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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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Randy Gardner was barely six feet tall, with a medium build, but he was one heck of a high school basketball player. Gardner, a shooting guard, and Central Catholic boys basketball coach Jim Welling, a point guard, were teammates under coach Terry Nigh at Eastwood.

 

Gardner and Welling have known each other since the sixth grade, and they lived across the street from each other during their high school years. They remain friends to this day.

"We grew up together," said Welling, who coached Owens Community College's men's basketball team to back-to-back national titles in 1992 and '93 and coached Lake's boys team in 2007-08. "What I recall about Randy was his competitiveness and his drive to be the best he could be at his position. He spent hours and hours working on his game. That had a big affect on me.

"The passion he showed, a lot of times we'd want to try to demonstrate that same kind of passion and will. He was always a great leader. He was a fierce competitor and worked really hard on his game.

f there was somewhere we could go play, we'd go play. He was a 12-month-a-year player, and those players are hard to find."
Gardner had other interests besides basketball.

He is now the Ohio state representative for District 6 (Wood County) and has been in the state legislature for 24 years - seven in the Ohio Senate and 17 in the Ohio House.

"I've always been interested in politics," said Gardner, 50, who graduated from Eastwood in 1977. Before I was in the legislature I was a delegate to national conventions. I thought being involved in and participating in politics and government was important. Basketball and politics are probably the two things I've been most interested in as far as spending time, other than family."

Basketball fans are used to seeing Gardner at various boys and girls prep games in Wood and Lucas counties. The number of games he attends each season varies according to the legislative calendar.

"I don't know if I like term 'basketball junkie,' " Gardner said, "but I like to go to high school basketball games, yes. I suppose I go to two a week. When you get into tournament time, maybe three or four a week."

Gardner, who tries to attend most of his daughter, Christina's, junior varsity games at Bowling Green High School, is the second all-time leading scorer in Eastwood boys basketball history, with 1,173 points. The late Aaron Lawniczak is the school's career leader and the only other boy to surpass 1,000 points for the Eagles.

Gardner was a three-year starter and remains the Eagles' career leader in assists per game. He averaged 23.5 points a game his senior year and was a three-time All-Suburban Lakes League selection. He was named special mention All-Ohio as a senior.
Gardner, a Bowling Green resident, said the best game he had at Eastwood was the season opener his senior year.

"I had 41 against Rossford, which was the record for about 20 years until Aaron broke it," Gardner said. "It was against (former Rossford coach) Joe Stalma, and I remind of him that every now and then. I didn't miss too many shots that night. I didn't take very many foul shots, and there wasn't any 3-point line that night."
Gardner coached an AAU boys team, the Ohio 'Cats, for six years. The 'Cats were the No. 2 team in Ohio for two years.

"My son, Austin, was the point guard on the team and I was able to coach him for many years," said Gardner, who retired as coach last year. "I try to stay in touch and watch my former ‘Cats players now that they are playing varsity and JV throughout Northwest Ohio. I enjoy watching their development and talking with their families.”

Gardner is the son of  Dallas Gardner, who passed away in December. Dallas was the Eastwood Schools superintendent from 1958-70 and was the Wood County superintendent for 21 years.
Randy taught history and government at Otsego High School for five years, until he was appointed to Ohio House of Representatives.
Back in high school, Welling said he envisioned Gardner going into or journalism or becoming a school superintendent.

"He could have followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a great man," Welling said. "Randy has been such a great inspiration in Wood County for many  years. That kind of loyalty for that area speaks volumes about who he is. I don't say that because he's my old buddy. There are some opportunities he may have had that he passed on because of the commitment he has to this area, and that's what it should be about."

Politics and basketball are two of Gardner's passions, and they often intertwine. Going to area high school games, he said, gives him the opportunity to stay in touch with the community.
"My job isn't a 9-to-5 job," he said. "One thing I enjoy about these games, I can sit with a superintendent or a teacher or other coaches and they'll ask me questions about the legislature. It keeps you in touch with lots of educators and other people from other schools.

"I usually will take a notepad with me and end up creating some work, too. People will talk about ideas or suggestions. It's a great way to be in the public, watching something I enjoy as well as staying in touch with people you represent."

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