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The Purple Quill

The online student news site of Elder High School

The Purple Quill

The online student news site of Elder High School

The Purple Quill

New era, another title

Excerpt taken from “The Pride of Price Hill” by Bill Koch in 2002 (copyright Orange Frazier Press)
The 2002 book, The Pride of Price Hill by Bill Koch and published by Orange Frazier Press.
The 2002 book, “The Pride of Price Hill” by Bill Koch and published by Orange Frazier Press.

Moderator’s Note: This story is reprinted with permission of the author, Mr. Bill Koch and is taken from his book about the history of Elder athletics to that point. 

Pat Kelsey considers himself an Elder guy. That’s what he’ll tell you when you ask him about his high school days. He spent three years at Roger Bacon and only one at Elder, but he’s an Elder guy. He means no disrespect to the folks at Roger Bacon, where his family roots run deep. His father went to Bacon. So did his uncles and his sister. And really, Bacon wasn’t such a bad place. But for Kelsey, nothing compares to Elder.

Of course, that makes sense when you consider that Kelsey became the starting point guard on Elder’s 1993 state championship team. But Kelsey’s affection for the school has only a little bit to do with the state championship. It runs a lot more deeply than that.

“The experience I had that year at Elder,” Kelsey said, “was really the greatest year of my life, not because we won a state championship. I quickly realized as I became an Elder Panther that there’s no place like it on earth. As I spent my first month at the school, it became the best decision of my life socially and spiritually and being able to tell people for the rest of my life that I’m an Elder guy.”

“The people have such pride in the school. I’m 450 miles from home now and I can’t wait to tell people on Saturday morning about Friday night games. They couldn’t care less, but I tell them anyway. I just beam with pride.”

Kelsey has moved on to bigger things in his basketball life. He’s the director of basketball operations at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, working for former Xavier University head coach Skip Prosser and competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference against Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, the bluebloods of college basketball. But his heart remains at Elder and always will, even though he spent only one year there.

But oh, what a year it was. As the 1992-93 high school basketball season began, twenty years had passed since Elder had won its first state championship under Frey. Former Elder point guard Joe Schoenfeld was the head coach now, having replaced Frey, who retired two years before. A new era in Elder basketball had begun.

During Schoenfeld’s first season as head coach, Kelsey was a junior point guard at Roger Bacon. His boyhood friend, David Ginn, had left Bacon and transferred the previous year and Kelsey was constantly hearing from Ginn how wonderful it was at Elder.

“Everyone loves to hate Elder. Because everyone wants to be Elder.”

— Pat Kelsey

Kelsey was happy for his friend, but he had his own opinion about Elder, which was that he pretty much hated the place. Elder has that effect on you when you have to compete against it year in and year out.

“Everybody loves to hate Elder,” Kelsey said, “because everybody wants to be Elder. They want to have that school spirit and they want to have that school pride. But they’re not Elder.”

Kelsey had vivid and not-so-pleasant memories of playing at The Pit as a visitor. Even the anticipation made him a little queasy, He knew he wasn’t going to get any calls from the officials. He knew the crowd was going to make it tough on him. And he knew he probably wasn’t going to win.

The Elder Guy – The ratio of Roger Bacon to Elder was three-to-one. His father was from Bacon. His sister was from Bacon. His uncles were from Bacon. But once you’ve done Elder, apparently you’re Elder for life. So Pat Kelsey became an Elder homeboy. Sorry. No disrespect. It’s just how it was.

But as he finished his junior year at Bacon, Kelsey was looking to transfer, too, mostly because he thought he would improve his chances of landing a college scholarship playing at one of the bigger GCL schools. Elder was on his list because of the tributes he heard from Ginn, but he was leaning toward transferring to another GCL school, which he won’t name.

When word got around that Kelsey was looking to move, the coach at this school invited him to spend a day there. Then he showered Kelsey with praise. He told him he would be the quarterback of the offense, that he would receive virtually all of the playing time at point guard, that the team would be built around him, all of which was very flattering for a junior in high school to hear. “Everybody loves to have their ego padded a little bit,” Kelsey said.

At about that same time, the UC Bearcats had advanced to the Final Four in Minneapolis. Kelsey’s dad happened to be in Minneapolis at the time and was fortunate enough to secure tickets to the games. It turns out his seats were right next to Fritz Meyer, a former UC and Elder guard who at the time was an Elder assistant coach. Meyer asked Kelsey’s father if he had decided where he was going to school. When he heard that Kelsey had all but made up his mind to attend the other GCL school, Meyer told him that Elder was just a point guard away from a state championship.

At his father’s urging, Kelsey agreed to spend a day at Elder the following week. While he was there, he met with Schoenfeld. Unlike the GCL coach who promised him the moon and the stars, Schoenfeld made no promises whatsoever. When Kelsey asked him what his prospects would be on the basketball team if he transferred to Elder, Schoenfeld was noncommittal. First, he said, you’ll have to make the team. And then you’ll have to beat out the players we already have.

“It actually fired me up,” Kelsey said. “It was like a challenge.”At the end of the day, Kelsey found a pay phone at the Super X drug store then located next door to Elder and called his father. “Dad,” he said. “I want to go to Elder.”

Kelsey not only made the team, he made enough of an impression on Schoenfeld to crack the starting lineup as the season began. The Panthers had their point guard and Kelsey felt right at home at his new school.

“He was such an energetic guy,” Schoenfeld said, “and real unselfish. You almost had to beg him to shoot most of the time. He was just really an excellent ballhandler. We ran some set plays, but we also ran some motion offense, screen and cut and take what the defense gives you. He was such a smart basketball guy, he was helpful in that area.”

Reunited with Ginn, the 5-10 Kelsey found himself playing alongside the very Elder players he so disliked playing against when he was at Bacon. His presence could have been a problem. After all, he was a short-timer who had spent the bulk of his high school days at a competing school. He wasn’t a true West Sider, his family having moved from Finneytown into Our Lady of Visitation parish so that he could legally attend Elder. The other players could have shunned him. They could have regarded him as an interloper who would steal valuable playing time from them.

Instead, they embraced him.

Mean Machine – Dave Ginn was Elder’s catalyst. Dive, block, scrap, get in your face. Whatever. If the Panthers had been a hockey team, he would have been the enforcer.

“I was taken in as one of their own,” Kelsey said, “taken in as an Elder Panther.”

Which is exactly the way it had happened for Ginn the year before. Ginn, a 6-5 forward and linebacker in football, had left Roger Bacon after his sophomore year because he wasn’t happy there. His father was preparing to build a new house and asked David where he would like to go to school. While Ginn was trying to figure it out, his dad attended an Elder-Moeller football game at Nippert Stadium and was impressed by the throng of Elder supporters who turned out for the game.

“You might want to visit Elder,” he told his son.

Ginn did visit and fell in love with the school. The decision was easy. He would go to Elder. To this day, he still gets chills when he remembers the first time he ran out onto the football field at The Pit wearing an Elder uniform.

“It was like a dream come true,” Ginn said, “just walking out of that tunnel and seeing all those people. I never could imagine what it felt like. I walked out of that tunnel and there were 10,000 people there and I felt like I was going to pass out. If I could take that moment and freeze it and open it up every day, it would be amazing.”

Elder won the Greater Catholic League South basketball title the year before Kelsey arrived but posted only a 13-8 record overall. In an unusual twist, the Panthers found that they could beat the teams in their league-they lost only one GCL game-but had all kinds of trouble when they ventured outside the conference.

With four starters and seven lettermen returning from that team, the prospects were bright for 1992-93 even without Kelsey. The Panthers were picked to repeat as GCL champs and were ranked third in the city in The Enquirer’s pre-season coaches’ poll, behind No. 1 Woodward and Colerain. But as Meyer had foreseen in Minneapolis, Kelsey’s presence improved even those bright prospects immensely.

“The first day he walked out onto the floor, it was like he had been there all through high school,” Ginn said of Kelsey. “You could just tell he was our missing link.”

Aside from his obvious ballhandling skills and his knowledge of the game, Kelsey’s arrival had a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup. It enabled Schoenfeld to move John Miller, the point guard on the ’91-’92 team, to shooting guard, freeing him to become more of a scorer. Six-foot-two Mike Schwallie, the quarterback on the football team who had played guard alongside Miller as a junior, remained at guard, Schoenfeld choosing to run a three-guard offense to take advantage of his team’s quickness and to compensate for a lack of overall size. Ginn and 6-4 sophomore Dan Delfendahl were the forwards, though Delfendahl, in effect, shared one forward position with 6-6 senior Andy Marx.

Team captain Kevin Whitmer, a 6-5 senior forward, had started as a junior, but was now the first player off the bench, capable of playing any of the five positions. In effect, then, with Kelsey on board, Schoenfeld simply pushed his four returning starters over one spot to make room for him. It was a perfect fit.

Having settled on the three-guard offense, Schoenfeld then spread his wings as a coach. Under Frey, the Panthers had always favored a deliberate, half-court offensive approach. They pressed effectively, and scored in transition off the resulting turnovers, but basically they preferred to slow the game down.

The Big Hurt – Mike Schwallie was Elder’s all-around talent. He did it all. Rebound. Shoot. Defense. But he still saved the best for last. In the title game of 1993, he scored 20 points, got seven assists, five rebounds, four steals and, of course, the MVP trophy. What else?

Schoenfeld decided the best way to utilize his talent was to press more frequently and to run in transition at every opportunity. To get the best results from the press, he sought the advice of John Loyer, then an assistant coach at UC. Then, the Bearcats were establishing their reputation as a physical, no-holds-barred pressing team that rattled opponents and created scoring opportunities from their defense. That’s exactly what Schoenfeld wanted to do at Elder. Loyer gave Schoenfeld a crash course on the Bearcats’ 2-1-2 zone press. Kelsey was the anticipator in the middle. Ginn was on the ball in the front row along with Miller. Marx and Delfendal were the anchors and shot blockers guarding the goal and Schwallie rotated over to form the traps.

The Panthers opened their season against Toledo Scott, a traditional Ohio basketball power, at Savage Hall on the campus of the University of Toledo. They trailed by 10 points after three quarters. Miller, Kelsey and Marx all fouled out. But Schwallie connected on a 3-point shot with two seconds left to send the game into overtime and Whitmer hit a 10-foot baseline jump shot with eight seconds left to give Elder a 72-71 overtime victory.

“To knock them off in Toledo,” Schoenfeld said, “that gave everybody a sense that we might be all right after all.

They were, indeed, all right. Better than all right, actually. But there would be no repeat of the GCL South title. The Panthers would lose to LaSalle, to Kettering Alter and to Moeller in the GCL and to Aiken outside the league. They finished second behind Moeller and Bobby Brannen, who would go on to star for UC.

Still, their 16-4 record was good enough for a No. 3 seed in the Cincinnati Division I sectional tournament behind Woodward and Taft. Moeller, despite winning the GCL, was seeded fourth.

Elder was paired in the first round against Walnut Hills. The Panthers entered the game as heavy favorites, but Schoenfeld was understandably nervous. He remembered what happened the previous year in the first round of the sectional when Elder lost to Taft. It was Schoenfeld’s first venture into the postseason as a head coach and it hadn’t gone very well at a school that had grown accustomed to making deep tournament runs under Frey.

Following the popular and successful Frey was no easy chore for Schoenfeld, despite his pedigree as an Elder star player in his own right. The transition was made a little easier because Schoenfeld had been the reserve coach under Frey and his first team had only two seniors, which meant that he was essentially coaching the same players he had coached the previous year on the reserves. It also meant that most of his players, having never played for Frey, had no basis for comparing the two coaches.

The Elder fans did have that basis for comparison, though, and would surely use it when the time came. Fortunately for Schoenfeld, he was smart enough to understand that he would make a huge mistake if he tried to copy Frey in every way.

“I knew enough not to try to be Coach Frey or I’d be a complete flop,” Schoenfeld said. “I tried to take the things he taught me, but I had to do it my own way. He was real energetic and very vocal and excitable on the sidelines. I didn’t think I was that kind of personality.”

Tall in the Saddle – Joe Schoenfeld started out as an accounting major, somewhere along the way, he gave up numbers for basketball statistics. After a state championship and one runner-up, it seemed like a fair trade.

But in another way, he was very much like Frey. During practice, Frey almost always displayed patience and spoke softly. Schoenfeld is the same way. He remembered playing for Frey and never being made to feel awkward or uneasy and he tries to do the same now that he’s coaching.

“It was a lot of fun,” Schoenfeld said. “I thought I was playing for one of the best coaches I could ever have a chance to play for. When he was hired, he said his team would always play hard, that they would never quit and that they would represent the school in a class way. He never promised that he would win the state. That’s my recollection of the stories he told and that’s what I try to carry on, to play hard and represent the school well.”

Schoenfeld never envisioned that he would be the head basketball coach at Elder, the man who replaced the great Paul Frey. But sometimes life has a strange way of leading you where you were seemingly meant to be. After graduating from Elder in 1977, Schoenfeld attended Xavier University on a basketball scholarship. He started out as an accounting major, but one day he paused to think about what he was doing and realized that he didn’t want to be an accountant for the rest of his life.

He started to reassess his career plans and found himself thinking back to his days at Elder, to the teachers and coaches he had there and recalled the influence they exerted on him and on other students He thought about how much fun those teachers and coaches made high school for him and decided that he would like to do the same thing for the kids who followed him at Elder. He even considered what it would be like to coach with Frey, though he never allowed himself to think about replacing him.

“When I thought about teaching and coaching,” Schoenfeld said, “I always had a picture in my mind of being at Elder because it meant so much to me when I was a student there. It was like I had a calling.”

After he graduated from XU, he started his coaching career as the assistant freshman coach at Elder. He coached the reserves for seven years before Frey retired from coaching, opening the door for Schoenfeld to take over the program.

Last year was his eleventh year as head coach, making his tenure so far half as long as Frey’s. He has a 169-87 record, with two GCL titles, including last year’s, three district titles, two regional titles, one state runner up finish and one state championship. He has had one losing season, 9-12 in 1996-97, the only losing basketball season at Elder since 1969, Dave Hils’ final year as head coach.

Schoenfeld’s second trip to the sectional tournament went much more smoothly than the first. Miller scored 24 points, Marx contributed 19 and Elder, after overcoming a 15-12 first-quarter deficit, outscored the Eagles, 33-11, in the second quarter. The Panthers went on to win their first-round game, 88-60, at UC’s Shoemaker Center.

For Miller, who led Elder with a 14.7-point scoring average during the regular season, it was the start of a prolific scoring run that helped carry Elder through the tournament offensively. Miller wasn’t a great defensive player, but he had a penchant for scoring, utilizing an unorthodox shot that somehow found its way into the basket. He was also adept at getting out quickly on the fast break to convert layups after the Panthers’ press had forced a turnover.

Mr. Tough Guy – John Miller played the game in an unorthodox fashion. A chip on his shoulder the size of Gibraltar. But the toughest situation he faced was the loss of his grandfather, whose spirit watched over the tournament. The tough guy averaged 27 points. They were for the title, of course. But they were also for the old man.

He was called Prime Time after Deion Sanders, but as a freshman, he was a skinny kid who didn’t have the strength to power his way to the basket. Along the way, he developed that unusual shot and knew how to use his body to slide between defenders for close-in shots.

“He was a good outside shooter and good at driving to the basket,” Schoenfeld said. “He could contort his body to reach around, over and under. And at 6-1, he had real long arms and legs.”

Said Kelsey: “Johnny Miller was the most unique personality on the team. He was cocky and brash. He had a chip on his shoulder. He thought when he walked out on the court that he was the best player out there.”

Along with Ginn, Miller was one of the toughest kids on the team. But after Elder got past Glen Este, 60-44, in the second round of the sectional, his teammates saw a completely different person. Gone was the Prime Time persona, the tough guy image.

Miller scored 22 points in the win over the Trojans, 14 in the first half. He was the only Elder player to reach double figures. Afterwards, the mood in the Elder locker room was naturally upbeat. The players were starting to believe that they could go far in the tournament. They sensed that they were peaking at the right time.

But as Schoenfeld addressed his players, Miller was told by the Elder trainer that his grandfather, who attended every game, had collapsed in the arena at the end of the game. He was treated by paramedics and rushed to Christ Hospital, but there was nothing the doctors could do. He had actually died before he ever left Shoemaker Center.

Miller was devastated.

“He was Mr. Tough Guy,” Kelsey said of Miller. “He’d throw at his own kid in a father-son game. I never imagined Johnny could cry. I remember thirty minutes later, he was just limp. His mom was holding him and he was crying his eyes out.”


John Mullen, Miller’s maternal grandfather, was 63 when he died. He had been much more than a grandfather to Miller, whose parents had separated when he was two years old. It was his grandfather who took him to games and to practices as a kid.

“He was pretty much my father,” Miller said.

Miller could have taken a few days off. He could have skipped the next game or maybe even the next two, but he never seriously considered sitting out. He remembered how dedicated his grandpa had been to his athletic career and he knew instinctively that he wouldn’t have wanted Miller to stop playing because of him. Miller continued to play because he knew his grandfather would have wanted him to.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“When something like that happens, you want to put sports and everything to the side,” Miller said. “Your family comes first. Basketball is just something you enjoy doing. Every time you went to the free throw line or really anything you were doing, that’s all you were thinking about. It’s hard to stay focused.”

