarship to Pitt and has been an assistant coach at several universities.
“I remember Larry telling us after that regional loss that we weren’t going to be denied the next year,” said Szalay, a junior on the championship team.
Clearview opened the season with a 58-56 loss to Mansfield St. Peter, a small-school powerhouse. It was one of only two losses the Clippers suffered, the other 64-63 to Oberlin.
“We had just finished the football season,” said Larry Fortner, a two-time high jump state champion and quarterback on the 1972 state runner-up football team. “(St. Peter) was a basketball school and wouldn’t move the game back.
“We got our revenge against Oberlin just before the tournament.”
Harris, who was most recently an assistant coach at Rhode Island University, was unavailable for comment, but he did it all at Clearview. A wide receiver in football and also a track and field star, basketball was where Harris really excelled.
A 6-foot-5 senior who averaged 29 points and 16 rebounds during the season, Harris truly stepped up his game at the state tournament. He poured in 35 points in the semifinal win over Indian Valley South and 30 in the title game against Franklin Monroe.
In a 59-49 win over Indian Valley and Harry Huggins (brother of West Virginia coach Bob), Harris was 11-of-16 from the floor, 13-of-16 from the foul line and grabbed nine rebounds. Clearview led 26-21 at halftime and built the lead to 59-45. Fortner scored 11 points.
In the final, a 74-69 win over Franklin Monroe, Harris was 12-of-26 from the field and 6-of-8 at the line. Fortner and Larry Dlugosz each scored 14 points, with Dlugosz grabbing 12 rebounds and Harris and Fortner nine each.
Franklin Monroe had a 38-34 halftime lead and the score was tied at 69 with under two minutes to go. Sam Hitchens hit the front end of a one-and-one and Dan Hatfield hit from the corner for a 72-69 lead. Harris split a pair of free throws and added another after an intentional foul for the final score.
“We had back-to-back players of the year,” Szalay said, noting that Fortner won the award the following year. “Clearview’s a small school. You don’t see that. You have to have stars to do what we did.”
“Everyone knew their roles,” said Fortner, who was a 6-5 junior on the title team. “As a kid, we didn’t realize how good Coach Walsh was. He prepped us. We approached the first game of the year the same as the state championship game. Back then, at Clearview, we didn’t lose at anything.”
Harris, Fortner (14 rebounds a game) and 6-5 senior Dlugosz (eight) took care of things inside. Szalay (5-9) and Hatfield (6-1), a junior, were the other starters, but the Clippers had good depth for a small school.
Senior Sam Hitchens (6-1) was the first man off the bench, with senior Walt Kendricks, junior Paul Hicks and sophomores Mike Hopewell and Robin Hitchens pitching in where needed. Junior Mike Post and sophomore Darryl Rutledge were on the postseason roster, as well.
“Mike Hopewell was a sophomore kid that had some skills but we couldn’t get him in to play,” Walsh said. “I’ll never forget when Szalay fouled out of the Dalton game with a lot of time left to play. All of a sudden I said, ‘Mike, you’ve got to go in.’ I told him, ‘You’re going to take the ball out and give it to (Harris). Go up the floor, let him bring it up and then go back to get it and find him.”
Clearview edged Dalton 58-56 to win the regional championship at the Canton Fieldhouse.
“We survived it — barely — but we survived it,” Walsh said. “It’s a team game. Larry Harris and Larry Fortner — their teammates knew who they were and what they were and took advantage of it, but both were the first to give credit to the rest of the team.”
Harris’ high for the year was 46 points. Fortner had a 29-point game and Dlugosz 22. Szalay once scored 18, Hatfield 16, Hitchens 12 and Hopewell 10.
The Clippers, who had weapons all over the floor, outscored their opponents by an average of 21 points for the season.
“I was coaching football, basketball, track — everything,” Walsh said. “That’s what made Clearview go. If you’re an athlete, you’ve got to play. You can’t specialize. Whatever we had at the time, you’d compete.
“They were involved in everything.”
“We didn’t just play basketball together,” Fortner said. “We did everything together.”
Szalay said it was the community that motivated him to return to teach and coach at Clearview.
“It’s a very tight community,” he said. “What a blessing the state championship was for the community. It’s been a motivation for a lot of Clearview kids to want to reach that level.
“I loved sports but I didn’t know it would be my career path. That championship was a special, special time. I count my blessings.”