The Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation
Hall of Fame Archives
of heart, strong of spirit
Second of a series...
By CHRIS LARICK
When Ed Armstrong left Harbor for
Edgewood in 1968 after being asked to resign as Mariners' head boys
basketball coach, he didn't burn his bridges.
split allowed him to return to Harbor's reins five years later, and
he justified the faith in him by leading the Mariners to the
regionals, one of only 12 times in Ashtabula County history that has
As a result
of his successful tenure at Harbor, Edgewood (though not as a
basketball coach) and Kent State-Ashtabula, along with countless
other contributions to area athletics, Armstrong has been selected
by the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation for its Hall of Fame
and will be inducted on April 6.
admits the honor took him by surprise.
great. I really do," Armstrong said. "I wasn't expecting it. I'm
probably never expected to coach basketball. It wasn't even his best
sport, not even one he was really good at, during his high school
athletic career at Meadow Bridge High School in West Virginia where
he played football and basketball and ran track.
"I was not
a good basketball player, but I was always a starter on the football
team," Armstrong remembers of those days. "When I played in Japan
(with the American Army team), I was a starter. I was always real
small, but I had good speed. Sometimes having speed is as good as
of basketball always intrigued Armstrong, however, and sitting on
the bench alongside the coach allowed him to see the game from a
coaching viewpoint and to analyze strategy.
football had to wait for Armstrong when the Army beckoned him. At
that time, the Korean War was being waged. Armstrong got as far as
Japan but never saw battle before the cease-fire that ended that
left the Army in 1954, he enrolled at Glenville State (W.Va.)
College where he joined the football team as a walkon. He started
out as fifth or sixth man on the depth chart, but moved his way up
to starter by the fourth game and started every other game until he
graduated. Meanwhile, he helped fund his college expenses with a
"workshop" — sweeping and mopping the gymnasium floor three days a
week, two hours per day.
graduation he and his wife, Reta, whom he met during his sophomore
year and married while still in college, moved to Ashtabula after Ed
was successfully wooed there by then-superintendent Ralph Lanham. He
had previously agreed to be a teacher and head football coach at
Stanton, Va., but that system agreed to let Armstrong go.
Armstrong was selected to be head boys basketball coach. He rewarded
his employers with a winning record in his first three seasons,
during which he went 36-24. But hard athletic times hit the Mariners
and his teams posted marks of 5-13, 10-10, 7-12 and 1-18 the next
four seasons and he was asked to resign.
"I had a
year when we won one basketball game," Armstrong said of the 1967-68
season. "I really enjoyed that year. We didn't have a big team. Our
center was 5-10; we had a bunch of little guys, 5-6 or 5-7 to 5-10.
We played so many games that we got worn down by the fourth quarter.
The kids on that team didn't think they were failures."
left Harbor for Edgewood, where he served as an assistant football
coach under Dave Six, whom he considers "one of the most
knowledgeable people I've met." He was also an assistant basketball
coach, and, in his final year with the Warriors, head golf coach.
For his final two years at Edgewood, he also served as head coach at
Kent State-Ashtabula, which had a decent team for what was then
termed a "branch campus."
to Harbor was still up, though, and Armstrong was asked back in the
summer of 1973 to once again take over the boys basketball team. It
was an offer he couldn't refuse.
turned out to be his best. With ACBF Hall of Famer John Coleman
leading the way, joined by John Bradley, Ray Henton, Al Ziegler and
Matt Kent, the Mariners went 19-4 and advanced to the regionals,
defeating two strong teams, LaBrae and Warren JFK, back to back.
thing about it when I came back is that I had a whole bunch of these
kids in the fifth and sixth grades," Armstrong said.
"I knew all
of them. They were good guys. From our area, sometimes teams are
fortunate to come up with two good players, then fill in with people
served as head coach for the Mariners for four more years, finishing
in 1978. Harbor had good teams in those years, but never matched the
1973-1974's level of competence. In the five years he coached during
his second stint with the team, Armstrong went 64-36 to finish his
high school head coaching career at 123-113 (.521). He probably
would have stayed in that capacity longer, but opportunity knocked.
Randy Pope was giving up the athletic directorship he had held for
the two years since the legendary Bill Wasulko's death.
impact as Armstrong had on molding players, he was also renowned as
a molder of coaching talent. When he returned to Harbor for his
second stint, he included young coaches like Bob Short, John Higgins
and Frank Knudson on his staff.