John Mullen’s death affected the other players, too, because they all knew him. Some of them weren’t sure how to react, but they decided the best approach was to leave it up to Miller, to let him handle his grief in his own way, but to be there for him when he needed them.

The Purple One – Pat Kelsey was the missing link. Transferring in from Bacon, he soon made the starting lineup. Meshing with the same guys he had once disliked so much. With Kelsey playing point guard, he had the greatest year of his life and Elder celebrated the 20th anniversary of its first state title under Paul Frey.

“He’s a quiet guy,” Ginn said. “If he wanted to talk about it, he’d talk about it. You could tell he was on a mission.”

Said Kelsey: “The rest of the tournament became very emotional because of that.”

The seniors on that Elder team used to take turns hosting Mass in their homes before every league game. Not long after the death of Miller’s grandfather, Fr. Jim Kiffmeyer, the team chaplain, asked each player to say something about the team.

“Everybody let their guard down and broke down,” Kelsey said. “We talked about Johnny’s grandpa and how we wanted to make the season special. When we got in a tough situation the rest of the tournament, we refused to let each other down.”

Miller seemed driven from that point on. In the four tournament games after his grandfather died, he averaged 27 points. The Panthers would need every one of them because the competition was about to get tougher. Waiting for Elder in the sectional final was Taft, the No. 2 seed and the team that had eliminated Elder in the first round the previous year. The Senators appeared on the verge of doing so again when they took an 11- point lead in the third quarter and were still ahead by eight, 56-48, heading into the fourth quarter.

The Taft defense had rendered Elder’s motion offense ineffective throughout the first half. Finally, looking for something that would work, Schoenfeld ordered his players into a 1-4 set on offense, with Kelsey handling the ball out front.

“I told everybody to get out of his way,” Schoenfeld said. “He would beat his man and drop it off to Dave or Andy for a layup or he’d kick it out to Mike Schwallie. Pat came to the rescue.”

So did the Elder press. The Panthers whittled away at the lead, then made their move by pressuring Taft into a flurry of turnovers. They went ahead, 65-61, on baskets by Schwallie, Miller and Ginn, all within a span of 18 seconds.

“Four trips in a row our press freaked them out,” Schoenfeld said. “We stole the ball and they never got over half court. We either made a layup or got to the free throw line.”

But Taft regrouped to send the game into overtime. With 18 seconds left in overtime, Ginn scored on a power move to the basket, was fouled and made the free throw to give the Panthers a 76-74 lead. With eight seconds remaining, Taft’s Craig Lawrence missed a 3-pointer that would have given the Senators the lead and possibly the victory. Elder rebounded the missed shot and Kelsey was fouled. He went to the line for two free throws with five seconds to go.

After he made the first one to spread the lead to three, Whitmer paid him a visit at the free throw line. Kelsey and Whitmer were inveterate watchers of the 1986 movie Hoosiers, the story of tiny Milan High School’s unlikely drive to the Indiana state championship. Before every tournament game, Whitmer would join Kelsey at his house and they would watch the movie from the town meeting scene to the end. There’s a point in the movie where Milan is trailing by one and Ollie McClellan, a kid who hasn’t scored a point all season, is on the free throw line with one second left in the game. He makes the first free throw. Merle Webb then walks up to him before the second and says, “Make this one and we’re going all the way.” Sure enough, Whitmer had the presence of mind to cite the movie as Kelsey prepared to shoot his final free throw.

“I go up to the line and he says, ‘One more and we’re going all the way,”‘ Kelsey said. “I turned around and smiled at him, then I made the next one.”

Elder held on to win, 78-74.

The Panthers’ opponent in the district final at the UD Arena was 18-4 Dayton Meadowdale, a team that had been ranked No. 1 in the state earlier in the season. Elder stayed with the approach that had worked so well all season long, pressing and running, and took the lead at 16-15 with 1:45 left in the first quarter. The Panthers would never trail again.

Miller scored a career-high 30 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, to lead Elder. Meadowdale, which trailed by eight after three quarters, got to within four, 56-52, with 1:06 left, but baskets by Miller and Marx preserved the lead for Elder, which won, 82- 76, to earn the right to play in the regional.

