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First Home Basketball Game in the New High School Gym

The Streak, 1965 - 1969

NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 12-4-98, By COLLEEN MYTNICK, Morning Journal Writer

Eagles soar out of 'cave'

Nick Piasecki watches as his teammates practice for tomorrow night's game in the new gynamsium at Avon High School. (Morning Journal/Ross Weitzner)

AVON --They called it the cave.

But the days of darkness experienced at the old Avon High School gymnasium officially end tonight, when the boys basketball team plays their first home game at the facility that is part of the new $15 million high school.

And when the Eagles take the floor this year, coach Dave Kudela expects them to be faster, more agile and in better condition -- thanks largely to the new first-class facility.

''I think the brighter gym has brought out a lot more excitement,'' Kudela said. ''Just the ambiance of the place itself is going to play a role in how they feel when they come out here.''

The players agree.

Senior Ryan Krystowski said the team is in better shape than last year because the court is 10 feet longer than the one in the old gym.

''We're going to have an advantage over every team in our conference except Midview,'' he said. ''When it comes down to the fourth quarter, they'll be tired.''

The bleachers, which seat 1,600 fans, provide room for about 500 more people than the seating at the old Stoney Ridge Road school.

''The fans are going to be behind us more because we can get more of them in here,'' said Sophomore Nick Duesler.

With its poor lighting and often slippery floor, Kudela said the old gym had a ''reputation as being a tough place to play.''

It was also tough, said Kudela, for Avon's teams to make sharp turns or score points on fast breaks.

''The floor was slippery all the time,'' he said. ''We never really had the opportunity to do some things because of the shape of the floor.'' ...

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Press, 3-21-07, By Matt Thornicroft, Sports Editor

``Back when the Eagles were unbeatable

`The Streak' remains number-1 in hearts of basketball fans

AVON -- A little over 41 years ago, Dec. 10, 1965, the Avon Eagles boys basketball team fell 69-61 on the road against the Keystone Wildcats.

Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States. A first class stamp cost five cents. Movie lovers were talking about "Dr. Zhivago" and "The Sound of Music." American astronaut Edward White II took the first American spacewalk a little less than six months earlier.

The Avon Eagles won their next 13 games to close out the 1965-66 regular season. It wasn't until Feb. 8, 1969 that another team was able to do what the Keystone Wildcats did that winter night three years earlier, beat Avon High School in a regular-season game. The Firelands Falcons earned that historic win by just one point, 65-64.

By the time it was all done, Avon boys basketball teams had piled up 60-straight regular-season victories over a span of four seasons. It became–at the time–the third-longest regular-season win streak in Ohio boys basketball history, next only to Middletown's run of 76-straight (1955-58) and Ayersville's stretch of 68 (1959-62), according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association's list of basketball records.

Known as "The Streak," it's one of the proudest moments in Avon High School sports lore.

"It just kind of happened," Norm Irwin, Avon's varsity boys head coach at the time, said. "I was extremely fortunate to coach so many talented players. I counted one time that we had 38 kids over that four-year period. I was just a spectator. I had a good seat every night."

The Streak returned to the spotlight this season when the Lutheran West Longhorns passed the Eagles on the state list with their 61st victory, earned Feb. 2 with a 72-59 win over the Oberlin Indians. Lutheran West's streak ended at that point seven days later with a 71-67 loss to the Brooklyn Hurricanes.

It remains the top regular-season winning streak in Lorain County and a point of conversation among many who were around to witness it despite four decades after the fact.

"It's still talked about," former Eagles guard Dave Forthofer, who played from the 1966-67 season through 1967-68, said. "It's amazing how much we remember. A group of us get together every year for a golf outing. This year we're going to Las Vegas. I’m sure the topic will come out when we get out there. They're good memories. We’re still all pretty good friends."

Some of the most decorated athletes in the school's history played during that four-year stretch. Of the 13 individual members of the Avon High School Athletic Hall of Fame, four -- Rich DeChant (1965-66 through 1966-67), Bill Chapman (1965-66 through 1967-68), Mark Wagar (1966-67 through 1968-69) and Irwin -- participated in The Streak. Two of the five athletic teams inducted in the hall are basketball teams that contributed to The Streak.

[According to the 3-28-07 Press, Rich Dechant was inducted in 2003. 'Rich graduated in 1967 and played during the first two seasons of The Streak. An all-conference first-team award winner, DeChant was also a first-team All-Ohio player and an all-district first teamer as well.']

"It has always gotten me how there was this period when–and knowing we were in a very small town–we all kind of landed in the same point of time," Chapman said. "It's never really happened before or after in terms of something like that happening over a stretch years. We had a really good nucleus of kids that was really dedicated."

Talented on the court, they were well-respected off the court.

Most were excellent students. Many were National Honor Society members. Others were voted class presidents.

"They can't miss," Avon Drug pharmacist Frank Krizek said to a reporter in a 1967 Lorain Morning Journal article. "They'll go all the way. They're not only tough, but a bunch of okay kids, all of them."

