COMMENTARY: The controversy – by some, at least – concerning Jim France’s total of victories and whether he is, or isn’t, Ohio’s all-time winningest high school football coach, isn’t the first time that the Manchester High School sports program has been in the news concerning an unusual situation involving a state record.
The controversy – by some, at least – concerning Jim France’s total of victories and whether he is, or isn’t, Ohio’s all-time winningest high school football coach, isn’t the first time that the Manchester High School sports program has been in the news concerning an unusual situation involving a state record.
Oh, no. Indeed, we’ve seen something like this before. It is similar in some ways, but very different in others, to something that happened way back when Ronald Reagan was beginning his first term as president, Sam Rutigliano was coaching the Cleveland Browns’ Kardiac Kids teams and France was a 30-something who had just finished his first decade at Manchester.
And this old story has an interesting twist that has been discovered and it ties right into the France situation.
When the late, great Mike Phillips, a 6-foot-10 center who played for Manchester from 1970-74, finished his career by leading the Panthers to the 1974 Class AA state championship, he was recognized by everybody – EVERYBODY – for having set the career scoring record for boys basketball with 2,573 points. When Phillips broke the old mark of 2,460 points, set by Jerry Lucas at Middletown from 1955-58, in an 80-54 win over Canton Lehman in the district semifinals at Canton Memorial Field House in March 1974, there was, not surprisingly, a big deal made of it. Fans knew the exact basket he scored that surpassed Lucas’s total.
There was no doubting that Phillips was the new scoring king. In every way, shape and form, it was what it appeared to be, a changing of the guard at the top from Lucas to Phillips, two dominant big men. The record was cast in concrete, so to speak. Better than that, it was officially official.
Only it turned out that Phillips was not the new scoring king. It wasn’t, in every way, shape and form, what it appeared to be. The record was not cast in concrete, so to speak. It was not officially official.
In 1981, a guy popped up seemingly out of nowhere named Rex Leach. He had played at old Vienna High School, now Vienna Mathews, located along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border in Trumbull County from 1951-55 and, as it was reported then, had actually scored 2,581 points, or a mere eight points more than Phillips. The total was reportedly verified by old records.
Manchester fans were upset – and understandably so. Phillips had averaged 35 points a game his senior year and 31.4 in his junior season. Like their star player, the Panthers, as a team, were unstoppable, amassing a combined 49-1 mark in those two years. So with the Panthers ahead by 40 points in the middle of the third quarter and Phillips already having 40 points, he would sit down with the four other starters as head coach Bernie Conley cleared the bench. If Phillips had played just another quarter in any one of those games, then he would have easily scored nine more points and thus would have the state mark with 2,582.
So, as it turned out, when Phillips moved past Lucas, he wasn’t setting the state record because Lucas never had the mark in the first place.
But wait, there’s more. Even if Leach didn’t exist, Lucas would have still failed to technically set the state mark.
That’s right, because Larry Huston, a contemporary of Leach’s who played at Savannah High School from 1951-55, had scored 2,492 points, or 32 more than Lucas. But Huston is still 89 points behind Leach and 81 behind Phillips.
None of those guys is even close to the current record-holder, Jon Diebler, who scored 3,208 points at first Fostoria and then Upper Sandusky from 2003-07. Leach is now sixth, Phillips seventh, Huston 10th and Lucas 11th. Lucas, incidentally, did not play on the Middies varsity until his he was a sophomore and thus got his points in just three seasons. He still might be the greatest player ever in the state.
That’s not the end of the story, though. According to Ohio High School Athletic Association records, Leach, as mentioned, is listed as having scored 2,581 points. That mark has been in the OHSAA books for decades. It is, as such, considered to be the gospel. Come on, if you can’t trust the body governing Ohio high school sports, then who can you trust, right?
When you go online and research Leach in various newspaper and internet stories, and on various websites, including one by the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame about its inductees, and another by the Youngstown Vindicator when Mathews High School was going to name its basketball court in Leach’s honor in 2014, it states that Leach scored only 2,537 points, or 36 LESS than Phillips.
OK, then, it must be asked: Which figure is right, that of the OHSAA that was submitted to the state by Trumbull County sports historians when Leach’s career was resurrected 35 years ago, or the 2,537 points that Leach’s own high school recognizes as his total?
So perhaps Phillips did retain the scoring mark after all, even after Leach’s total was brought to light.
According to OHSAA records, Manchester’s France entered the season with 378 wins, or three behind the record-holder, the retired Bob Lutz of Ironton (381). With France’s five victories this season, the OHSAA would have him at 383 wins, or two more than Lutz, and thus he would be the new No. 1 all-time winningest coach in state history.
Who’s right and who’s wrong in the cases of both Leach and France?
That’s a good question, and it’s one that everybody involved should keep in mind as they try to figure out just how many wins Jim France really has.