That same day, the Panthers found out that Woodward, the No. 1 seed in their sectional, had been beaten by Xenia, 71-70, after leading, 60-51, midway through the fourth quarter. That upset provided the Panthers with a huge psychological lift. Woodward was the most talented team in the area, with Damon Flint, who would become a four-year starter at UC, and Eric Johnson, who would play at the University of Louisville. It wasn’t as if the Elder players feared that they couldn’t beat Woodward, but now they knew that they wouldn’t have to.

Not that it wouldn’t have been an interesting matchup. This was an Elder team without a single player who could match up with either Flint or Johnson athletically. The 1973 Elder championship team was led by Grote, who would become a star player at Michigan. The 1974 team featured Rick Apke, a future star at Creighton. Both would be drafted by NBA teams. But the ’93 Panthers had no one of that caliber. Ginn played football at UK and Kelsey played basketball at Wyoming before transferring to XU, but he was never more than a role player. This Elder team had a bunch of good basketball players, most of whom probably would have started on any other team in the state, but only Kelsey played Division I basketball-and he wasn’t highly recruited.

“It was a real unselfish team,” Schoenfeld said. “Johnny ended up being the leading scorer for the year, but everybody was close to double figures or at double figures. They were all good basketball players, all fundamentally sound, all good defenders. As a group, they were one of the meanest teams. They had an attitude. There was a swagger about them. They really hated losing.”

Ginn was the meanest of the bunch. He was the player who always seemed to make something happen when things got tough. Sometimes he would do it with a key basket, but more frequently he would inspire his teammates and get the famed Elder fans involved by diving on the floor for a loose ball, blocking a shot or getting in an opponent’s face. It was Ginn who was always assigned to guard the opponent’s best player and he would do it with a flair that made a statement to the rest of his teammates that they would not be intimidated.

If the Panthers had been a hockey team, Ginn, the second-leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, would have been considered the enforcer on the ice.

“Dave gave our team an edge,” Kelsey said. “He was why everybody feared playing us. You’d think he was a bully, out there just to foul people, but he was really a skilled player. He was a mean SOB. If had to pick any guy in the world to be in a street fight with, it would be David Ginn.”

Schwallie may have been the best all-around player. At 6-2, he was a reliable rebounder, an accurate shooter, adept ballhandler and played good defense. Marx gave Elder the rare option of bringing a 6-6 post player off the bench to create mismatches inside. He could score from 15 feet in, had a thorough understanding of the game, and was an excellent screener. He split time with Delfendahl, a sophomore who was a little better perimeter ballhandler and shooter and did a good job driving the ball to the basket. Eric Fay, at 5-8, was used at point guard to spell Kelsey, and 6-4 senior Jeff Eichelkraut had the ability to come off the bench and score in a hurry.

Those nine players gave Schoenfeld plenty of options and enabled him to press and run, knowing that he had reserves who could spell the front-line players when they became fatigued. It would have been interesting to see how well they would have fared against the star-studded Woodward team, but thanks to Xenia, that showdown never took place.

If the Xenia players believed after their upset of Woodward that they would have clear sailing to Columbus, they were sorely mistaken. The Elder press was its most effective in the regional semifinal at UD, forcing the Buccaneers into 26 turnovers. The Panthers led, 44-33, at halftime. Xenia outscored Elder, 15-4, at the beginning of the third quarter to pull even at 48 with 4:10 to go in the period, at which point Schoenfeld called time out. Schoenfeld had scouted Xenia and noticed that it played man ­to-man in the first half, but switched to a 1-3-1 zone in the second half in an attempt to confuse its opponent. It was a nice little tidbit to offer his players at halftime as they contemplated their 11-point lead and wondered what the Buccaneers would do to try get back into the game. But Schoenfeld forgot to mention it.

No problem. His players figured it out on their own, solved the 1-3-1 and outscored Xenia, 13-5, to take a 61-53 lead into the fourth quarter. Xenia never threatened again and Elder posted an 85-74 victory. Miller scored 29 to lead the Panthers. Elder received another break in the regional final against Trotwood Madison when the Rams were forced to play without Carlos Blanton, their leading scorer who was arrested the day before the game and charged with delinquency by reason of armed robbery for his alleged involvement in the theft of a student’s athletic jacket. The Panthers forced Madison into 33 turnovers, while committing only 10 themselves, but were outrebounded, 44-26, in the 85-59 victory. Miller stayed hot, scoring 25 points, and Schwallie added 10, to earn the Panthers their first trip to Columbus since 1980. They would be paired against Akron Stow, the No. I-ranked team in the state, ranked 10th nationally by USA Today.

