Guerrero brothers coach Start, Bowsher battle in CL boys final

2/21/2013
BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Gil Guerrero, 62, has coached three stints at Start for a total of 13 seasons.
Gil Guerrero, 62, has coached three stints at Start for a total of 13 seasons.

On Feb. 3, while watching Toledo natives Jim and John Harbaugh square off in the Super Bowl, another set of coaching brothers wondered about their own potential championship matchup while speaking on the phone.

Bowsher boys basketball coach Joe Guerrero asked his older brother, Start’s Gil Guerrero, a question.

“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we played each other for the championship in the City League?’ ” Joe said. “Then we laughed and said, ‘Well, one of us would have to beat Rogers.’ Believe me, back then, what were the chances of that?

“Then, Gil’s team upset Rogers [54-53 in the CL playoff semifinals]. I thought that was the best coaching job of the season. They played great against Rogers, and here we are.”

Where the Guerrero brothers will be 7:30 p.m. today is in a very familiar setting, Waite’s Grant Murray Field House, as Bowsher (16-5, 7-3 CL) takes on Start (10-9, 5-5) for the CL championship.

Gil, 62, and Joe, 59, both graduated from Waite, and each played basketball there for coach Jack O’Connell.

Gil, a 1968 grad, earned All-City honors as a senior, when he led the league in scoring. He later played at Syracuse University. Joe, a 1971 grad, went on to Ohio Northern University, where he was a baseball pitcher for the Polar Bears. He later pitched professionally in the Mexican League and in the Carolina League.

When they were growing up on Calendonia Street in East Toledo, despite the three-year age difference, Joe always tagged along with the big brother he looked up to.

“He took me everywhere,” Joe said. “He was good in baseball and then I played baseball. He was very good in basketball, and then I played basketball. I just tried to follow in his footsteps.

“I was always the annoying little brother. I think I’m still the annoying little brother.”

Joe Guerrero is in his 26th year as a high school head coach — seven seasons at Waite (1987-94), 15 at Clay (1994-2009), and the last four at Bowsher (2009-13) for a combined 289-264 record.

“He’s the better coach, no doubt,” said Gil, who is in his third stint as Start’s head coach (13 total seasons, 137-108 record).

The brothers lost track of their head-to-head record as opposing coaches, remembering only that Joe’s Bowsher team has beaten Start the last four meetings, including 88-86 and 76-74 shootouts this season.

Bowsher reached tonight’s final by beating Scott 72-52 last Friday at Waite, which was a surrealistic night for the younger Guerrero.

“That was the first time I was in the home locker room at Waite since I coached there,” Joe said. “I remembered all the stuff about playing there and coaching there. It was neat.

“Playing there makes it more special because we both played there. Some of my best years were at Waite High School as a head coach.”

The very best season was 1990-91 when Guerrero’s Indians, led by star guard Craig Thames, went 19-4 and reached the district semifinals.

The brothers hope their father, Gilbert Sr., 83, can make it to the game, but that may be a tall order.

Bowsher's Joe Guerrero, 59, has coached for 26 years at three schools.
Bowsher's Joe Guerrero, 59, has coached for 26 years at three schools.

It will be up to younger brother, Mario, who takes care of their father. Gil, Sr., has been in poor health in recent years, suffering from diabetes and dementia, and having had a series of strokes.

“For years, when we would play against each other, our dad would sit on one side of the gym for the first half and then go to the other side for the second half,” Joe said. “He wanted to make sure he was pulling for us equally. If he goes [tonight], he will be the proudest man in the gym.”

Their mother, Lupita, died two years ago on the day the sectional tournament began.

“The only thing we know for sure is that a Guerrero is going to win,” Gil said of tonight’s game. “I don’t know how his kids are going to respond, or how my kids are going to respond. I’ve been there twice before, once [as an assistant in 1991] at St. Francis, and once [as head coach in 1997] at Start. We won both times.”

Joe’s only prior league title came in the Great Lakes League in his first season at Clay.

“It’s pretty neat that we’re playing at Waite,” Gil added. “All my [Start players] go out there in the lobby and laugh at my [Hall of Fame] picture on the wall. They say, ‘Man, he had hair, huh? He doesn’t have hair anymore.’

“It just brings back a lot of memories. I had a lot of good memories there.”

Tonight’s memories will be made by the players from Bowsher, which is seeking its first City title, and from Start, which bids for its third league crown.

The Rebels, averaging 85-points-per-game, have an all-junior starting lineup — Nate Allen (18.9 average), Dajuan King (16.9), Aundre Kizer (15.6), Cameron White (10.3), and Jason Sandridge (9.0).

The Spartans start three seniors — Dion Ivery (17.3 points), Scott Hick (16.9), and Dexter Johnson (9.1) — and juniors Richie Lynn and Mike Mitchell.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.