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Part 5: The Bombers and their rookie head coach arrive in Columbus

Part 5: The Bombers and their rookie head coach arrive in Columbus


By George Belden

Special to Portage Sports


Editor’s Note: This is the final story in a five-part series that tells the tory of Marty Hill’s first year as a head coach and the 1975-76 Windham Bombers boys basketball season.

If you are interested in reading the previous parts, click on the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


Rookie head coach Marty Hill felt like he was dreaming.

Following a thrilling regional championship victory over Monroeville, that was spotlighted by the team’s talented core, but with the exclamation coming from a new face off the bench in Sanford Turner, the Bombers were headed to Columbus.

Rookie head coach Marty Hill calls out to his players during a game from the 1975-76 basketball season.
Special to Portage Sports

The Final Four.

With a 23-year-old coach.

It was going to be a whirlwind, red-carpet week.

Record-Courier reporter Frank Derry pointed out in a column that maybe the best thing Hill had taught the Bombers was self-control.

Larry Jett had been called for five technical fouls in Ron Kamada’s last season, and had in fact been tossed out of one game for a tantrum. Marty Hill was not a Zen master, but he had brought calm and patience to a hot-tempered kid.

“Coach told me that getting mad has never made anyone play better. It’s something he said he had to learn as a player, and it’s something he taught me. He says winning is important, but it’s just as important to show class out on the court.”

Assistant Jim Rykaceski also revealed something that had happened a year earlier.

Windham High School boys basketball head coach Marty Hill (right) poses for a preseason photo with his assistant coach Jim Rykaceski.
Special to Portage Sports

“Marty and I were in St. John Arena watching the state finals. Marty leaned over to me and said, ‘One day I am going to be down on that floor coaching one of those teams’.”

Ron Kamada was still the Windham coach that day.

Marty Hill was coaching a fifth- and sixth-grade team.

Stranger things have happened.

He had one week to show that he and his upstart team in black and gold uniforms belonged on that fabled hardwood.

The frenzy in the village of Windham was feverish that week, and not because a hepatitis outbreak had finally come under control. Father Dominic, the spiritual guide at St. Michael’ Catholic Church, asked his parishioners to include the Bombers in their special prayers at early mass.

Mayor John Stamm said he was looking forward to his first basketball state finals since his brother Mich played for the Garrettsville team that made it to the Class B state championship in 1932.

Approximately 2,100 tickets had been sold to Bombers fans. That was almost the entire population of the tiny town. So many people were going to be gone that Garrettsville police said they would help their Windham compatriots make sure the empty houses were well patrolled.

Marty Hill brushed aside the offer from the Ohio High School Athletic Association to pay for the team to stay at a Columbus hotel Thursday night before the Friday game.

“I’m afraid if we take them down a day early they might not get a good night’s sleep. We have to guard against too much excitement,” Hill said.

Almost overlooked in the preparations was the fact that there was a real game to be played, against a team that was coached by one of the most venerable helmsmen in Buckeye history.

Charlie Huggins was an institution at Indian Valley South High School, situated in one of Ohio’s most historic villages, the Moravian settlement of Gnadenhutten.

Like Marty Hill, Huggins was a small-college product, having led his Alderson-Broaddus College Battlers to the NAIA national tournament his senior year.

But even more significantly, Huggins had been to the state finals four times, and had won the championship with both Strasburg in 1967 and his Indian Valley South Rebels in 1972. He had been to the Final Four in four of the last five seasons.

And he had the uncanny ability to sire his own teams — a peculiar talent that lay far in Marty Hill’s future. Because the star of this particular iteration of the IVS team was Charlie’s own son Harry, who had just been named as an All-Ohio First-Teamer, while Larry Jett had been relegated to Honorable Mention.

Harry Huggins measured 6-foot-4 and was averaging over 21 points from the field. He played in the low post and was deadly from inside 20 feet. At the other post was Bryan Bowe, who possessed a soft jump shot. The other three players were under 6-foot, had the cat-like quickness that Huggins demanded on defense, and one of them, Bryan Lentz, had garnered All-Ohio Special Mention earlier in March.

The Rebels could wear a team down, because Huggins went far into his bench every game, and sitting down at the end of it was his final progeny Larry Huggins, who would one day be a four-year starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

To say they were stacked would be an understatement.

Dave Apthorpe would not be available for the game, following an injury to his knee suffered in the regional final that kept him from the closing minutes of that contest.

Ron McCleary’s ankle sprain, also suffered during the regional-title victory over Monroeville that ultimately opened the door for Turner’s heroics, on the otherhand, had healed nicely.

Coach Hill would send out a starting lineup of Larry Jett, Dave Jett, Baxter Jones, McCleary and Jeff Stanley against a team that was known to press for 40 minutes.

Hill hoped they were ready.

He couldn’t do much more to guarantee it.

