July 25, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Hewit molded top program

Steve King

The Gazette

Through the fault of no one in particular, the Cloverleaf High School boys basketball program has struggled for a while.

But there was a time — actually, two times — when the Colts could play with, and almost always beat, the best teams in the area.

Rick Hewit was an inte-gral part of the program on both occasions, and that, is why he is part of the class of 2009 that will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame during the 24th annual banquet on June 18 at 6 p.m. at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth. The event is sponsored by the Medina Breakfast Kiwanis Club and The Gazette.

Hewit, 58, was an All-Chippewa Conference point guard four decades ago, helping to lead the Colts in his senior season of 1968 to a share of their first league crown. After serving as an assistant for five years at West Holmes to the leg-endary Jack Van Reeth, Hewit returned to Cloverleaf in 1978 to become head coach of a program that had fallen on hard times. The team had endured seven straight losing seasons.

Implementing a methodi-cal style of play with its precise execution which wore opponents down, Hewit got the Colts righted. Going up against the likes of Wadsworth and Brecksville, which were loaded with talent season after season during that period, he guided the the Colts to three Pioneer Conference cham-pionships in a four-year span, in the 1980-81, 1981-82 and 1983-84 campaigns.

It is the greatest period in the history of the program. The 1981-82 team went 20-2, the best record in school history. That club, and the one in 1983-84, both climbed to as high as No. 8 in the Associated Press’ big-school state rankings.

The winning brought out the fans, and the fans brought out the best in the Colts. The Cloverleaf gym, with its balcony full of chair-back seating on one side, was jammed to capacity every night. The place rocked. Teams hated coming there.

“The funny thing is that when we started winning, the opposing schools started complaining about the place,” Hewit laughed. “They’d say things like the floor was slick and the lighting was bad. But when they were coming in there and winning all those years before that, they never complained about any-thing.”

As head coach, Hewit was the front man for all the praise thrown the Colts’ way, but he would be the first to say that he had a lot of help.

“I had an excellent group of players,” he said. “I’m not saying that they were the best pure athletes, but they were very competitive and they played very well to-gether.”

He was talking about players like Pat and Jim Ploucha and P.J. Bertemes, all of whom won The Ga-zette’s MVP award.

Hewit stayed a decade in that stint, but it could have been — and almost was — much shorter.

“I had come from West Holmes, where there had been a lot of success, and when I got to Cloverleaf, I thought, even though the program had lost for a long time, that I could get the thing turned around imme-diately,” he said. “Then when we won only five games that first year, I was devastated. It really got to me. I had never worked that hard in my life, and I had little to show for it.

“We had three sophomores playing a lot and not a lot of varsity experience among the upperclassmen, but that didn’t faze me. I still thought we should be winning.

“After the season, I went in to see Ron Mack, our athletic director, and told him that I was quitting. Right away, he began trying to talk me out of it. He asked me to give it another year. I agreed to do it.”

The rest is history. And how different things might have been had Hewit in-sisted on resigning. It was the turning point in his coaching career and that of the Cloverleaf basketball program.

“I had tremendous support here during that period,” Hewit said. “If you don’t have support behind you as a coach, it’s hard to succeed. Ron Mack, John Wagner, our superintendent, and Bob Szakovits, our principal, were all in my corner. They had my back. They showed up at every game. They didn’t have to be there, but they were. They wanted to be there. That meant a lot to me. I really appreciated it. It helped me a great deal.”

And because of that support, he was freed up to help his players. They learned a lot of basketball. That’s obvious, for without that knowledge, the wins and championships would not have come.

But not everything Hewit’s players learned was about basketball. There were plenty of life lessons thrown in there as well. In the end, those are always more important because long after the ability to break a 1-2-2 zone trap press is not needed anymore, the life lessons can still be applied. They can go on teaching, advising and affecting the players-turned-adults forever.

The biggest dose of those life lessons occurred late in the 1983-84 season in a non-league game at Wooster. The Generals had a student manager with multiple sclerosis. Hewit was approached by longtime Generals head coach Mark Alberts Sr. Alberts asked for a favor, saying he wanted to put the boy into the game and have him get fouled in the act of shooting, try a couple of free throws and hopefully score. The contest had already been decided, so a few points wouldn’t mat-ter.

In the game, that is. In the boy’s life, it was like the final seconds of the state championship contest with the score tied.

Hewit didn’t have to be asked twice before he agreed to take part.

“Alberts thanked me,” Hewit recalled. “He told me, ‘You know, I’ve been trying to get an opposing coach to do it all year, but there were no takers. You are the only one.”

The Colts fouled the boy from Wooster, but he misfired on the attempts. They fouled him again, and this time, he connected.

“He banked in the first one and swished the second one,” Hewit said.

“You know, it doesn’t take much to reach down and help someone like that who really needs it.”

That lesson wasn’t lost on the Cloverleaf players.

“I think they (his players) got as much or more out of that than any of our championships,” Hewit said.
But that’s not the end of the story.

“It became a national story,” Hewit said. “I got something like 200 letters from people thanking our team for doing that.

“Paul Harvey even got a hold of it. I have a buddy who lives in New York. He told me he just about went off the road when he was driving to work one day and heard on Paul Harvey’s show about some basketball coach from Lodi, Ohio, named Rick Hewit.”

Hewit stepped down as coach in 1988, ending his first run, and spent three years as an assistant to Steve Moore at The College of Wooster. He returned to coach the Colts for a couple seasons in the early 1990s when the program was going through coaches like water and desperately needed some stability.

When it was all said and done, Hewit had fashioned a 135-123 record at a school that had struggled in basketball before he came, and has struggled since. Not bad at all.

Hewit retired as a teacher at Cloverleaf a couple years ago and then was re-hired. So in essence, he never left, and had no plans of leaving, either. He grew up in Seville, where he still lives. His dad and grandfather ran a cement block company, Hewit and Sons, in the area.

But then things changed. Because of finances, the school system eliminated the industrial arts program where Hewit was a teacher.

After this school year, he’s retired for good — at least at Cloverleaf, where he had taught for 31 years. Despite the fact he’s already spent 36 years overall in education, but he feels he’s got way too much to give yet.

“Getting let go was a big negative for me,” Hewit said. “So getting into the Medina County Hall of Fame comes just at the right time for me.”

Just as Rick Hewit came just at the right time — two times — to the Cloverleaf High School boys basketball program.

Contact Steve King at sports@ohio.net.