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One Tallmadge resident who was rooting heavily for the West Virginia Mountaineers in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament that concluded April 3 was Howard Schertzinger.
The 80-year-old native of Morgantown, W. Va., has been a Mountaineers' fan for as long as he can remember.
He was, of course, disappointed when WVU lost to Gonzaga (Wash.) 61-58 March 23 in the West regional semifinals.
"They had a bad shooting night," he said. "They couldn't hit anything."
A trip down
Fifty-eight years ago, Schertzinger had even more of a reason to root for West Virginia than just the fact that he had always been a fan.
He was a 6-foot-4 backup forward on the Jerry West-led Mountaineers who advanced all the way to the NCAA championship game. They lost by just one point, 71-70, to California in the title game March 21, 1959, in Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. That contest was the only time WVU has played in the championship game.
The Mountaineers finished 29-5 overall and 11-0 in the Southern Conference, winning both the regular-season championship and the conference tournament, the latter which qualified them for the NCAA tourney and were ranked 10th in the final Associated Press poll.
They defeated Dartmouth (N.H.), St. Joseph's (Pa.) and Boston University to get to the Final Four and then host Louisville to get to the championship game.
West, a future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer who enjoyed a stellar 14-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers and is still the player whose silhouette is part of the official NBA logo, had both a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds against California. Schertzinger said it was an honor to be his teammate.
"Not only was Jerry terrific offensively, he was an outstanding defensive player," he said. "He had strong arms and was a high jumper. He made a lot of steals and deflected a lot of balls and even blocked shots.
"When he was on the floor, we always felt he'd find a way to win no matter the score and no matter how much time was left. He was a great player and an even a greater person.
"The hard part about that title game against California was that in the first 10 minutes, Jerry had three fouls, so he had to sit a large part of the first half. He picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, so we had to take him out again for a long while."
Even with West on the bench for much of the game, West Virginia had a chance to win at the end.
"We had the ball with about 10 seconds left, but we couldn't score," Schertzinger said. "A one-point loss is the worst type of loss you can have. It was very sad and heartfelt.
"We were a close group. We never entered a game we didn't think we were going to win, but we really felt good about that game. It was a humbling experience. We like to say we didn't lose that championship game; we just ran out of time."
A stellar ride
Schertzinger said he and his teammates, one of which was Ronald Retton, Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton's father, felt like they were carrying the reputation of the entire state of West Virginia on their shoulders.
"It's a small state," he said. "Our head coach, Fred Schaus, who was a very strong leader, told us we didn't have anything to be ashamed of, that we did our best and that was all we could do and that we should've held our heads high.
"That entire Final-Four experience was tremendous, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Besides us and Louisville, Cincinnati was there, and Cincinnati and Morgantown are not too far from Louisville.
"Many fans wanted to see a West Virginia-Cincinnati matchup in the championship game, which would've had West going head-to-head with Oscar Robertson.
"We took care of our end with our win over Louisville, but Cincinnati was upset by California. When we beat Louisville, we had lots of our fans there and people sent telegrams congratulating us. It was very exciting."
Schertzinger, who did not play in the title game against California or in the semifinal against Louisville, saw very little action in the three tournament games leading up to the Final Four, not unlike his entire college career. He admitted it was difficult, but he still felt he was a huge contributor.
"Practice was really my game," he said. "I helped run the other teams' offenses and those kinds of things and because of that, I felt like a was a true part of the team."
Schertzinger began playing basketball when he was 11 years old. He played with the older kids in the neighborhood, one of whom was Charlie Huggins, the father of current West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins.
"They let me play with them because I was tall, about 5-foot-9," he said.
Finding his stride
in high school
Schertzinger started playing organized basketball when he was in the seventh grade at tiny St. Francis, a school that he attended from first through 12th grade and also a school that didn't have it's own gym until a new facility was built prior to his senior year.
"Until then, we had to play all road games," he said.
As a member of both the Trojans' seventh- and eighth-grade teams, Schertzinger was the starting center and remained the starting center through his senior year.
"My biggest growth spurt was the summer between and eighth and ninth grades when I grew from 5-10 to 6-2," he said.
On the freshman team, Schertzinger was both the leading scorer and rebounder. He was voted to the all-county freshman team. As a sophomore on the junior varsity squad, he was both the leading scorer and rebounder again.
