The basketball circle spins on

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

My plan this week was to continue a series I’ve been writing in this space the past four weeks about the history of the South Central Ohio League, based on a seminar paper Paul Edwin Maple authored in 1964.

I will likely still do that, but last week’s column brought me to the end of Mr. Maple’s book, and then something else caught my attention. It was a column in the Wilmington News Journal, one of our sister papers, by Clinton County Commissioner Pat Haley titled “When Jarron met the spirit of Donnie.” It also appeared in Thursday’s edition of The Times-Gazette.

It’s a very well-written piece about Wilmington High School senior Jarron Cumberland recently breaking the late Donnie Fields’ Clinton County scoring record of 2,135 career points set in 1959 when Fields played basketball for Port William.

I have relatives that lived in Port William when I was quite young, and I have several fond memories of the place. But what really caught my attention was Haley talking about seeing both Fields and Cumberland making their record-setting shots, and then realizing that I, too, have a connection to both Fields and Cumberland.

I have only seen Jarron Cumberland, who has signed to take his basketball skills on to the University of Cincinnati next year, play once. His talent was obvious. But I watched his father, 1989 Hillsboro High School graduate Scottie Cumberland, play many games from the time he was in junior high to his senior year in high school and beyond.

Scottie, a powerful center on the team, led the 1988-89 Hillsboro Indians to a perfect 20-0 regular season record and my youngest brother was the point guard on that team. I was a sports editor for this very newspaper at that time and it was a unique and memorable experience covering such a successful team that my brother played on, for the same school I played for 10 years earlier.

Also on that 1988-89 Hillsboro team was Dwaine Cumberland, whose son Jaevin played with Jarron at Wilmington the two years prior to the current one. Jaevin is now playing at Division I Oakland University and has appeared in 25 games for the 19-9 Golden Grizzlies. His father and I refereed some youth basketball games together a month or so ago.

I never saw Donnie Fields play a high school basketball game. Haley’s column said that while there was no three-point shot when Fields played, more than half of Fields’ shots came from beyond that distance, and that he didn’t miss many.

When I was in my 20s I played independent (or old men’s) basketball at Clarksville a good bit. More often than not, Fields was one of the officials. During breaks in the action he’d launch very long range shots from all over. People were amazed at how accurate he was.

In the 1990s when I ran adult softball leagues in Hillsboro, Fields played several times with a bunch of guys from Lynchburg. He had to be well into his 50s. But on more than one occasion I saw him make a behind-the-back catch in the outfield, on a full run.

My dad said he pitched against Fields a few times in those years. “I could throw pitch high or low, two feet inside or two feet outside, and it didn’t make any difference. He could poke it wherever he wanted,” Dad said.

I can attest to that. I stood behind Fields as an umpire many times when he stood at the plate, and he was as hard to get out as any of his much younger teammates.

There are many other connections, especially with the Cumberlands, a family full of outstanding athletes. But you get the picture, and that’s the point of the story.

Whenever I walk into a gym, it seems that I run into someone – usually way more than one – that rekindles some kind of memory of years gone by.

So, now we have two ball players, one gone and one just getting started, yet now forever linked. Yes, the circle spins on, whether it’s through life’s memories or a basketball net.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist