MONROEVILLE — A basketball team was inducted, along with three individuals, into the Monroevillle Hall of Fame on Saturday.
The 1975-76 boys’ basketball team completed what was, at the time, the most successful season in school history.
The others included Saturday were Bonnie Berkley Pigman (alumni), Dale Scheid (alumni, community member) and Greg Schafer (alumni, community member).
The 1975-76 team won the conference, sectionals and districts and finished as regional runners-up on the way to a school record 22-2 record.
It was a magical season.
To appreciate the way that this team was able to make a mark you need to understand how things were in 1975. Success on the court in town was a common occurrence.
Norwalk Reflector reporter Jim Busek at the time wrote the following at the end of our season:
“The Eagles have won 28 straight games at home. Where every game is a sellout and fans occasionally have to be chased from the elementary school roofs where they scratch the frost from the windows to peer in the windows.
“Where every year there is a Roeder or Sprowl or Didion or Krull or Moore gathering all-league and all-conference honors.
“Yep, even in a town where winning is a way of life, this year was something special. This team won more games than any Eagle team since the roaring 20s.”
Not sure anyone foresaw this happening. Returning just one letterman, this team was led by two All-Ohio big men 6-foot-5 Paul Roeder and 6-foot-9 Burl Nesbitt. Captained by Garry Schaffer, Ken Leber and Roeder, it was marked by selfless team play that struck a chord with fans and led to an unforgettable experience for those involved. The Eagles broke the attendance record in Norwalk when they faced the Flyers, sold out the gym days before their sectional finals and by the regional finals they an estimated 1,500 loud and crazy fans traveling with them.
Nesbitt transferred in shortly before the season from Margaretta and went on to become the perfect complement to returning star player Roeder. Nesbitt’s laid-back personality and desire to be one of the guys helped create a seamless transition. It was hard to believe the team never played together before. He was a tremendous teammate and good guy.
Junior guard Mark Bores, an outstanding athlete in his own right, was the lone underclassman starter and the balance of the squad included, Jerry Usselman, Paul Cherry, Tim Haughawout, Darrell Stein and Art Miller. The team was coached by colorful Harry Garverick, who established the perfect system to take advantage of our personnel. The assistant coach was Joe Andrews.
Three narrow victories over arch rivals Norwalk St. Paul and victories over top-tier programs in the state at the time — Sandusky St. Mary's and Cuyahoga Heights — were highlights. The latter was described by a reporter as “The greatest contest he had ever seen,” recalling the thrilling 83-81 nail-biter in the regional opener over the best squad the Eagles played that season.
Besides the obvious skill and size of the squad, a key to success was cohesion as a team and how everybody had each other's back. No one cared who scored or got the credit or fanfare. The Eagles genuinely played the game the right way and as other area basketball fans saw them play along the tourney trail, the team gained more supporters. It was thrilling and humbling to have that much attention.
Roeder was co-player of the year in the Firelands Conference and first team all-district. He and Nesbitt were all-conference first team. Nesbitt also led the league in rebounding, and Roeder was second in both scoring and rebounding. Leber led the conference in assists and Schaffer was second as both garnered honorable mention all-conference.
Roeder received all-state second-team accolades and Nesbitt was named on the third team. Those two big men were the first MHS graduates to ever play Div. I basketball. Roeder scored a school record 512 points — a record that still stands today — and Schaffer set the school record for assists in a season.
It was decided to name the entire team as MVP award winner due to its unique team makeup. Players all brought something to the team. For those who didn't see them play the following quotes by reporters and coaches in write-ups of the games may give you some insight of their play:
Schaffer: “Can dribble the ball down the court faster than most can run;” “Tiny guard;” “Provided excellent leadership on the court;” “Spunky Redhead;” “Fast and troublesome;” “A free thrower sharpshooter;” “He was our gas. Without him we don't go.”
Nesbitt: “6' 9;” “Hustle and provides key scoring;” “Unselfish;” “Dangerous;” “Smooth;” “Lanky;” “Causes problems in the paint;” “Talented, skillful big man;” “Great teammate;” “Mismatch on the floor.”
Roeder: “Gutsy play while playing with a bloody nose and floor burned knees;” “Does it all. Good rebounder, strong defender and fine outside shooter.” “Bonafide All-Ohioan.” “Impressed the way he moves to the ball;” “Would start on every team in the state regardless of division.” “Pure Shooter.”
Leber: “He is quick as a cat and the garbage player on the squad;” “Aggressive floor play;” “Hard-working forward;” “As quick as a guard”; “Unheralded;” “Strong and aggressive;” “Unsung;” “Wrestle rebounds from bigger opponents;” “Comes to war every time he is on the floor..”
Bores: “A solid performer;” “A tremendous athlete;” “Helps shore up the defense.”
Haughawout: “Good defender and strong in the post.” “Coming off the bench with solid performance.” “Hustling guard not afraid to mix it up inside.”
Cherry: “Solid Performance;” “He can score;” “6' 4” Junior.”
For those who experienced it the memories will never fade. The entire community was a huge part in the team’s success. Fans not only sold out gyms when the Eagles played, former basketball alums scrimmaged regularly against the team to give the Eagles good looks in practice. This was vital, considering the size on our team, the subs and JV squad couldn't have mustered a decent fight. It was great for the Eagles to practice against players they had grown up watching play. They were enthusiastic supporters. The sendoffs, pep rallies and caravan escorting the team back from Canton were memorable.
It was quite a ride.