The game of their lives

By David Fong

February 22, 2014

By David Fong

Regional Sports Content Manager

TROY — With his trim, athletic frame, his impeccable style of dress and his slicked-back hair, Troy High School basketball coach Randy Clemens bore a striking resemblance to Pat Riley, the preeminent National Basketball Association coach of the time.

And the comparison seemed fitting, considering Clemens had brought a version of the Lakers’ “Showtime” to small-town Troy, Ohio. It was the winter of 1984 and — after years of suffering on the basketball court — a once-moribund program was alive and well. The Trojans had gone 1-21 Clemens’ first year in 1981-82,but that in no way could portend the success the Trojans were about to achieve.

His second year with the program, the Trojans went 7-14 — but did manage to snap a program-record 25-game losing streak and put together a five-game winning streak, the school’s longest since 1968. All that did, however, was set the table for a remarkable run the following season — Clemens’ third with the program — that saw the Trojans win a school-record 21 games and make its first run to a district championship game in four decades.

The early 1980s produced a pair of touchstone moments for the Troy High School athletic program. The first was the hiring of Clemens, who would help breathe life into a program that had — for better or worse — always taken a back seat to the football program, which had been — under most circumstances — the crown jewel of Troy sports in the football-mad state of Ohio.

And while in the midst of the basketball team’s historic run in the winter of 1984, Troy High School also was putting the finishing touches on the hiring of football coach Steve Nolan from Conneaut High School in Northeast Ohio. Like Clemens, Nolan would be charged with reviving a team, one that had gone 0-10 in 1983 — a mark that was simply unacceptable by Troy standards.

Both coaches would produce immediate results on the field and court. Clemens would take the Trojans to the district finals in his third year, while Nolan would take the football team to the Division I state semifinals — where it would lose to nationally-ranked Cincinnati Moeller — in his second year.

Nolan would end up staying at Troy for 28 years, become the winningest coach in program history and, upon his retirement in 2011, have a day proclaimed in his honor by Troy Mayor Michael Beamish. He’s still a revered figure by many around Troy.

Clemens, meanwhile, would stay at Troy for a total of four years — he would leave the program one year after that historic run in 1984 — and his current whereabouts are unknown, even by those in Troy who were closest to him.

In 1984, no one could possibly have predicted what career paths the two coaches were going to take.

And on Jan. 20, 1984, no one could possibly have predicted what would happen when Clemens’ Troy team took on Vandalia-Butler — coached by Ray Zawadzki, Clemens’ former high school coach — in the Troy High School gymnasium.

“They should have made ‘em pay an extra buck and a half”

By all rights, it should have been a blowout.

On that night in 1984, Butler seemingly had no business being on the same floor as the Trojans. Troy came into the game atop the now-defunct Greater Miami Valley Conference at 11-1 (8-1 in the GMVC). Butler came in at 6-8 (5-5 in the GMVC).

Despite the fact a blowout seemed imminent, however, the gym was packed to the rafters. At one point, the local fire marshal announced the gym had reached its capacity and no more spectators would be allowed into the building.

That winter, folks around Troy were hungry for a winner after watching unfamiliar sub-par products both on the football field and basketball court. They longed for the glory days of the seemingly forgotten early 1970s, when Troy’s football teams went 20-0 over a two-year span and everything the school touched seemed to turn to gold on the athletic field.

Every game in Troy’s cramped gymnasium turned into a sellout.

“It had been a long, long time since people had cared about basketball in Troy,” said Aaron Johnson, a sophomore on that team. “I think the community really rallied around that team. The gym was packed all the time, for every game we played. But that night, it seemed like something special was going on. It was even more packed than usual. You couldn’t get a seat anywhere in the gym.”

That night, the fans who had shoehorned their way into the gym would certainly get their money’s worth — in fact, Zawadzki would point out immediately after the game that they probably got more than their money’s worth.

After ending regulation in a 43-43 tie, the two teams would go on to play eight overtimes before a winner was determined.

Yes, eight overtimes.

After 32 bruising minutes, the Trojans and Aviators would go on to play an additional 24 minutes of basketball — a mark that is the second-longest in Ohio High School Athletic Association history, behind only the nine-overtime game played by St. Clairsville and Martins Ferry on Jan. 5, 1963.

“They should have gotten everyone when they walked out of here,” Zawadzki told the Troy Daily News immediately following the game. “They should have made ‘em pay an extra buck and a half.”

In a sign of just how much things have changed since then, a ticket to see Troy play Butler in 2014 would cost a fan $6.

