When the final seconds tick off the clock on Saturday, March 26, at the Division I state boys basketball tournament at Ohio State, it will complete 60 years for me of watching tournament basketball in Ohio. My dad took me to see Columbus Aquinas play in a quarterfinal of the 1952 tournament in the Fairgrounds Coliseum, and it has been a six-decade joyride since. But with my move to California this summer, this could be my last final four for a while. So here is my chance to share some of my greatest memories along with my list of the five greatest tournament games I've witnessed.
Before we hit the top-five list, let's just say that mine has been a lifetime of thrills in the venues of high school basketball. I have been privileged to witness some of the greatest individuals who played the sport, like Jerry Lucas, Clark Kellogg and LeBron James. I had the chance to see great central Ohio players beginning with Columbus South's Frank Howard and Marion-Franklin's Herb Williams. I saw the electric Todd Penn of Linden-McKinley, Jerry Francis Sr., who played for Columbus West, and Jerry Francis Jr., who played for Columbus Wehrle. I watched the wonderful Eddie Ratliff and his teammates lead Columbus East to consecutive state titles in 1968 and 1969. I saw girls basketball begin and develop and, along the way, got to see Logan's Katie Smith and Pickerington coach Dave Butcher forever eliminate any doubt about how good girls can play this sport. I got to see a flouncy haired Dale Lambert light up the Fairgrounds with his shooting in the '60s and Mount Vernon's Scott Dapprich light up the Fairgrounds in the '90s. I saw great teams and unheralded teams win state championships, but the common thread through 60 years has been the incredible efforts put forth by these young people.
Here is a list of my five favorite games that I was lucky enough to see. As usual, I rank them in reverse order, No. 5 through my No. 1.
5 - East vs. Cleveland St. Joseph, 1979 Class AAA boys state final: St. Joseph was the favorite to win the title and after East won its semifinal over Akron Central-Hower, it lost a starter to an injury. But on state championship Saturday, East was more than brilliant. East took a 26-13 lead after the first quarter and expanded it to 54-26 at halftime. Kellogg tried to rally St. Joe's with a 51-point performance, but the day belonged to East in one of the best team performances the state has seen.
4 - Pickerington vs. Logan, 1992 Division I girls state final: Girls basketball in Ohio arrived at the top of the mountain when these two powers met before a sold out St. John Arena. Pickerington won 53-46 in a game in which Smith and Butcher would establish their legacies.
3 - Linden vs. Barberton, 1977 Class AAA boys state final: This game lived up to expectations. Linden had won the state title in 1975, Barberton had won in 1976 and they were 1-2 in the polls in 1977. Barberton led by two entering the final quarter, but Penn and Sterling Williams of Linden led a fourth-quarter charge that gave the Panthers an 80-74 victory.
2 - Centerburg vs. Worthington Christian, 1995 Division IV boys district final: The greatest game I've seen at the Fairgrounds. Before an overflow crowd, these small schools battled through four quarters and an overtime before Jeremy Hubbard hit a 25-foot shot to give Centerburg the win. It was high school basketball at its greatest.
1 - Columbus North vs. Middletown, 1958 boys Class AA boys state semifinal: The greatest sports event I have attended. Middletown, led by Lucas, had gone 76 games without losing and had won two state titles. But North hung tough, and when Eddie Clark made a running shot with 4 seconds left, the Polar Bears had achieved the biggest upset in Ohio high school basketball history. It still is today. I can even take you to St. John Arena and show you where I sat.
Enjoy this state tournament. I hope to say hi to you at Ohio State.
I'll see you at a game.
Larry Larson is a former athletics director at Grandview High
School. He can be heard as "Mr. High School Sports" on WTVN 610 AM.