The players and coaches received a huge sendoff, part of a plan devised by Fr. Jerry Schaeper, the Elder principal. On the morning of their departure for Columbus, the players were told to leave their gym bags in the locker room before school. When they went to retrieve them later in the morning, the rest of the Elder students exited the building and lined the driveway that separates the school from The Pit. They were positioned all the way from the flagpole in the northwest corner of the stadium to the gate that leads out onto Vincent Ave. When the players emerged with their gym bags, they received a huge ovation from the student body and faculty. Then they boarded the three vans that would transport them up I-71 to Columbus and slowly pulled away, with students cheering and pounding on the vans.

When they arrived in Columbus, they went to St. John Arena so that the players could get a feel for the building. For Schoenfeld, walking into the arena brought back a flood of memories from his high school days.

“I looked up to the last row and thought about when I was a freshman when Elder played there in ’74,” Schoenfeld said. “I could barely see the seats way up there. I thought to myself, ‘I actually made it back up here.’ ”

Stow would present a difficult challenge for the Panthers, mostly because it played the same style of basketball. It liked to trap out of its man-to-man defense, scored frequently in transition, and used a three-guard lineup. It had an outstanding player in guard Kevin Kovach, who averaged 26 points per game, two 6-5 seniors on its front line and a solid point guard in Chet Feldman.

During the first half, it was all too much to handle for Elder, which trailed by 11 at intermission after being down, 31-15, in the second quarter. “We got off to a horrible start,” Schoenfeld said. ”All the kids were nervous. We didn’t play like we were capable of playing. But then David Ginn came out in the third quarter and put the whole team on his back-blocking shots, diving into the scorer’s table, doing everything he could to spark us back to life.”

There are so many plays, so many trips up and down the court during the course of a basketball season that it’s virtually impossible to single out one play as the most crucial of the season. But in this case, there really was such a play. Trailing 50-40, with 5:28 left in the third quarter, Ginn and Kelsey hooked up on a play that woke up the crowd of 13,276 and helped the Panthers regain the fire with which they normally played.

Kelsey, who averaged five assists per game, was approaching half court after receiving the outlet pass from the rebound of a Stow missed shot. When he spotted Ginn, his old St. Vivian’s and Roger Bacon teammate, streaking toward the basket and pointing towards the rim, he knew instinctively what to do, releasing a pass toward the goal for Ginn to go after.

“He was the one guy who I knew what he was going to do at all times,” Kelsey said. “We met eyes and he pointed toward the rim. The ball left my hand and I remember thinking I had just made a crucial error. I thought I threw it into the 12th row. Not only did he catch it with two hands, he threw it down (through the basket) with authority. I had never seen David do that in my life and I had probably played 400 or 500 basketball games with him.” Said Ginn: “I just pointed up and somehow the ball got there.

It seemed like it was over my head and the next thing I knew it was in my hands. It was like a blur. We had been playing together all our lives but we had never done anything like that. If it was a regular season game with nothing on the line, I don’t think it would have worked.”

The Elder crowd, which had been uncharacteristically subdued to that point, suddenly came alive. The Stow supporters weren’t pleased by what they saw, but the non-partisan fans, those who had just shown up to watch quality high school basketball, loved it and began to favor Elder.

It was perhaps the only bright spot for Kelsey in a game that saw him commit eight turnovers and get into early foul trouble, but it may have been the turning point in the game.

The Panthers still trailed, 50-42, after the Ginn dunk, but at last they were on their way. Now it was Miller’s turn. Still dedicating his play to his grandpa, he began to score from all over the court. When he took over at the point for Kelsey, he dominated the game. “He just took over the game offensively,” Schoenfeld said. “It was like back to him playing like he was at Delhi Park. It was like. ‘OK, just give me the ball and we’ll be fine. I did this last year and I’ll do it again. I’m going to take the ball to the basket and you can’t stop me.’ We didn’t run any plays. He was throwing in shots that you couldn’t believe.”

Said Miller: “It seemed like everything I was throwing up there was going in. A lot of that was God and everybody looking over me from what happened with my grandfather. I think somebody was watching over me, not only me, but our team.”

A Miller baseline jump shot with 5:38 left in the game gave Elder the lead for good. The Panthers led, 79-72, with 2:20 left, and even though they weren’t a very good free throw shooting team, they held on for an 87-81 victory. Miller scored 30 points to lead Elder. Whitmer had 15 off the bench. Kovach finished with 30 for Stow, but was held to just 11 in the second half. The Elder toughness, both physically and mentally, had prevailed.

Except for the subpar game by Kelsey and Schwallie, who also got into foul trouble, it was a typical Elder effort. Miller had another big offensive night and Ginn did the dirty work, including providing the electrifying dunk that turned the game around.

“We all knew our roles,” Ginn said. “I wasn’t a very good shooter, but I understood the game. I could pass and dribble and rebound and play defense and I tried to get the crowd into the game. When I put on that purple uniform, I didn’t want to be some hot dog. I wanted the fans to remember me as a hard-nosed guy who gave it his all. I was the guy who dives for loose balls.”

If the Elder players weren’t sure of themselves before, they were now. They had to win one more game to claim the state championship, but after coming back the way they did against Stow, no one doubted that they would.

Their opponent in the state championship game was Toledo St. John’s, a team the Panthers had already beaten during the regular season, 70-63, at Elder, wiping out a IO-point halftime deficit to post the victory. This was another team that employed a three­ guard offense, led by Jay Larranaga, son of Bowling Green State University coach John Larranaga.

Larranaga had scored 24 in the first game against Elder and had 24 in St. John’s semifinal win over Cleveland Heights. Neshaun Coleman scored 19 and Denny Amrhein had 23 for the 23-4 Titans in that game.

The Panthers trailed by one at the end of the first quarter and were struggling in the second quarter, their press being rendered ineffective by the St. John’s ball handlers.

“They were tough to trap,” Schoenfeld said. “Our guys were completely dead after that semifinal win. We tried to practice the next day on Friday at Capital University and you could see their eyes were glazed. They had worn themselves out in that semifinal game. We didn’t have the same spring in our legs.

Schoenfeld called off the full-court press and ordered his players to settle into their half court defense. The Panthers outscored St. John’s 10-3 at the end of the half to take a 29-23 halftime lead.

The Titans came back to tie the score at 29 early in the third quarter, but Elder regained the lead, 42-38, by the end of the third quarter, forced six turnovers in the fourth quarter and opened a 50-41 lead with 4:44 left. They could smell it now. As long as they could continue to play their game, take care of the ball and not let up on defense, they were going to be state champs.

Miller had his only bad game of the tournament, scoring only nine points. But Schwallie more than compensated. He scored 20 points, with seven assists, five rebounds and four steals and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Marx came off the bench to score 11 points in nineteen minutes, with a team-high eight rebounds.

The final score was 62-53, Elder, earning the Panthers their third state basketball championship, their first in nearly twenty years, the first by a coach other than Frey, and the first for Elder since it moved its games from the Old Pit inside the school building to the New Pit, the Elder Fieldhouse that opened in 1980.

“I remember during the day thinking it was going to be bittersweet even if we won,” Schoenfeld said. “We had so much fun. The kids were a blast to be around. I know I thought it was great, but I didn’t appreciate it like I should have. When you think of all the other coaches that I’ll never be anywhere near as good as and those guys never coached a state champion. I was so lucky to be connected to those players at that point in time. It definitely made coaching easier in the sense that people would think, ‘I guess the guy knows a little bit of something anyway.’ ”

For Kelsey and Ginn, the state tide was almost too good to be true. They had taken the big step, leaving Roger Bacon for Elder, not knowing what to expect. Not only had they been accepted by the Elder community as one of its own, they had won a state championship they likely never would have won had they stayed at Bacon.

The feeling was mutual, though. The Elder players knew what Ginn and Kelsey had meant to them.

“Without them transferring, I don’t believe we would have won the state championship,” Miller said. “For two guys to come to the other side of town, it was just a year that you don’t forget.”

It was a year that neither Kelsey nor Ginn, the transplanted Elder guys, will ever forget either.

“I remember running around in jubilation,” Kelsey said. “It was a lifelong dream. You just can’t believe you’re state champions.” After finishing his football career at UK, Ginn settled in Lexington at first, but then decided to move back to Cincinnati, to his adopted West Side, even if it meant finding a new job. He hated being so far away from Elder.

“My mom would have to call me at halftime to tell me the scores,” Ginn said. “I had enough. I had to move back. I couldn’t take it anymore. My kids will all live on the West Side and grow up to be Elder kids.”


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