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Former C&SOE employees featured in new book about Ashville basketball team

by on July 12, 2010


The Ashville Broncos 1944-45 team consisted of (front row, left to right):
Art Deal, Red Wilson, Dick Messick, Russell Gregg, Dick Hudson, Charles
Pettibone; (back row): Manager Connie Johnson, Manager Freddy Puckett,
Don Thomas, Bill Speakman, Jim Woodworth, Dick Pettibone and Coach
Lawrence Fullen.

CONESVILLE, Ohio — During the 30-plus years when they worked at the Picway and Conesville power plants, Charles “Chuck” Pettibone and Don “Donnie” Thomas probably never imagined someone would write a book about them someday.

Before they were introduced to the world of turbines and generators, though, Pettibone and Thomas were teammates on a high school basketball team that is still talked about in south-central Ohio.

Pettibone and Thomas were key players on the 1944-45 Ashville High School team that won 30 games — many against schools with significantly larger enrollments — and reached the Final Four of Ohio’s Class B state tournament before bowing out.

The exploits of that remarkable Ashville team are celebrated in a newly published book entitled The Broncos of 1945, which was written by Larry Fullen, son of the team’s coach, Lawrence W. “Pop” Fullen.

Thomas passed away in 1999 and Pettibone died in 2005.  But four present-day AEP employees who are sons and daughter of the two Ashville graduates are particularly proud of that new hardback publication.

That foursome includes Cynthia “Cinny” Pettibone, an energy production supervisor at Conesville, who elected to accept the voluntary severance package and will be concluding a 33-year AEP career at the end of August; Frank Pettibone, an equipment operator at Conesville; Donnie Thomas Jr., a senior performance technician in the lab at Conesville; and Bob Thomas, a senior graphic designer with AEP’s Corporate Communications Department in Columbus.

“There are a lot of similarities between the movie Hoosiers and the Ashville Broncos of 1945,” said Frank Pettibone.  “The major difference is the fact that the Hickory team — which was based on the real-life Milan team in Indiana — won the state championship, whereas the Ashville team lost in the semifinals of the state tournament.”


Frank Pettibone of Conesville Plant holds a
book written about the exploits of his father’s
high school basketball team.

“Our dad and Donnie Thomas were best friends as schoolkids and they stayed friends throughout their lives,” said Cinny Pettibone. “I’m sure both of them would be very proud of the book, and we’re delighted about it, too.”

Actually, the success of the 1943-44 Broncos team gave Ashville residents ample reason for optimism about the prospects for the 1944-45 squad. The 1943-44 team finished the regular season undefeated at 17-0 and extended its winning streak to 23 games before losing to Grove City in the finals of the district tournament.

In 1944-45, the Broncos cruised through the regular season with an unblemished 20-0 record. Ashville captured the championships of the county, district and regional tournaments, and entered the Class B Final Four with a record of 29-1. The one loss came in a hastily arranged contest to entertain wounded soldiers at the Fletcher Veterans Administration Hospital in Cambridge. A free throw with 15 seconds left gave Norton (a suburb of Akron) a 31-30 victory over Ashville in that contest.

In the state semifinals, Dayton Northridge tallied a field goal with less than 10 seconds left to hand the Broncos a heartbreaking 38-36 defeat and spoil their dreams of a state championship. Ashville went on to salvage third place in the state tournament by winning the consolation game against Sandusky St. Mary 50-36.

So dominating were the 1944-45 Broncos that they scored an average of 50 points per game, while limiting their opponents to an average of just 29.

Fullen’s book describes Pettibone, who was a junior during that super season, as a “streak shooter,” who could be deadly accurate from outside. Thomas, a sophomore, was considered an exceptional defensive player who usually guarded the best player on the opposing team.

“There were a lot of hardships back during the World War II years that we probably don’t fully appreciate today,” Frank Pettibone said. “For example, gasoline was rationed, and that made transportation to high school basketball games extremely difficult.”

“The government imposed a national speed limit of 35 miles per hour because rubber was a scarce commodity during the war, and the lower speed limit saved wear and tear on tires,” Cinny Pettibone added. “But that made travel to and from games even more difficult.”

During the war years, Uncle Sam was drafting young men as soon as they reached 18 years of age, regardless whether they had finished high school or not. Midway through the 1944-45 season, one of the starters on the Broncos’ team was drafted and departed to serve in the Armed Forces.

Sports after high school

Both Thomas and Pettibone continued playing sports after their days at Ashville High. “After graduating from high school, Dad played shortstop for four years in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm system,” said Bob Thomas. “We’ve been told that he could field well enough to play in the big leagues, but he just couldn’t hit well enough.”

Thomas was pictured on the cover of Life magazine’s April 5, 1948, issue with a group of Dodger rookies. While serving in the U.S. Army, Thomas’ team won the European Baseball Championship in 1952 and Thomas was named the Most Valuable Player.

Pettibone, after graduating from Ashville, convinced his father — who owned a plumbing business — to sponsor a semipro basketball team called, appropriately enough, “The Pettibone Plumbers.”  According to the book, in their first two seasons, the Plumbers won 65 games and lost only twice while winning several leagues and tournaments.

Originally hired at Columbus and Southern Ohio Electric Company’s Picway Plant, Pettibone and Thomas were among a group of 25 employees who transferred to Conesville Plant in 1957 to start up the then-new power station near Coshocton, Ohio. They subsequently advanced to supervisory positions.

Pettibone retired from C&SOE in 1983 at age 55, and spent the next six years in Saudi Arabia, training the Saudis on how to operate their power plants. Cinny obviously inherited her father’s athletic ability, because she played second base on a fast-pitch softball team that won a national championship and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

The book has been extensively researched and includes brief histories of the three communities that formed the Ashville school district, as well as the events that were taking place in the U.S. and in the European and Pacific Theaters while the high school basketball seasons were being played out.

What does the author say about his book? “Chuck Pettibone and Donnie Thomas were part of a group of youngsters who grew up together, endured the Depression and World War II, bonded through their love of basketball, went on to have an outstanding team, and continued to be lifelong friends,” Fullen remarked.

“Along the way,” he added, “their lives were influenced by a teacher and coach who took an interest in them as basketball players and young men who had the potential to play basketball and be successful in life — with a little discipline, encouragement and guidance. The boys and the coach became friends for life.”

“Just like it says on the book’s cover, this is the story of a high school basketball team’s quest for the state championship and how it lifted the spirits of a small Ohio town during World War II,” Frank Pettibone concluded. “It won’t sell a million copies, but it’s made a lot of us very, very happy to have our loved ones remembered.”

For more information about the book, visit www.larryfullen.com.

From → Retiree Profiles

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