“Hey, in 1969 and 1970, if you wanted to go see tournament games at Hobart Arena, you had to pay 50 cents for an adult ticket and 25 cents for a student ticket,” Zawadzki said. “The games would run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and they would give you a pass in between if you wanted to go out and get something to eat.”

The First Overtime

Maybe they should have charged fans twice.

After the game ended in a 43-43 after regulation, the two teams went into overtime.

The Aviators would go up 47-45 with 19 seconds left to play in the first overtime, but Troy’s Don Steineman would answer with 10 seconds left to tie the game at 47. Butler’s Tony Mahan missed from the right corner at the buzzer, sending the game into a second overtime …

Clemens and Zawadzki certainly were no strangers. Clemens had played for Zawadzki at Butler, where he had been a stellar athlete. Once he graduated, however, the two went their separate ways — both geographically and philosophically. “Coach Z” would remain at Butler for decades, becoming one of the winningest coaches in Ohio high school basketball history. He’s passed that legacy on to his son, Ray Jr., and his grandson, Grant. Last season, with Ray Zawadzki Jr. coaching and Grant playing, Troy Christian advanced to the Division IV state semifinals.

The elder Zawadzki was known for his stoicism on the sidelines, a coaching general clad in all black clothing, known far and wide for his ability to outcoach teams with superior athleticism. He valued hard work, getting the most out of the least and winning basketball games with a quiet dignity.

“My coaching philosophy has always been that we never talk about wins and losses,” Zawadzki said. “It was always, did you give me your best effort? Troy was in first place (in the now-defunct Greater Miami Valley Conference) at the time and we were in fourth or fifth place. We were a 50-50 team. After the game I went around and shook every one of my players’ hands and thanked them for the effort they had given in that game. While the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, I knew the effort they gave that night would get them farther in life than whether or not they won the game.”

Clemens, meanwhile, took a different approach. He was a fiery competitor who was tough in practice and loud on the sidelines. He had a way of pushing his players to their individual breaking points — and then demanding a little more.

“He knew his stuff,” Johnson said. “We felt confident that whatever he told us was the right thing to do. He knew how to motivate a player. He was definitely a hard-nosed type of guy. I remember one time when I was a freshman, he let me practice with the varsity. I took an elbow right in the nose and got busted open. He just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t bleed on my court.’ That’s just the way he was — he was all about business. Some people didn’t like that — but I think most of the players, but certainly not all of them, loved him for it.

“He had a definite arrogance about him. But I think the team takes on the persona of the coach. That’s how we were. We definitely played with an arrogance about us and I think it worked for us.”

The Second Overtime

In the second overtime, Johnson put the Trojans up 48-47 on the front end of a one-and-one. With 59 seconds to play, Troy’s Stephen Lucas misfires on a jump shot and Butler’s Jeff Geise grabs the rebound and is later fouled. He hits one of his two free throws with 11 seconds left to play. Lucas’ 23-foot jumper misses at the buzzer, sending the game into a second overtime …

While Randy Clemens was just starting his coaching career, his younger brother, Roger, was just starting to make his name as a baseball player. Later that same year, he would make his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox, beginning a career that would see him win two World Series, seven Cy Young Awards and be named to Major League Baseball’s All-Star game 11 times.

Like his older brother, Roger Clemens was born in Dayton and spent part of his youth in Vandalia. The Clemens brothers’ parents had separated when Roger was an infant and his stepfather, Woody Booher, passed away when Roger was only nine years old. Randy, acting as Roger’s father figure, helped move Roger to Texas in 1977, where he would attend high school and eventually pitch for the University of Texas.

Before leaving for spring training in 1984, Roger Clemens would spend some time around his brother’s basketball team. At that young age, he already was showing signs of being as fiery — and sometimes controversial — as his older brother.

“He came in around Christmas time and would practice with us,” Johnson said. “I remember one time — I’m pretty sure it was the Fairmont Holiday Tournament — he actually got thrown out of the gym for arguing with the refs. The police had to escort him out of the gym. I also remember he was dating a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader at the time — it’s funny the things you remember as a kid.”

The Third Overtime

Steineman puts the Trojans up 52-50 on a shot in the lane with 12 seconds left to play. Butler misses a shot with four second left on the clock, but the rebound slips into the hands of Geise, who hits a shot to tie the game at 52 as the horn sounds to end the third overtime …

Steineman’s brother, Dick, was an assistant coach for the Trojans and watching the drama unfold from the sidelines. If Clemens and Zawadzki were as different as chocolate and vanilla, Dick Steineman and Randy Clemens were as different as ice cream and lobster claws.

