Basketball players

County basketball players unite for fun and charity | Sports

JEFFERSON — Ages and abilities varied greatly, but a love of the game and a desire to help high school students was the unifying factor on Friday night during an evening of basketball fun.

The Joe “Pigskin” Pete Ashtabula County High School Alumni Basketball Tournament came back strong, filling two gymnasiums with players and fans looking to play with high school friends once again.

The players ranged in age from freshmen to a 63-year-old player and everything in between. Brandon Ford, a 2021 graduate of Lakeside High School, played in the 18-29 division just two weeks after appearing in the NCAA Division I basketball championships for the Akron Zips.

The tournament was resurrected after several years of inactivity, including two years of COVID-19 related issues. The tournament was in honor of Pete, who started a scholarship fund in 2007 for area high school students.

Eli Kalil, one of the organizers, said Joe and Marrion Pete, Joe’s parents, approached him about reviving the tournament to help raise scholarship funds.

“I’m with Olajuwon Cooper and Andy Juhola,” Kalil said.

Kalil said the tournament was in partnership with the Ashtabula County YMCA.

“They will be the nonprofit that will write the checks,” he said.

The tournament featured eight teams in the 18-29 and 30+ divisions, Kalil said.

He said the single-elimination tournament was the chosen format.

“We are very happy to bring this back and hope it will continue for a long time,” he said.

Juhola said the tournament was a “missing piece” and he was happy to get involved in bringing the tournament back.

Having the chance to play with former teammates and against high school opponents was a draw for many participants.

“Hats off to the organizers,” said Grand Valley High School head basketball coach Justin Turk.

The competition was intense with physical play evident throughout many matches.

Turk said he wasn’t sure how he was going to feel this morning after taking multiple loads and running across the floor.

He added that it was great to be back on the field with other Ashtabula County residents.

Lakeside graduate Ceon Howell said it was great to play against a lot of locals.

Fans seemed to be enjoying the experience with light-hearted banter among the players on the pitch.

A group of kids also cheered on their favorite players with signs as well as verbal hugs.

Juhola said the group will look at how much money has been raised before deciding on the amount of each scholarship and what the process for applying for help will be.

Joe Pete said he was happy to see the game return in honor of his son who died in 2012.

“It means a lot to me. I’m so happy for all the people who have supported this,” he said. “I think Jo [his son] is happy to see this.