Though The Streak was played out on hardwood gyms during the winter months, it was born from the outdoor basketball courts during summer vacation. For hours on end, as often as they could, members of the team traveled to surrounding community parks in Bay Village, Elyria, Lorain, Olmsted Falls, Westlake and anywhere else they could find a game. They took on all challengers.

"At that time basketball wasn't a seven-day-a-week, 12-month-a-year thing," Chapman said. "We had some leaders who promoted playing in the off-season. We'd play late nights, weekends. We were just farm-town kids that really didn't have a heck of a lot more to do. We all sort of hung together. We were friends."

And it wasn't just the upperclassmen. Those old enough to drive made sure they provided a lift to those that weren't.

"Probably the most impressive thing about The Streak is the tradition and work-ethic it instated in young people for a number of years afterward in the Avon community," Wagar said. "Older guys mentored the younger ones. Over the summer we played non-stop every night until after dark. You had guys like (former forward) senior Rich DeChant come and pick me (a sophomore) up to play because I was too young to drive. If we didn't have enough guys we’d have the junior high kids who came to watch play with us. It was years of tradition that kind of built up."

The team's self-made unity helped make the job easier for Irwin. Only in his early 20s when he took over the team three years before in 1962, Irwin helped establish a solid foundation for a program with just one winning season in 16 years. His youthful enthusiasm and respect for the game won over pretty much everyone who played for him.

"I was not only lucky to play with a great group of guys, but lucky to play for a great coach," Chapman said. "Everybody looked up to him. At that time he wasn't much older than we were. We all kind of grew up together. He was a great leader for us. If you ask any of us for a top-10 list of people we know, I'm sure he would be near the top."

The Eagles opened the 1965-66 campaign with a pair of victories before losing at Keystone on Dec. 10 1965. Avon recovered the next night with a two-point 52-50 home win against next-door neighbor Brookside and never lost another game until the playoffs.

The starting five consisted mainly of seniors Del Pipas (6-0), Ron Mahl (6-1) and big man Bill Ridenhour (6-7). DeChant, a junior, and Chapman rounded out the lineup. Chapman, only a sophomore, averaged 18 points a game that season.

"I have an awful lot of respect for that first team," Irwin said. "We were coming off two losing seasons. They lost that second game and then it just ballooned and mushroomed from there. I remember when Keystone came to our place. It was bitterly cold that night. The gym was packed."

Avon avenged their earlier loss to the Wildcats with a 72-71 win on Jan. 28 in front of a packed gym–what is now the Avon Middle School gymnasium.

"I went back there a few years back," Forthofer said. "You know, back when you're younger everything seemed so much larger. I’ve been in the new high school gym and it's so much bigger. When you came out of the tunnel into the gym the whole place was just jammed. There were people all along the walls. The visiting side was packed. It was really exciting to see."

The gym's maximum capacity would be tested throughout the rest of that season and beyond. Avon won its next 13 in a row. The Eagles ended up 15-1 and won an Inland Conference Championship by the time the 65-66 regular season had run its course.

"My best memory would probably be when we beat Keystone during my sophomore season," Chapman said. "I remember realizing for the first time the crowd. For such a small building, it was just packed. I was probably as excited as I was at any time I played."

The excitement for everyone grew into the next season. Expectations were high with the return of many of the team's stars from the year before coupled with the addition of new athletes, among them 6-8 sophomore Mark Wagar.

Yet, just days before the Eagles were to take the court for the first time that year, tragedy struck.

Irwin and his wife, Marilyn, were involved in a head-on collision the night before Thanksgiving. Though Irwin received only a cut, Marilyn's injuries required a six-week stay in the hospital. Not long after that, Wagar's lung collapsed while in Irwin’s biology class.

Though both incidents were major shocks, the team rallied together as any family would.

"Players would come in to visit me," Wagar said. "Norm, who was seeing his wife, would stop by. I'd talk to Marilyn on the phone. We’d talk from two different hospitals. Everybody supported each other."

Irwin met with the athletic boosters earlier that year to discuss the purchase of team sport coats with a patch commemorating the team's Inland Conference title sewn on the upper-left breast pocket. The idea was approved and every member of the team received a sport coat to wear over shirts and ties to each game. One of the best teams in the area at the time, they became the best-dressed.

"I wanted to dress up, stand out," Irwin said. "When people would see them walk in wearing that blazer you could hear people say, `Wow.'"

The players loved them.

"(Coach Irwin) wanted everyone to work together, present a good image," Forthofer said. "We were so proud when he got us those jackets. We were probably the first team around to have those kind of jackets. It was kind of cool."

On the court, again, the Eagles dominated. Led by senior starters DeChant, Dale Smitek (6-3) and Tom Jameson (6-1), the team also benefited from the return of Chapman, a junior, and the additions of Forthofer and Wagar among several others.

Chapman and DeChant powered the Eagles. The two averaged 25 and 20 points a game, respectively. Avon averaged 72.6 points a game offensively, while surrendering just 45.8 a game on defense.