As a junior on the varsity team, Schertzinger again was both the leading scorer (20 points per game) and rebounder, helping the Trojans to a 16-2 record and advancement to the catholic schools' state tournament quarterfinals. He was voted both to the catholic schools' all-state team and the all-tournament team.
During his senior year, Schertzinger again was both the leading scorer (20 points per game) and rebounder. He set the school record by scoring 52 points in one game. He led his team to a 14-4 record and a berth in the catholic schools' state tourney semifinals.
By the time he graduated in 1955, Schertzinger was 6-4, 185 pounds. He fielded offers from several Division II and III colleges.
Dreams of being
Besides West Virginia, the only other Division I schools that recruited him were the University of Florida and the University of Tulsa. Accepting a scholarship to West Virginia was the easiest decision he ever made.
"Growing up in Morgantown, it was a lifelong dream of mine to play for West Virginia University," Schertzinger said. "I never considered going to a smaller school so I could play more. I wanted to go to West Virginia from Day 1."
Schertzinger said he lived at home during his entire college career.
"For years, I'd walk by the fieldhouse every day," he said. "I'd sneak in and watch the players practice. When I was in high school, I'd play with the other students."
Schertzinger averaged 11 points and a team-leading 8 rebounds per game as a starting forward, a position at which he would remain through his senior year, on the Mountaineers freshman team (at the time, freshmen were not permitted by the NCAA to compete at the varsity level in any sport at the Division I level).
In Schertzinger's sophomore season of 1956-57, West Virginia was led by "Hot Rod" Hundley, who went on to a solid career in the NBA.
The Mountaineers finished 25-5 overall and 12-0 in the Southern Conference, winning both the regular-season championship and the conference tournament, the latter which earned them a berth in the NCAA Tournament. They were ranked seventh in the final Associated Press poll but were upset 64-56 by Canisius in the first round.
That same season, when Hundley fell ill, Schertzinger got his only college start in a February home win over George Washington, a game in which he scored a career-high 10 points.
The next season, West Virginia finished 26-2 overall and 12-0 in the Southern Conference, again winning both the regular-season championship and the conference tournament and again, qualifying for the NCAA tourney.
"Because Hundley had graduated, everybody thought we'd go down the tubes," Schertzinger said. "But with Jerry now on the varsity and with a terrific guard named Don Vincent, that was our best team while I was there."
The Associated Press agreed.
West Virginia was ranked No. 1 for most of the season, including in the final poll. Unfortunately, Vincent broke his leg in the conference title game against The Citadel (S.C.) and the Mountaineers lost 89-84 to Manhattan in the first round of the tournament.
In 1959, Schertzinger accepted a job offer from Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company as a computer programmer and moved to Akron four days after graduating with a degree in business administration.
Seven years later, he took a job with the Akron Public Schools as their director of computer services. In 1986, he became the school district's assistant superintendent until retiring in 1994.
Schertzinger and his late wife Nancy (Cain), a Tallmadge graduate whom he had met at Goodyear, where she was a secretary, were married in 1962. That same year, they built a home in Tallmadge, the same one Howard lives in today.
The couple raised six children, all of whom are grown and married. His sons Chuck and Todd and daughter Stacie live in Tallmadge. His daughter Amy lives in Hartville, his son Howard lives in Cincinnati and his daughter Kim lives in Michigan. There are 14 grandchildren.
Before Nancy passed away in 2010, Nancy and Howard kept busy by walking several miles a day, traveling, antiquing and spending time with family.
"I also played golf for many years until I got arthritis in my back," said Schertzinger.
Schertzinger makes the three-hour journey to Morgantown a few times a year to attend Mountaineers' games. He also is a regular at team reunions. He will always be grateful for his days at West Virginia University.
"That school was very good to me," he said. "I was the first member of my family to graduate from college. I probably wouldn't have been in college if it wasn't for basketball. Once I got there, I knew what it took to make it and I worked hard and graduated."
Schertzinger's biggest thrill as a Mountaineer was, of course, that memorable run to the national championship game in 1959. His second-biggest thrill?
"Because we were usually highly ranked, when we'd go on the road, people wanted our autographs, including mine," he said. "I was only a backup, but they still wanted my autograph."