In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Donald Emmons recently talked with Ray Wolford, who was a standout basketball player at Scott High before starring at the University of Toledo.
Outdoor basketball courts located in neighborhood playgrounds throughout the Glass City are where 6-foot-6 Toledo native Ray Wolford learned the basics of basketball. It eventually led Wolford indoors where he starred in gymnasiums at Scott High and the University of Toledo.
Wolford, 64, who has been slowed in recent years by the effects of multiple sclerosis, earned induction into UT's athletic hall of fame as part of the 1987 hall of fame class that also included his head coach, Eddie Melvin. The center averaged 18.7 points and 11.3 rebounds for his career at UT, including the 1962-63 season in which he averaged career bests of 21.1 points and 13.0 rebounds.
Wolford's career included plenty of victories in high school and college. He led the Bulldogs into the state tournament on more than one occasion and earned All-Ohio honors as a senior. He also guided the Rockets to plenty of wins against Mid-American Conference opponents. Toledo was 3-3 against Bowling Green State University - 3-0 vs. the Falcons at the UT Field House - during three years playing against Nate Thurmond, who went on to become an NBA Hall of Famer, and longtime local rival Howard "Butch" Komives, who was a standout at Woodward.
The Rockets' 87-74 triumph over New York University (No. 2 in the Associated Press poll) at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 12, 1963, ranks as one of the high marks of Wolford's career. Jim Cox led UT with 33 points, while Wolford scored 16 and grabbed 12 rebounds.
Wolford, who became a Toledo police officer, continues to follow the Scott, UT and all of Cleveland's pro sports teams.
"I PLAYED FOOTBALL and basketball in high school, but basketball was the only thing I excelled in. Basketball was the only thing I was good at.
"I knew how to play the game [basketball] from playing on the playgrounds before I began playing at Scott. But at Scott, basketball was a big-time program. DeVilbiss was good in football and Scott was always good at basketball. I was not really tall enough for big-time basketball but I was tall enough for high school basketball."
"I SIGNED WITH Nebraska and I was supposed to go there but they got me a lousy [summer] job back here in Toledo. [UT] had the better jobs. At that time there were a lot of factories here and so you had to go to Toledo to get one of the good jobs. When I was going to school I worked the first three years at Sun Oil in the refinery and one year at Pepsi-Cola where they mixed Pepsi-Cola in a mixing room. Overall, they were good, well-paid jobs."
"BUTCH KOMIVES was the best shooter in the world. When I was at Hamilton [junior high] and we had to play Parkland in a junior high basketball game, he was the reason why we couldn't beat Parkland because he could shoot so good it was ridiculous. Even at 12 years old he could shoot. We always were friends and never were enemies although we were enemies against each other during games. We're still good friends.
"I went around to several colleges, but [Komives] signed right away to go to Bowling Green. He didn't want to take [recruiting] trips. He wanted to go to Bowling Green and I had never been on an airplane before, so I was going all around the country. All Butch wanted to do was stay home and practice shooting. I wanted to travel and see the world.
"I went to Nebraska, Oregon State, Cincinnati, Ohio State and all the Mid-American Conference schools. I had a trip to go to a college every weekend during that summer ."
"BOWLING GREEN had Nate Thurmond and Butch Komives on the same team. That was terrible, but we beat them every year at Toledo and couldn't beat them at Bowling Green.
"[Thurmond] could do everything. He was 6-9 or 6-10 and plus he could jump on top of that. It was no doubt he was going to make it to the pros because he made first team All-American from Bowling Green. The Mid-American Conference doesn't get many All-Americans. The best big man I played against was Thurmond. I always wished I was a little bit taller. I was only 6-6 and that was nothing."
"I WAS DRAFTED by the Detroit Pistons and I went to the training camp in 1964 and Dave DeBusschere was the coach and that's when I saw what basketball really is.
"It's really good in the pros. Don't compare it to college basketball."
"I ENJOYED THAT job [as a policeman]. If you like people you'll like that job. As long as you like people you can do that job. That was a good job.
"I still like sports as much as ever. Of course, I'm a Cleveland fan so I'm a loser in all sports. I like the Browns, the Indians and the Cavaliers. I stick with them all even though they never win. But a real fan doesn't really care whether they win or lose, they'll still be a fan. My hopes are right there with the Cavaliers. It seems like they're going in the right direction."
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6302.