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60-plus years of great memories

By DON HOHLER • Feb 6, 2019 at 4:00 PM

You’ve heard the expression “I love my job.”

I guess that would have to be the case with this writer. It was September 1955 when I wrote my first story for the then Reflector-Herald.

Dudley White, Sr., then a U.S. representative for this part of Ohio, called St. Paul High School and asked if there might be a journalism student who could write a brief account of the school’s football and basketball games. Sr. Mary Roserita told Mr. White she had just the student.

I originally co-wrote with another student, Dan Fortney. We attended the games; the paper’s wire editor, Ed Page, didn’t attend. Interestingly, Page eventually would leave the paper and take a job as the editor of the No. 1 military edition, Stars & Stripes. He was unquestionably the fastest typist I have ever seen. On an old, manual Underwood typewriter, he could do a near-perfect 100 words per minute.

Upon graduation in 1956, I went to work at McConkey’s Goodyear Tire on North Hester Street. It was there, only one brick wall away from the old Reflector building, that I would see Mr. White come to work. In passing one day, he asked me if I ever considered journalism as a career. I told him I loved sports and he told me to stop in and we would talk. That was June of 1958. With the exception of my stint of active duty, I have worked at the paper ever since.

Unfortunately, Mr. White passed away very suddenly just six months after he hired me. His son, Dudley White Jr., took over as the publisher.

It was on July 18, 1959 when he named me the first sports editor of the paper. I remained at the paper full-time until the spring of 1965. I left to take a patrolman’s position with the Norwalk Police Department. Then, at the urging of the city administration, I transferred to the fire department where I was charged with starting the city’s first fire-prevention and inspection bureau. I retired in 1990 and started a career as a freelance writer/photographer, working for as many as five papers, including the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, where I wrote as many as two features a week for that paper’s Erie-Huron-Lorain counties Thursday sports feature page.

And that pretty much brings things up to date. Just how many “Remember When?” columns I will do will depend upon the say-so of my long-time boss, Joe Centers.

For sure I won’t go back in the micro-film as far as former publisher Andy Prutsok did — back to the 1800s for his “Blast from the Past” column.

I’ll start right around the time I headed the sports department, the summer of 1959 although I’ll have to admit, a story I heard about and have been trying to research for a year now might take me back to the mid-1940’s if my persistence pays off. And this actually happened.

Jesse Owens, from East Cleveland and Olympic fame, came to Norwalk one day and did an exhibition sprint at the baseball park on Milan Avenue. Supposedly, he rounded the bases, beating Norwalk’s fastest runner who started from second-base.

I have been told the Norwalk athlete was Bill Ewell. My St. Paul classmate and golf-league partner Dick Spinello told me about it and later I discussed it with one of Norwalk’s finest fast-pitch players, Charles “Red” Moore. He also vaguely remembered it, believing the exhibition took place about 1945. If anyone has a clipping of this event or can hone me in better on an actual date, e-mail me at [email protected]


Fast-pitch softball was king

There was no slow-pitch back in 1959. It was either fast-pitch, baseball, golf or bowling at the amateur level. I personally attended as many as three games a night, setting with a scorer by the name of Ray Whitbeck on McGuan Diamond No. 1. The game was so important back then that it had a commission, the first one in my memory made of up of Ralph Lorko, Harold “Heine” Finch, Louis Frey and Irv Bragdon, the latter known as “Senator” Irv Bragdon. Irv was always impeccably dressed like a southern gentleman, complete with a white straw hat, dinner jacket, white shirt with bow tie, and white shoes … right out of the Mark Twain era.

The first game I saw on micro-film that I wrote was a no-hitter thrown by the late Gordon Schaechterle for Brooker Brothers Forging.Two Monroeville athletes, Tom Sparks and Rich Rossswurm, pitched for the Monroeville Merchants in that game, losing 10-0. In the first game that night, Stroh’s Beer from Sandusky used the pitching of Walt Nelson to beat DeLuca’s Cafe and Frank DeBlase, 3-2.

Maxie Tire Norwalk’s No. 1 team

The premier fast-pitch team back in 1959, one that “Red” Moore played on, was the John Malcolm-coached Maxie Tire squad. They played a brutal Big 8 League schedule along with the games in the local city league.

The first I saw of them on micro-film in 1959 was the team was losing 8-0 to Akron’s Red’s Bar. Rip Fugate, one of the nation’s best hurlers, threw for the Akron team. He tossed a one-hitter that night, giving up a seventh-inning infield single to Don Sweet.

The Big 8 included teams like Dick’s TV from Fostoria, the Lorain Polish Club and the Dolites from Gibsonburg, the latter team sporting the famed pitching “flame-thrower” Rip Riley. It would be a guess on my part just how many times I covered Riley facing off against Norwalk’s best, Jim Frey.

Jaycee golf winners

A picture appeared that week of he Elks Club Jaycee golf winners. That shot included Stan Ware who won the event, Bob Factor and Chuck Rogers. The next column over described the Trucker golf team’s win over Fremont St. Joe. On the Trucker squad was arguably one of Norwalk’s all-time best amateur players, Chip Heyl. He would go on to work for the government and become one of the top amateur players in the DC/Virginia area.

Willard football coach named

Willard Superintendent Ralph McCambridge named Thomas Saunders as the new football coach. He replaced Norm Bray, who had been there for four years. Saunders will pull double-duty and also coach track.

Oval Track Racing Also Huge

Five stock car tracks were also running back in the mid-1950s. That particular edition told of Bob Otto’s promotion of a Memorial Day race at Attica Speedway. He delivered the invitation to the top drivers from dirt tracks at Ashland, Mansfield, Knox-Mt. Vernon and Tiffin for the event.

Also running at that time was Fremont and Sandusky, the latter a premier track for super-modified cars. Locals with the last names of Friend, Ensign, Martin, Jenkins, Grosswiler, McGuckin, Bleile and VanVlerah — to name just a few — cut their teeth at these tracks.

Amazingly enough, Attica, now leased by Monroeville businessman John Bores, is still packing them in on Friday night. Fremont and Sandusky also remain on the racing map but nothing like Attica.

Don Hohler is a longtime sportswriter at the Norwalk Reflector. He can be reached at [email protected]

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