After a standout career at Troy that preceded his younger brother’s career, the 6-foot-9 Steineman would go on to play at Ashland University and then professionally in Argentina. While playing abroad, Steineman sees the poverty all around him. It has a profound impact on him. He would go on to spend his entire adult life helping those in need. The soft-spoken Steineman has spent the past decade running the local soup kitchen and homeless shelter in Troy.

“After playing for Coach Steineman as a freshman, it was definitely a big change going to Coach Clemens,” Johnson said. “Coach Steineman was very nurturing. He didn’t yell a whole lot. When I got to the varsity team as a sophomore it was … well, it was a lot different.”

Despite their differences off the court, Steineman and Clemens are able to make things work on the court.

“He definitely did things the way he wanted — and if you didn’t like it, that was too bad,” Steineman said. “But he knew his basketball. He really turned the program around. He put in a lot of work. He ran all the summer leagues and did all the work with the youth program to make sure everyone was on the same page.

“As long as he was able to keep things under control off the court; he knew his stuff on the court. We beat (area power) Trotwood three times that season — which is pretty much unheard of. We were playing really, really well.”

Steineman said that while Clemens may have been a taskmaster as a coach, many of his players looked up to him for it.

“He definitely produced some successful kids off the court, as well,” Steineman said. “He taught a lot of kids about time management and the ability to focus on finishing a project. If you can teach a kid to focus on finishing a project on the court, they learn to finish other projects in their lives.”

The Fourth Overtime

Darrin Lewis breaks free with 25 seconds left to give the Trojans a 54-52 lead. But once again, Butler’s Geise is in the right place at the right time to grab a rebound and hit another putback as the buzzer sounds to end the fourth overtime …

While the Trojans are winning games on the court, the cracks are beginning to show in Clemens’ coaching tenure. In the sleepy town of Troy, there are many who do not appreciate his coaching style. There also are rumors beginning to circulate about unsavory off-the-court activities in his free time.

Opinions around town of Clemens most certainly are not mixed — most view him either as a scoundrel or a saint; few have opinions that fall anywhere in between.

Lucas — a senior and the unquestioned leader of the team — most certainly views him as the latter.

Following his playing days at Troy, Lucas would go on to play at Western Wyoming Community College and then at Marycrest College, an NAIA school in Davenport, Iowa. He would remain in touch with Clemens for years after he graduated, frequently calling upon him for advice.

“What made us unique was we were a group of kids who grew up together playing basketball,” Lucas said. “We were always playing basketball together in the summertime. We trained together; we played together. With Randy, he kind of threw out the rulebook. It didn’t matter if you were a freshman or a sophomore — the best kids were going to play. And we were OK with that. We were like a family.

“He was the No. 1 guy, there was no doubt about that. You were going to do it his way. And as a player, I admired that. I would have to say I felt like he cared for his players. He went to bat for us.”

The Fifth Overtime

As it had the previous three overtimes, Troy grabs the tip and plays for the final shot. Johnson has a chance to win the game when he is fouled with 42 seconds left to play, but misses a free throw. Butler’s Matt Pohl has a chance to win the game with 11 seconds left, but he, too, misses a free throw. Butler’s Tim Gatzulis grabs the rebound after a mad scramble and nails a 30-foot shot, but it is ruled the shot came after the buzzer had sounded and the two teams are headed into a sixth overtime …

After graduating from college and earning his masters in business administration from Wright State University, Lucas would eventually return to Troy and become high-level business executive and community leader. He currently serves as Hartzell’s Vice President of Human Resources, leads the board of directors for the Lincoln Community Center and is a long-time member of the Troy Board of Education.

He credits Clemens for much of his success.

“He had a huge impact on my life,” Lucas said.

Clemens tenure in Troy isn’t quite as decorated, or as lengthy. He would be dismissed as coach following a 13-8 record in 1985. Most agree his departure had nothing to do with Troy’s performance on the court.

“He won 39 games his final two years,” Steineman said. “I think with Randy, it had a lot more to do with his life off the court.”

Several witnesses point to a practice session in 1985 as the final straw. According to reports, Clemens was ready to start practice, but the Troy girls’ practice that preceded his was running late. When he walked into the gym and saw the girls team still on the floor, he allegedly went on a profanity-laced tirade that was heard by everyone in the gym at the time.

With little fanfare, Clemens would leave Troy following the 1985 season.

“As an 18-year-old kid, I didn’t really know what was going on behind the scenes,” Lucas said. “When they made the decision to let him go, I didn’t really know why. I think it’s fair to say that his players loved him — but there were a lot of people in the community who did not.”

The Sixth Overtime

With less than a minute to play, Troy sets up a shot for Rickey Godsey, but his shot falls just short, sending the game into a seventh overtime with both teams deadlocked at 54 …

During the sixth overtime, tragedy strikes.

