by Gregg Meadows
Back at its March meeting, the Tri-Valley Schools Board of Education authorized the athletic department to begin the process of naming the high school basketball court after longtime, former basketball coach, TVHS Athletic Hall of Fame, and Hall of Distinction member, Rich Longaberger.
And this Friday night, November 30, in Dresden – right before the Tri-Valley varsity boys basketball season tip-off vs. Columbus Desales – ‘Coach Rich Longaberger Court’ will be dedicated.
And it’s an honor – according to former Jefferson High Jayhawk and Tri-Valley Scottie players who played for Coach Longaberger, as well as fellow coaches, teachers, and administrators – that is well-deserved.
“I was not a resident of the area during Coach Longaberger’s tenure… but I am very familiar with his coaching success and his reputation in the community,” says Tri-Valley Schools superintendent, Mark Neal.
“I think it is more than fair to call him a coaching legend; the amount of respect and appreciation in the Tri-Valley community he garners is tremendous to this day,” Neal continues.
“A great deal of the community pride and high expectations for Scottie athletics we possess to this day at TVHS, is a direct result of the efforts of Coach Longaberger.
“As a relative newcomer to the area, I have heard alot of stories in the last 10 years about Rich Longaberger, Jack Anderson, and Dean Sarbaugh; and I have been fortunate enough to meet two of the three,” concludes Neal.
Matt Williams was an All-Ohioan in basketball at Tri-Valley who played for Coach Longaberger on the Scottie’s only final four team, during the 1980-81 season.
“Coach Longaberger built all of his teams from the ground up and with a strong foundation, relying on three basic characteristics to carry them to success” says Williams, the lone returning starter on the state final four team, (from the previous year’s team that went 23-1 before getting beat in the Regional.)
“Coach Longaberger preached that his players play with class, discipline, and accountability,” stated Williams, who like Longaberger, is a two-time member of the TVHS Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted on his individual merits as a player (HOF Class of 2015) and as a member of the 1981 Final Four team, who were all inducted into the prestigious Scottie athletic fraternity last year.
“I was extremely fortunate to have him as a coach,” says Williams. “I consider Coach Longaberger, along with Jack Anderson, and most recently, Justin Buttermore, as three individuals who left an indelible mark while at Tri-Valley,” concludes Williams.
Another of Coach Longaberger’s hardwood disciples is arguably the best cager the school has produced, 1970 All-Ohioan Charlie Sidwell, a charter member of the TVHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s a great idea – and long overdue – to name the Tri-Valley High School gymnasium floor after, and in honor of, Coach Rich Longaberger,” says Sidwell, who played on another of Longaberger’s great teams, the 1969-70 squad that ran off 22 straight wins – including a big tourney win over Zanesville before falling to ‘host’ Steubenville in the district final at spacious St Johns Arena.
“It goes without saying what a great coach he was,” says Sidwell. “But another great quality of his was his ability during a game and in time-outs to be a calming force on the bench and get us turned around, when we needed it most,” continued Sidwell. “He also had a unique sense of humor, not noticeable to everyone…..but I got it,” laughed Sidwell.
“It’s been nearly fifty years since I played, but I guess the most meaningful thing I can say about Rich Longaberger is that he is a good friend of mine. Putting the name of Rich Longaberger on the court at TVHS is a wonderful idea, and what should be done,” concludes Sidwell.
Perhaps the most well-known and recognizable former player locally on what would be Rich Longaberger’s first team at Jefferson High School in 1963-64, is P.J. Longstreth, a member of the TVHS Hall of Distinction as well, tabbed for his decades long of service to youth athletics in the Tri-Valley area.
Longstreth was a member of the 1963 state title squad and a senior member of the 1964 state title team, and echoes the thoughts of many of Longaberger’s former players as well.
“He’s very deserving of the honor,” said Longstreth; he’s enjoyed a great career at Jefferson and Tri-Valley.”
For the record, Rich Longaberger was head coach at Jefferson High from 1963-66, winning the second of the Jayhawk’s back-to-back state titles in his first season, 1963-64. His record as the Jayhawk’s boss was 33-22 in three seasons.
When the consolidation of Dresden, Frazeysburg, and Adamsville school districts transpired to form the new Tri-Valley High School in the fall of 1966, Longaberger was tabbed to head the hardwood program for the ‘Scotties.’ He coached the black and gold for five years, before leaving his post to take over the duties of high school principal, after the passing of beloved Jefferson and TVHS principal Jack Anderson in 1971.
Longaberger returned to the hardwood wars in 1976, coaching the Scotties for 12 more seasons, before retiring from his hardwood and teaching duties at Tri-Valley in 1988.
The Scotties needed a basketball coach for the 1994 season, and got a good one – ‘retired’ Rich Longaberger, who skippered the Scottie cagers for two more seasons before hanging it up for good after the 1996 season.
All told in his legendary 22-year head coaching career, Rich Longaberger totaled 363 wins with just 155 losses. His teams won seven Muskingum Valley League cage championships, eight Sectional titles, three District championships, a pair of Regional titles, two final four appearances, and the Jefferson Jayhawks state title in 1963-64, Longaberger’s first year as a head coach, after Jack Van Reeth guided the Jayhawks to the 1963 state title the year before.
Longaberger was married to his wife JoAnne, for 62 years, before her passing in October of last year. They have three daughters, Holly, Heather, and Heidi, and two grandchildren, Conor and Hannah.
Of the honor, Longaberger modestly states, “I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed a good career coaching young men the game of basketball; I’m very humbled and appreciative of the honor.”