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Basketball: Learning the story of Rootstown’s Richard Sheffield

Basketball: Learning the story of Rootstown’s Richard Sheffield


By Tom Nader

Publisher and Editor


It is stories like these that make me love my job more than I already do.

Last week, I posted a team photo of the 1949-50 Rootstown High School boys basketball team in the History section of the Portage Sports website.

Within a few hours, I received a touching email from Linda Miller, who identified her father in the team photo.

Richard Sheffield.

He was No. 10.

In the team photo, he is standing in the second row, far right.

He appears to be about 6-foot tall. He has a quiet smile and his stance, to me, portrays a confident, but not arrogant boy.

However, I had never met Richard Sheffield.

My thoughts on the picture are simply my thoughts.

Nothing more.

I don’t know Richard Sheffield’s story.

I do now, though.

Linda’s fun email included some background on her father that helped bring the team photo to life for me.

It connected the dots, if only for one of the 10 players pictured in the team photo.

It connected me to part of the photo’s history.

Now it is your turn.

Here is part of Richard Sheffield’s story as provided by his daughter Linda Miller.


No. 10 is my father Richard Sheffield.

He was really good at sports and was the No. 1 scorer on the basketball team.

He ended up being the first ma selected to fly the SR 71, which was the fastest airplane in the world.

At the end of his (military) career, he was a Director for the Skunk Works of Lockheed Martin.

(For those unaware, the Skunk Works is Lockheed Martin’s advanced development program, which is dedicated to aircraft design, highly classified research and development programs and exotic aircraft platforms.)

My father died four years ago of cancer, but he does write about Rootstown in his book.


Excerpts from Richard Sheffield’s book (as provided by Linda Miller):

My parents never asked me much about homework. It was like it was my responsibility, not theirs, but they were very interested in my behavior at school.

Whenever my dad would talk to the principal, Mr. Cook, usually at athletics events or PTA meetings, he would ask him how his boys were doing?

Had he had to give them any “whacks” with the paddle?

He would go on to say, and I want to know and how many, because when they get home, they will get twice as many from me.

That was his way of telling the teachers and me that it was OK to discipline his boys.

My parents never did get after me much about my schoolwork. This was good, because I couldn’t do anything about my poor performance. Had they pressured me or criticized me, I would have been much worse off than I was.

The one teacher that stands out in my mind was Mr. Hurd, my math and science teacher. He told me that if I took the hard courses in math and science, studied hard, did the homework and worked hard in class, he would guarantee me a “C” in the class.

The thing I really cared about was playing sports. In order to play, I needed a “C” average in all classes. Every week, before the games, someone from the school administration went to every teacher to see if I had a “C” average so I could play. I always knew Mr. Hurd would say yes to them, because I was keeping up my end of the bargain.

I ended up taking all the science and math courses offered at the school. This paid off big time when I went into the Air Force.



I had low self-esteem because of my poor academic performance and standing in the school. I decided that if I could not shine in the classroom, I would shine in sports, and I did. Sports gave me self-esteem, because I could outperform those who could beat me in the classroom.

As it turned out, sports taught me what I needed to perform well in the “real world”: Teamwork, good habits and the ability to take hard knocks.



In 1946, I was a freshman in high school. I was 13 years old when the football season started, and I didn’t know much about anything.

We had a good team.

My brother Will was the starting end on the varsity team and was a very good player. I looked good in my uniform, but was a chicken (afraid to get hit and afraid to tackle anyone).

The fullback on the team was a man who had been in the merchant marine during World War II. He was big and strong. He was almost 20 years old (in Ohio, you could not play high school football if you were more than 20 years old).

One day, during practice, I was playing way back behind the line.

The fullback, I believe his name was Stevenson, came roaring through the line and heading toward me. I tried to tackle him and just bounced off him.

The coach ran up to me, I thought I was going to catch it.

He said, “Don’t ever try to tackle him again.”

I think he thought I might get injured, and he didn’t want to face my dad and explain how an almost 20-year-old man injured me.

The coach allowed me to dress for the games about half the time and if were were way ahead, he would send me in at the end of the game for a few plays.

The last game of the year was against Ravenna High School, our archival.

We were beating them by a score of about 25-7 in the last quarter. The coach sent me into the game at fullback with the rest of varsity.

I couldn’t believe it!

Had the coach finally seen what a great player I was or what?

To my surprise, they called my play. The fullback running right up the middle of the line.

The ball was snapped, they handed me the ball and the other team tackled me and piled on.

I was smeared.

After the Ravenna team unpiled from me and I returned to the huddle, our linemen were all smiling.

They said something like, “Freshie, you can’t go far without us.”

The line had just stood aside and let them get me.

I never forgot that lesson. It takes teamwork to move the ball.



The next year, I played halfback and ran the ball a lot (as a sophomore).

We had a big tackle that played the line right in front of me. I would just run behind him into the end zone, and I led the team in scoring that year, but I was still a chicken.

My junior year, I was 15 when the football season started. Our first game was a night game, and I found out what it was to hit someone hard.

The old saying, “The harder you hit them, the harder they fall,” was true.

I was no longer a chicken. In fact, I loved to tackle and hit someone. I think that game, I was in on about 50 percent of the tackles.

Later that year, I hurt my knee. It changed my way of playing football and basketball forever.

My senior year, I broke my ankle before our first game and missed the season. It was hard just watching them play.



When I was a little boy, I would practice basketball by shooting a little rubber ball, baseball size, into a tin can in our basement or barn.

I did it by the hours.

What this did was give me really good hand-eye coordination.


The quiet smiling No. 10 boys basketball player from Rootstown High School now has a story to go with the face.

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