Long before Value City Arena became the Buckeyes’ home venue, St. John Arena’s confined were cozy enough to become a deafening sound chamber when filled with 13,500 screamers, mostly Rebel fans who had come to expect being there every year, and a couple thousand small town Portage County folks, who were dazzled by their unexpected journey to such a fabled venue.

The game was barely 10 seconds old before it was obvious that the Bombers were awed by the stage on which they found themselves. They did not score a single point for the first 4 minutes of the game.

Neither did Indian Valley South.

The high point of the game for Windham was a 2-0 lead. They savored it for all of 57 seconds. Then the IVS press, and the most accurate shooting Windham had faced all season, kicked in.

The Bombers’ jitters were evidenced by four traveling calls in the first quarter. Missed front-ends of one-and-one foul situations had not happened all year.

It wasn’t pretty, and it got uglier as the game spooled out.

A 33-26 deficit at the half was as good as it was going to get. The Rebels opened the third stanza by canning 16 consecutive points, and from then on Coach Huggins was able to throw all 12 of his players into the fray to keep the pressure on the desperate Bombers.

The 1975-76 Windham High School boys basketball team.
The team included— Front row left to right: manager Tim Duvall, manager Sheldon Lloyd, manager Bill Brandt.
Middle row left to right: Rich Waggoner, Sanford Turner, Dave Jett, Ron McCleary, Mark McCoy, Jeff Stanley.
Back row left to right: Assistant Gary Coriale, assistant Jim Rykaceski, Larry Jett, Baxter Jones, Guy Ruff, Frank Simcox, Dave Apthorpe, Scott Garrett, head coach Marty Hill.
Special to Portage Sports

Larry Jett picked up his third foul barely into the second quarter, and for the second game in a row it hobbled his effectiveness. He would foul out early in the fourth quarter, having scored only four points, the lowest night of his illustrious career. His brother tried to pick up the slack, tossing in a tournament-high 14 points, but the fact that the next-leading scorer was Sanford Turner with six capped a tragic performance.

The arena had begun to empty long before the final score of 76-40 registered on the scoreboard.

Not a lot of fans wanted to hang around to see the finish. To his credit, Hill made sure every kid on his bench got into the game, so that they could tell their grandkids that they had played in the Final Four.

Showing a maturity that belied his 24 years — yes, he had celebrated a birthday in the week before the game — Hill was the first coach to march into the media room to answer questions about one of the most-lopsided whippings in state-tournament history, a game that the Record-Courier unflinchingly called a “debacle.”

“I don’t want to make excuses. I didn’t have the kids mentally ready to play basketball,” Hill said. “With all the hoopla surrounding it, we just didn’t have the concentration. What you saw tonight doesn’t nearly represent Windham’s program.”

He was quick to praise the Bombers’ vanquishers.

“We haven’t seen a press like that all year. Charlie has 12 players who can do things we just weren’t ready for,” Hill added.

The photo of Marty Hill that was published in the Record-Courier to announce his hiring as the head coach of the Windham Bombers boys basketball team. The headshot was from Hill’s senior season as a player with the Hiram College Terriers.
Special to Portage Sports

And so the bubble burst, but it was a bubble that no one had seen back in November.

The Record-Courier had not deemed the Bombers worthy of a full sentence in their preseason PCL prediction, and this team had done things that in retrospect seemed impossible.

Tears were shed, but in time, the smiles came out again.

Seven members of that team are now ensconced in the Windham High School Athletic Hall of Fame, along with their coach: Larry Jett, Dave Jett, Ron McCleary, Jeff Stanley, Dave Apthorpe, Guy Ruff and Baxter Jones.

McCleary returned to Windham High School as a teacher.

Dave Apthorpe became the coach of the Windham’s girls basketball team, making them a whole lot better than that woebegone 1976 team.

Scottie Garrett became the Mayor of Windham.

Jeff Stanley’s courage in the face of Lou Gehrig’s disease became the hallmark of Bomber Nation.

Marty Hill had turned these boys into men of whom he could be proud.

Hill went on to take two more teams to the Final Four in 1982 and 2006. He was named the Ohio Coach of the Year in 1978, when his Bombers were ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press.

When he retired in 2022 after 47 years at the helm, he was inducted into the Ohio High School Coaches Hall of Fame.

His 694 wins rank seventh in the history of Ohio high school basketball.

And the basketball court where his career began is now emblazoned “Marty Hill Court.”

Yes, in 1976 he was just a kid replacing a legend.

And when he retired, the son of one of his 1976 players, Cody Apthorpe, took his place. Dave’s son was replacing a legend.

In Windham, the chase for the impossible dream never dies.


  1. Roger Stier July 1, 2023

    Great Job George of writing about Windham’’s great basketball coach and players.

  2. Don Franks July 3, 2023

    Indian Valley South won the state then.


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