By Bill Bray
A tradition, a way of life. A famed gymnasium will soon be but a memory. We will say goodbye to our beloved “Purple Pit” on December 22, 2021.
Since December 3, 1958, the “Purple Pit” has seen some exciting moments. The first basketball game was played on that day and resulted in a win over Holland 56-24. The following night the Ross wrestlers took to the mats for the first time in the new gym and earned a 48-5 win over Bowling Green.
Some of the names participating in those inaugural contests in basketball were, Rueben Lozano, Steve Cecil, Harry Walter, Roger Mann, and Charles Pankratz. The wrestler’s winning matches included Rueben Rendon, Jim Ayres, George Shanahan, Neil Fausey, Neil Schneider, Dan Coleman, Jim Otermat, Tom Woessner, and Dick Swedersky.
We remember in 1963 when the championship football team of 1928 was honored at a half time accompanied by Whitey Althoff. We also remember the play of Jim “Pete” Davis who
was the new career scoring king of Ross Basketball.
We remember the 60’s being dominated by the play of Tim Thomas who went on to West Point and served our great country. We also remember a special night in February 1966 that we will get into later in the story.
We remember the late 60’s and early 70’s when John Lewis was the basketball star who led the Giants to a double overtime win over Marion Harding. Lewis finished with 24 points in the win.
We remember the wrestling match against Toledo Whitmer. A 33-21 victory in 1972. The team came from a large deficit to win. That was secondary to the fact that it would be coach Mal Mackey’s last event at Fremont Ross that extended back to the fall of 1950.. The coach died of a heart attack in the following days. His final coaching experience was in the famed Ross High gymnasium.
We remember the gymnasium for the night in 1973 when a little-known rock band performed on the gymnasium’s stage. Bob Seger, and his band, not called the ‘Silver Bullet band’ yet, performed for the ‘young people’ from around the county. So unknown was Seger at the time, the newspaper did not cover the event.
We remember in 1984 when the Ross gym was renamed “The Purple Pit.”
We remember when on February 1, 1985 Greg Bender became the first Ross basketball player to go over the 1,000 point barrier. To honor him and the other seniors, Athletic Director Dick Sherman, proclaimed the final home game of the 1984-85 season “Purple Pride Night”. He asked that everyone wear purple.
We remember the night a high-flying Charles Woodson scored 40 points. It came in January 1994. The total was just three points shy of the school record for points scored in a game and remains the most points scored in a game at the Purple Pit by a Fremont Ross player.
We remember the outstanding basketball efforts of Dawn Zerman during the mid 90’s. On December 17, 1995, Zerman reached the 1000-point career plateau. It was Zerman’s 71st straight start for Sue Wolf’s Lady Little Giants.
We remember in 2003 when Mark Gedeon’s Little Giant Basketball team won an exciting overtime game against Napoleon 74-69. Fred Shearon led the Giants with 27 points.
We remember in 2009 when legendary coach Sue Wolf stepped down from her coaching duties after having coached the Little Giant girls from their infancy in 1976. 34 years of coaching excellence. Her most famous player, Dawn Zerman, said this about her coach “I am proud and thankful to have played and learned from such a great person. Thanks, Coach, for everything you have given, not only to me, but Fremont Ross Athletics.”
We remember in 2018 when Ross graduate John Cahill returned home after a successful stint coaching the Clyde Flier’s girls teams for several years. He returned home to take over the Fremont Ross boys basketball program. “He’s an enthusiastic leader who has strong ties to the Fremont community,” athletic director Chad Berndt said.
We remember in the fall of 2009 when the administration hired Ross graduate Juan Vela to take a girls basketball program over after the departure of Sue Wolf. Vela is a 2000 graduate of Fremont Ross and played basketball for coach Mark Gedeon before becoming an assistant coach under him in 2007.
We could go on and on with all the exciting volleyball games, wrestling matches, band and choir concerts, community activities for there were many.
But over all these stories that happened in over 60 years in this place, one must stick out. One that involves a record that was set on one magically night in February of 1966. The site was the Fremont Ross gymnasium. It was a night that saw an explosive Lorain Admiral King come to town to take on our Little Giants.
Admiral King had all the tools including one, Jim “Bubbles” Harris, who was a scoring machine for the Admirals averaging over 25 point per game.
The idea of Ross coach Dick Norman was to slow the game down and not try to run with the ‘run and gun’ Admirals.
But run the Little Giants did and they gave Admiral King a lesson in how to succeed at their own style of play by winning the game 100-92.
The 100 points scored in that game by Fremont Ross remains a single game scoring record to this day. The young man who scored the 99th and 100th point remembers it well also to this day. Senior Billy Auxter scored the magical points and loves chatting about it.
“We were just clicking on all cylinders,” Auxter remembered. ““We had Timmy Thomas who was averaging 18 points per game.” He scored 27 points. Terry Bork, our second leading scorer, averaging 15 points a game scored a career high 32 points.” Auxter remembered. “Coach (Dick) Norman assigned me to cover Jim “Bubbles” Harris,” Auxter continued. “Harris was a junior and he came into that game averaging probably 25 points per game. So, coach Norman said. “Auxter, I want you to do nothing but to defend that guy. You be on him like a bad habit. So I was, I guarded him, and I guarded him, and I held him to 31 points, “Auxter said with a chuckle. So obviously the reason I didn’t score much
that night was because I was concentrating on defense,” Auxter said while continue to laugh.
The News-Messenger reported that night, “Fred Swaisgood and Bill Auxter” (two greats from Lindsey, Oh, by the way) “finally combined to reach the coveted high and new school record. With 47 seconds to play Swaisgood hit a jump shot to make the tally, 98-86. Auxter then stole the ball as King attempted to move up the floor. He broke toward the basket for a layup and the 99th and 100th point.
It would be two of the three points that Auxter scored that night but as he summed it up saying. “”If there is a life’s lesson I learned from this experience,” Auxter said. “It is that not everyone can be the high scorer, but if you are the person lucky enough to score the last two points to hit 100 and set a record, that’s the shot everyone remembers”.
Goodbye “Ross Gymnasium”, ‘Purple Pit” or any other names the four walls have been giving over 63 years of service to our youth and community. You will definitely be missed.