When St. John's Jesuit takes on top-ranked Columbus Brookhaven in the Division I state high school boys basketball semifinal at 9 p.m. tomorrow, the 21-4 Titans will be the 22nd City League team to get as far as the state semifinals.
It will be the third appearance for 24th-year St. John's coach Ed Heintschel, whose young-but-talented squad is playing its best ball of the season and may have arrived in Columbus one year ahead of schedule led by a junior and two sophomores in the starting five.
Heintschel's 1992-93 and 1995-96 teams went all the way to the D-I state title game before losing 62-53 to Cincinnati Elder in '93 and 59-56 to Cincinnati LaSalle in '96.
The Titans' current task is a big one, facing a Brookhaven squad that is 77-3 over the past three seasons. But St. John's is not the first City League team to stare a monumental challenge straight in the eyes at the state tournament.
Here is a look at some of Toledo's great teams of the past, the battles they encountered, and the memories from some of their coaches and players.
“Crashing the boards'' (Waite, 1927): Despite a modest final record of 14-8, the Indians put together a strong tournament run that ended with a 23-21 loss to Dover in the Class A final.
The first Toledo team to reach the semifinals, Waite had a chance to prevent what would ultimately become a 61-year championship drought for the City League until St. Francis won in 1983. The Indians, coached by Willis Zorn, defeated Salem 27-26 in a semifinal that nearly didn't take place.
Riding in a cab on the way to the game, Zorn and three Waite players were rattled by a collision with a lumber truck that totaled the cab, including the vehicle's running board. Zorn threatened to sue the cab company for $100,000 if Waite lost, but the minor injuries sustained didn't prevent a victory, thanks to the play of Gilbert Bartko, Edwin Kreeger, Floyd Siewert and Charles Woods. Bartko and Woods were with Zorn in the crash. The title-game loss came later that evening, also at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
“Gilhooley's Gospel, and two popped ankles'' (Central Catholic, 1942 & 1949): With his coach, Adolph Tscherne, and four co-starters from Central's 1942 state runner-up team deceased, longtime local broadcaster Frank Gilhooley has the final say on the 51-33 loss to Xenia Central in the Class A final.
“I guess that makes it gospel,'' said Gilhooley, 76, of his memory of '42.
Gilhooley and teammates Bob McQuillen, Ned Skeldon, Bernie Hickey and Dick Dahn had a good feeling after routing top-ranked Akron North 48-35 in the 3 p.m. semifinal at Kent State University. But their hopes in the 7:30 p.m. finals were dashed at the opening tipoff.
“Hickey came down from the jump and popped an ankle,'' Gilhooley said. “One second into the game and we lost our big guy.''
The 6-4 Hickey was Central's top rebounder and triggered its trademark fast break.
“It was only 30-27 at halftime, but they blew us out in the second half,'' Gilhooley said. “They were a pretty strong team, though. We might not have won even with Hickey.''
Gilhooley remembers a similar fate for Central in 1949.
The Irish handled Akron St. Vincent 65-51 in the semifinals at the Fairgrounds Coliseum and, while wrapping things up early in the fourth quarter, Gilhooley said former Central coach Al Sacksteder came down from the stands to suggest that coach Larry Bondy rest his starters for the final.
“Bondy told Al he never felt at ease with the lead, so he kept them in,'' Gilhooley recalled. “[Frontcourt starter Dick] Specs McCloskey popped an ankle and couldn't play the next day and [starter] Don Donoher came down with the flu and couldn't play either.''
Central lost to Hamilton 70-52 in the Class A final.
“A halfcourt dagger'' (Woodward 1944): Ask Jim Knierim to recount the 1944 Class A state championship game and the details, including exact game scores from the tournament trail, flow like a river.
“We had a three-point lead with a minute left and they hit a foul shot,'' Knierim said. “Then we lost the ball and they picked it up [in closing seconds] and they hit a half-court shot.''
Tied 44-44 after regulation play, Woodward took a 47-44 lead when Knierim hit a long shot and Long a free throw. But Middletown scored the final six points in overtime for a 50-47 win, the first of the Middies' state–record seven titles.
“I can remember all that stuff but I can't remember yesterday,'' said Knierim, 76, who lives in Oregon. “Isn't that something?''
What was really something was the Polar Bears' starting lineup with five future college players, three of whom played in the NBA. Knierim, John Payak and Bob “Peanuts” Long all played at Bowling Green, Bob Harrison at Michigan and Paul Seymour at Toledo. Payak played in the NBA for Philadelphia, Harrison for Minneapolis and Seymour for Syracuse.
The Bears edged Canton Lehman 46-40 in the semifinals at the Columbus Auditorium, then took on Middletown later that night. Middletown jumped out to a 10-2 lead which Woodward cut to two points at halftime.
“I felt very downhearted afterward,'' Knierim said. “We came back and then let it slip away. It was very disheartening and discouraging. We let it slip out of our hands. I felt we were the better ballclub.”
“Mother knows best'' (Macomber 1957): Ask Bunk Adams what he remembers about the 1957 Class AA semifinals and there is as much pride about his teammates as there is gloom and doom about how they let a seven-point lead evaporate in the final 1:17 of regulation against Middletown and 6-8 superstar Jerry Lucas.
Macomber had won 22 straight coming in after a season-opening defeat, and, despite the hype surrounding Middletown and Lucas, Adams said he and his teammates felt their chances were good.
As it turned out, they were better than good.
After spotting the Middies a 20-10 first-quarter lead, second-year Macomber coach Charles “Ben'' Jeffery's boys regrouped to take a 36-32 halftime lead and led 60-53 with 1:17 left. Lucas, a junior who already had one state title in the bag, hit back-to-back jumpers for four of his 46 points.
Then Adams lost the ball against the press, and the Middies converted in transition to make it 60-59. Macomber's Ike Strozier hit one of two free throws with nine seconds to go and Middletown called time out with three seconds left to set up a last shot. Lucas let fly from the top of the key and, as the buzzer sounded, it found the mark.
With Adams (18 points) and fellow starter George Miller fouled out, Macomber fell 70-65 in OT.
The Macmen stayed for Saturday's finals, where Middletown extended what would become a state-record 76-game winning streak with a 64-54 triumph over Kent Roosevelt. The Middies were 24-0 in Lucas' senior year before being upset 63-62 in the '58 semifinals by Columbus North. Lucas would lead Ohio State to an NCAA title in 1960 and runner-up finishes in '61 and '62 before starring in the NBA.
Adams found himself at home around noon the next day brooding on the sofa. His mother, Quincella, who had told him countless times to quit bouncing his basketball in the house, saw that same ball sitting in the corner. She picked it up, walked over and handed it to her son and then, without a word, opened the front door.
“The message was, `Get up and keep playing,'” said Adams, 63. “I still remember that moment as much as the game. I took that ball outside and kept playing all the way to college [two MAC titles at Ohio University].
“She had told me before the game that I had been pretty fortunate to be on top so far and that, sometime, I was going to have to learn how to not be on top.''
Adams later became coach at Scott in 1968 and led the Bulldogs, with stars Frank Steele and Truman Claytor, to the Class AAA semifinals in 1974. He remains the only City Leaguer to both play in and coach a state semifinal team.
He left coaching following that season, realizing his dream of college coaching wasn't taking shape and fearing some coaching pitfalls.
“I read an article about a coach whose daughter committed suicide,'' Adams said, “a guy who everybody thought had everything going great. I really personalized that because I had so many nights that I never saw my daughter [Erica] until after she fell asleep. I started putting some other priorities in my life. I didn't want to be a high school basketball coach for 30 years.''
Married for 39 years to his wife, Jacqueline, Adams retired from Toledo Public Schools as principal at Rogers in 1995.
“From worst to first'' (Scott, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1984 and 1990): Ben Williams was in an unusual spot in the early 1970s, an assistant at Scott under Bunk Adams. Two years his junior, Adams had tagged along with Williams in his high school years. But after Adams guided a talented Scott team to its third trip to the state semifinals in 1974 (Andy Kandik coached 1959 and 1960 final-four teams), he turned over the reins to Williams.