Former Troy Board of Education President Dr. Stanley C. Vorpe — sitting in the stands behind the Troy bench — collapses with 1:37 to play in the period. According to Troy Daily News reports, the optometrist was immediately attended to by Dr. Peter Nims, M.D. and paramedics at the game. He was transported to Stouder Memorial Hospital, where he was treated by Dr. Richard H. Burk, M.D.

Vorpe — who had served as board president for 14 years — slipped into a coma following a cerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. He passed away Jan. 28, a little more than a week after the game.

“It was a real tragedy,” Zawadzki said. “What a horrible thing to happen at a basketball game.”

The Seventh Overtime

Finally, Butler appears to have the game won when Mahan is fouled and hits a pair of free throws with two seconds left to put the Aviators up 58-56. Lewis takes the ball out of bounds underneath the Trojan basket and heaves it down the floor to Steineman, who hauls it in near the top of the key and puts up a shot at the buzzer to send the game into an improbable eighth — and final — overtime …

The only thing Johnson can think of to compare Lewis’ pass to Steineman was when Duke’s Bobby Hurley threw a court-length pass to Christian Laettner and Laettner sank the shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Regional Championship game, sending the Blue Devils on to the Final Four and an eventual national championship.

“It was like when Duke threw the three-quarter of the court pass to beat Kentucky,” Johnson said. “Darrin Lewis threw a perfect pass to Steineman and he put it in the basket to send it into the final overtime. It was an incredible play.”

Like his older brother, Don Steineman had a history of making incredible plays during his time at Troy. If Lucas was the unquestioned leader of the team, Steineman was the team’s enforcer. At 6-foot-6 and 230-pounds, he struck an imposing figure on the floor.

“He was (darn) good,” Johnson said. “He was 6-foot-6; he could handle the ball. He could shoot the jumper; he could post up. He was a very skilled basketball player.”

Following his career at Troy, Steineman would go on to play at St. Joseph’s College in Renesselar, Ind.

“He was a rough, tough kid,” Dick Steineman said. “A lot of people don’t know this, but he was also a great baseball player. Because he was so big, nobody wanted to face him as a pitcher. He threw hard and — as tall as he was — he was halfway off the mound before the ball came out of his hand. At St. Joseph’s, they asked him to come out for the baseball team his junior year. He was even asked to try out for the Cincinnati Reds.”

Following his graduation from St. Joseph’s, Steineman would return to Troy. On Dec. 6, 2003, he would pass away at the age of 37 after a year-long battle with leukemia, leaving behind a wife and two young daughters.

The Eighth Overtime

Steineman controls the tip to start the eighth overtime, getting the ball to teammate Carl Foster, whose son Marcus currently is a football player at the University of Cincinnati. Foster gets the ball back to Steineman, who scores to put the Trojans up 60-58 with 1:19 left to play. Butler’s Mahan puts up a shot with 15 seconds left, but it misses and Steineman grabs the rebound. He gets the ball to Foster, who then passes to a streaking Godsey, who lays in the shot to give the Trojans the 62-58 victory. Finally, the game is over …

The story isn’t over for Clemens, however.

Following his dismissal from Troy, things get a little fuzzy.

According to the book “The Rocket That Fell to Earth,” the unauthorized biography of Roger Clemens written by Sports Illustrated’s Jeff Pearlman, Clemens bounced around from Troy to Houston to Katy, Texas to Georgetown, Texas. According to the book, Clemens became involved in drugs. In 1999, his wife Kathy Huston Clemens — a former Troy City Schools teacher — was killed in a drug-related shooting incident at her home in Texas in 1999.

In the book, Pearlman details how Roger — who was extremely close to his sister-in-law — allegedly blamed his brother for her death and the two currently are estranged.

Clemens’ current whereabouts are unknown, although he is believed to be living in the Houston area.

Zawadzki said he hasn’t kept in contact with his former player.

“The only contact I had with him after that wasn’t face-to-face,” Zawadzki said. “When I had my bypass surgery, Randy’s wife’s sister was one of my nurses. She told me about her sister getting killed. That was really the only discussion I ever had about Randy.

“I thought when he played for me, he was fine. I had no problems with him. As a matter of fact, we worked together on ball diamonds for the city. I think a lot of times, once a player goes away to college, they grow up and I don’t always fit back into their lives.”

Lucas said he tried to track his former mentor down nearly a decade ago, but only found dead ends.

“I travel around the country a lot for business and one time when I went to Houston, I tried to look him up,” he said. “I knew he had had some troubles and I wanted to see how he was doing. I was never able to catch up with him.”

Contact David Fong at (937) 440-5228 or dfong@civitasmedia.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong.