Serious injury slowed Hubbard resident’s athletic career
By John Bassetti
The streets where 60-year-old Tony Ball runs now are the same streets he traversed in his youth.
Aside from the years, there’s not much difference as he trains for his first marathon because he’s had a strong will and maybe some divine intervention to help overcome misfortune.
As a 10-year-old in 1964, Ball was hit by a car as he stepped off a curb.
“I was going to the store to buy a kite,” he said. “My mom gave me a dollar and said, ‘Get milk, bread and get yourself a kite.’
“I lost a finger and got a severe concussion. I was given last rites at the scene and didn’t know if I was going to live.”
Ball said he was forbidden from playing sports for five years and that hurt, but probably not as much as the pain inflicted by the accident.
“That was about the time guys really get into sports, but I couldn’t do anything because of my head injury,” he said of the health restriction that lasted until his freshman year of high school. “You want to do the things your friends are doing.”
When Ball finally got clearance, he immediately wanted to play every sport possible.
“I felt I had a lot of catching up to do,” Ball said.
He caught up enough to run track for two years, to wrestle and to play football for four years.
“I was maybe the slowest on the track team, but my coach didn’t hide me,” said Ball, who never even sniffed a 60-second 440.
“He kept putting me in there to teach me about courage,” Ball said about Tony Carsone. “To this day, I write to him and let him know how I’m doing.”
Ball wasn’t a starter in football until his senior season. He then went to Youngstown State as a walk-on where his best moment was playing in the 1973 Red-White game in front of his parents.
Ball didn’t get any scholarship money, so he ended up dropping out of college after a year and got a job.
Now, he’s training to run in the Air Force Marathon in Dayton on Sept. 20. The idea didn’t come out of mid air.
“My wife asked what I wanted for my 60th birthday in June and I said that I wanted to run a marathon with a buddy.‘You don’t want to go to a tropical island?’” he said she asked.
“No,” he replied.
“We both turned 60 in June and decided that we’re going to run a marathon together,” Tony said of lifelong-friend Jim Claffey. “He ran marathons before when I’d stand at the finish line with two beers: one for me and one for him.
“I often wondered why he would torture his mind and body to run such a race.”
Ball told his friend that running 26.2 miles was crazy, but Claffey proposed that Ball join him someday.
“Never,” said Ball, a 1972 Hubbard graduate. His tune eventually changed when he took up running for fun six years ago.
“My wife and I went out to see Abbey Road, a tribute band to the Beatles,” Ball said. “In between sets, they had a candle burning for [departed Beatles] John Lennon and George Harrison.
“An Abbey Road musician started talking about Lennon and his quest for world peace and how Yoko Ono [Lennon’s wife] began to gather important people to promote world peace.
“I went home, got on the computer and typed in the keyword ‘peace.’ That’s when the Youngstown Peace Race popped up and I thought, ‘That’s something I could run in for peace.’
“The race was started in honor of Lennon’s wish for peace. I immediately wrote a letter to Yoko Ono, not knowing if she’d ever get it. The next thing I know, a picture of Ono and Lennon came in the mail and was signed: To Anthony, love, Yoko Ono.”
Since, Ball has run multiple races.
He has been following an 18-week training program and most of his running is around Hubbard, although he sometimes hits township roads to rack up longer distances.
Part of his motivation stems from the childhood accident.
“I wanted to see if I could do it for all the people who have supported me all my life,” Ball said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have this opportunity.” Ironically, when I got hit by the car, Jim’s [Claffey] mom was the first person to put a blanket on me when I was lying in the street.
“I remember being on the curb, then looking both ways. The next thing I knew, I was four feet from the curb. The driver skidded 56 feet and my hand went into the headlight [how he lost part of his right ring finger] and my head went into the fender.”
Ball packs deep emotion in some of his statements.
One is about his deceased parents, Tony and Willa “Noots” Ball.
“I got this crazy thing I want to do [run in a marathon],” Ball said. “I know my mom worried about me — she passed away last year — and, to this day, she probably still is.
“I’d tell her I was going to run and she was worried about me; but I’ve got to do it because I’m lucky to be alive to have this opportunity.”