Avon finished the regular-season 16-0 and went on to win their Class A sectional (instead of divisions, smaller schools were Class A and larger schools were Class AA), 67-42 against Lutheran West. The season ended in the district championship game after a loss to Springfield Local.

The Eagles continued to overwhelm opponents in the 1967-68 campaign. Chapman, a senior, led the team again with a 25-point scoring average. Wagar, back and fully healthy, averaged 18 points a game. Senior Bob Bohnert (6-0) and sophomore Rich Dechant (6-3) were among the new additions to the lineup that year.

The Eagles, who were beating teams by an average of 27 points a game the year before, were averaging wins of 34 points a game in 1967-68.

"We'd roll up a lot of big wins, but Norm would try to get as many kids into the game as he could," Wagar said.

Even with their huge leads, getting everyone playing time was no easy task. Avon's varsity roster, excluding the junior varsity and freshman teams, during that period averaged between 13-17 players.

"Norm was unusual in that respect," Wagar said. "If you worked hard and up to his standards, he tried to keep as many as he could. Maybe because of conference rules, only so many dressed. That gave a lot of younger players the view that if you worked at it, if you played by his principles, you'd get a chance."

"It was amazing," Forthofer added. "Those teams had a lot of good, technical basketball players. The starters never played a lot at the end of the game. We could've racked up a bigger discrepancy, but it wasn’t about that. It's a team sport. I was glad everybody got to play. That’s what it's all about."

The Eagles' fan following grew to legendary status as the wins mounted. Caravans to away games became tradition. Spectators would arrive at the gym hours beforehand just to get a seat. The standing-room crowd behind the baskets was often 2-3 rows deep.

"You had to be there early, around 5 or 5:30 p.m. or you couldn't get into the gym," Irwin said. "There was a great following. The whole town got behind us."

For the players, it was a feeling that was hard to describe.

"If you've ever seen the movie `Hoosiers,’ we had our version," Wagar said. "We lived in a small town. We'd go to Smitty’s barbershop, get our haircut and maybe more advice then you might have wanted. It was multiple generations, grandfathers, fathers, uncles, it was a special thing."

"It was fun," Chapman said. "Every one of my uncles gave me advice after every game. It was all a part of it. We were the big ticket. It was an exciting time."

One of the biggest wins that year was a 71-55 win against Lorain St. Mary. With a huge crowd expected, the game was moved to Admiral King High School.

"The guy from the Lorain Morning Journal wrote that we weren't good enough to beat them," Wagar said. "At the time, it was a big showdown."

Avon ran the table once again, 16-0, and won their third-straight Inland title. The Eagles beat Cuyahoga 59-49 in the sectional championship before being eliminated in districts–once again–by Springfield Local.

The Streak continued well into the 1968-69 season. Newcomers to the starting lineup included Ron Isaac and Harry Ponting. Wagar and Rich DeChant returned. Sophomore guard Tim Forbes was one of the newest additions to the team.

Again, Avon seemed unstoppable. The Eagles were outscoring opponents by an average of 24 points over the first 14 games. Game 15 came Feb. 8, 1969 at home against the Firelands Falcons. Avon thumped the Falcons 68-49 at Firelands a little over a month earlier. Little did anyone expect that The Streak's run was just about over.

"They were the only other team in the conference that could play hard with us," Wagar said. "They had several guys in the 6-4 height range.”

The Falcons jumped ahead 65-64 with a few seconds left on the clock. The Eagles called a timeout to get everyone on the same page for a winning play.

"They double-teamed me as time wound down," Wagar said. "That left Ponting open."

Ponting's shot didn’t’ fall. Time wound down. The game ended. The Streak was over at 60 games.

"The way I see it, Harry didn't miss that last shot," Wagar said. "I didn't get the last rebound. I should’ve gotten underneath and laid it in.

"Two things happened at that point. On the one hand, it was a tremendous disappointment. On the other hand, it was a relief and something that helped us move on."

The Eagles won their last three games and finished 17-1. They won another conference title and would finally earn a district championship, the first in school history. The season was over after a regional loss to eventual state Class A runner-up, Bridgeport.

Though The Streak was over, its legacy would continue to live on in the stories and memories of everyone who was a part of it or witness to it.

"I didn't remember much about The Streak until after it was over," Chapman said. "We just expected to win. At the end it was even more stunning because of what was accomplished by so many."

The 60-game win stretch fell to fifth on the OHSAA's all-time list after Lutheran West broke it by one game on Feb. 2 of this year. Coincidentally, West's streak ended on Feb. 9 of this year—exactly 38 years plus one day later.

"I'm really happy for Lutheran West and their coach, Phil Argento," Irwin said. "I saw him play when he was in school and coached against him when he was at Avon Lake High School. He's an excellent coach. They have an excellent program."

Former Eagles expressed pretty much the same positive feelings and congratulations about the Longhorns' achievement. Still, their competitive fire is still there.

"You can tell them though that whenever they want, I'm ready to toss it up," Wagar said. "I may only be able to cover one end of the court, but I'm ready to take them on."

For 60-straight games from 1965-69, they were the best there was.''

E-Mail: pressthornicroft@hotmail.com

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