"I took a
lot of my coaching philosophies from a lot of different people in
high school and college, but most of what I used was taken from Ed,"
Higgins, who followed him successfully at Harbor, then had even
greater success at Ashtabula, said. "His defensive strategies were
the best I've ever seen. I thought he was a master of adjustments
during the game, too. He always said that you never should make more
than one major adjustment during a timeout.
got his kids to play as hard as they possibly could until the final
buzzer. I thought he was a master psychologist in getting his
players to believe in the system. He also made all of his assistants
feel like their opinions were valued."
Armstong added a young man named Andrew Isco to his staff. As
Mariner head coach, Isco put together the last Ashtabula County
squad to reach the regional championship game until this year when
his 1983-84 Mariners reached that level. Now Armstong the mentor
follows Isco, the student, a 2004 inductee, into the ACBF Hall of
influence also reached to a girls program that became a hit at
Harbor under Frank Roskovics.
"When I got
the job, I contacted Ed and went over his defensive philosophies,"
Roskovics, who is also in the ACBF Hall of Fame, said. "He taught us
the amoeba defense we used, which we ran off a 1-3-1 defense. We
were trying to put more pressure out front. The middle person would
move up and the point person would move back, which put pressure on
the ballhandler quicker and got us a lot of steals.
had Roberta (Cevera) and Chris (Fitting, two more ACBF Hall of
Famers), and a lot of people tried to run triangle-and-twos against
us. Ed showed me how to counter that, too. He also showed me how to
organize my practices. He was a huge help to me."
Berrier, who played against Armstrong's Mariners during his first
tenure at the school, then coached against the teams from
Armstrong's second stint at Harbor when he returned to Ashtabula to
as head coach at St. John, remembers him well.
remember Ed as the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet," Berrier
said. "On the court, he was a fiery competitor.
he always liked to have his teams run a lot. He was always difficult
to coach against when he had talent because his offenses and
defenses were so sound. He was also a very tough guy to prepare for
because he seemed to gear his plan to what he thought the opponents'
strengths and weaknesses were and not what you'd expect him to
attack. It almost didn't do you a lot of good to scout his teams."
hamstrung by poor gate revenues from a losing football team, found
it difficult to keep the boat afloat financially. In 1983, he turned
the job over to Dik Pavolino. In 1987, after 24 years at Harbor and
five at Edgewood, Armstrong retired from teaching.
Reta still teaching, he found himself with time on his hands. In
1989, he started working for the American Cancer Society, as
executive director in Ashtabula. When Reta retired in 1995 after 36
years of teaching, Ed gave that up, too.
busy going to all my grandkids' functions," Armstrong said. "They're
all involved in something."
Ed and Reta
have four children — Laura, Peggy, Michael and Cheryl — and five
grandchildren ranging from 9 to 19 years of age.
granddaughter is 19 and going to Mercyhurst in the field of music,"
Ed said. "She's an excellent singer. My oldest grandson plays
football and basketball at Lakeside. My littlest one plays
basketball and soccer. We go to all their events. That keeps us
busy. It's nice when they live in town. When Mom and Dad need help,
we can be there."
opponent of the consolidation of Harbor and Ashtabula into Lakeside,
Armstrong has softened on the merger.
overall it was good for the area," he said. "I was at Harbor so long
I hated to see it go. If it's good for the future of the kids, so be
also gives back to the community, attempting to bridge the gap
between himself and younger generations. Some 22 years ago, he
founded the Ed Armstrong Golf Tournament to raise money for college
"I help run
the tournament, but a committee makes all the decisions about the
scholarships," he said.
the tournament raised money for two scholarships to go to one boy
and one girl from Harbor. These days, they go to Lakeside students.
himself was once a four handicap at the tough Ashtabula Country Club
(now Harbor Golf Club) course. But age and illness have taken a toll
on Armstrong, who describes himself as a "golf nut."
shingles eight years ago," he said. "I still have effects from them.
I lost my hearing in my left ear. I still have a sound in my ear
like Niagara Falls. I lose my balance because of the inner ear.
learned to live with it, try not to let it get me down. I still try
to golf some, but when that happened, my game went downhill. I heard
that someone said golf is a good walk ruined, but I just love the
game. It's hard for me to give it up."
Larick is a
freelance writer from Geneva.