Williams inherited a solid program he had helped build from the junior varsity ranks, and, after a district-final loss to Macomber in 1975, had the Bulldogs at state in 1976. The prospects were promising. Scott (24-0) had dominated Barberton in a preseason scrimmage. But the Bulldogs, riddled by a record 47 turnovers in the Class AAA semifinals, lost to the Magics 64-58. Barberton beat Middletown 82-70 in the final.
It was easily Williams' biggest disappointment in five state trips. He ranks the 1976 squad, led by future Washington State All-American and NBA player Donald Collins, as his best ever.
“Collins was the only one who played a solid game,'' Williams recalled. “We might have been a little overconfident and Barberton knew what they had to do. They had fire in their eyes and the kids never settled down. Some of it was the pressure of playing at St. John Arena. Things just kind of snowballed.''
Williams would lead four more Scott teams to the tournament, losing close battles in 1978 (78-77 to Akron Central-Hower), 1982 (56-54 to Barberton) and 1984 (69-68 to Dayton Dunbar) before finally getting over the hump in 1990. That year, a team led by Anthony “Scoop'' Williams, Sean Scrutchins and Calvin White broke Scott's semifinal jinx by beating Canton McKinley 59-57 in overtime. Scott had also lost in the semis in '59, '60 and '74.
Scott became the City League's third champ by beating Cincinnati Woodward 64-53 in the finals.
Williams is proud of the 1990 title, but didn't look at it as relief or vindication.
“We felt snakebitten because we never really played up to our capabilities,'' Williams said of the semifinal losses. “People used to give us a hard time because we had won 10 City championships, and they'd say, `All you can do is get so far and then you choke,' because we couldn't win the state championship, as if that's an easy thing to do. But it comes with the territory when you're successful.''
Williams retired following the 1997-98 season, his 24th, finishing as the winningest coach in City League history. He was physically and emotionally spent.
“For a lot of years I put every fiber of energy I had into it and then it was in God's hands,'' said Williams, who had health problems. “At the end, I didn't have much left.''
“Chicken pox and, finally, a champion'' (St. Francis de Sales 1983): Despite a 19-1 regular-season record in 1982-83, coach Val Glinka's No. 6 Knights flew under the radar screen. When it was over, a remarkable balance was forged and a star had emerged, and St. Francis ended a 61-year Toledo jinx in the tournament by clipping Akron Central-Hower and 6-11 center Grady Mateen 58-49 in the Class AAA final.
By the end of the season 6-6 junior forward Todd Mitchell had become a major-college prospect - he later starred at Purdue - within a senior-dominated lineup led by guards Shaun Reid and Roy Ware. His inside play (22 points) earned a regional-final win over Lima Senior, with the Knights playing without Reid, who had the chicken pox. Backup guard Scott Bittinger scored 12 points.
Reid recovered for the semifinals, but starter Scott Grant caught the chicken pox and would miss the Middletown matchup. Pat Delaney grabbed 17 rebounds, and Ware hit three crucial long-range bombs in the fourth quarter, and the Knights survived with a 73-70 win over the Middies, who had a guard named Cris Carter, the future NFL star. In the final, Mitchell (17 points, 14 rebounds) dominated the taller Mateen (11/10).
“They talked about that jinx stuff,'' Glinka said, “but we were too worried about everything else, like chicken pox.
“The key to that season was that that team just got along so well and their individual work ethic was outstanding. The kids represented Toledo with class. I think we represented the entire community because we had kids from all over the city, kind of like St. John's has this year.''
JJ and the Macmen first public school champs (Macomber 1989): Before the 1985-86 season, if there was a debate on who Toledo's all-time greatest player was, there were many credible arguments. But by the time Jim Jackson led his Macomber team to the 1989 Division I title, there could be only one choice.
The 6-6 Jackson, Ohio's Mr. Basketball in '88 and '89, closed his phenomenal four-year career with a 25-point, 10-rebound effort in Macomber's 75-72 title-game win in overtime over Cleveland St. Joseph.
Although backed by some other talented players like Donnie Dobbs, it was Jackson's presence that keyed coach Bart Schroeder's champion Macmen. It is also the reason that most Toledo basketball followers - including former Scott coaches Ben Williams and Bunk Adams - list the 1988-89 Macmen as the City League's greatest team.
Jackson would lead Ohio State to two Big Ten titles and currently plays for the NBA's Sacramento Kings.