By Ryan Buck
Even as former Vienna High School boys basketball coach Randy Wilson watched his star player set numerous Ohio high school scoring records and lead his team to unprecedented success in the school’s history, he began to appreciate another aspect of his performance.
“First of all, he’s a terrific basketball player,” Wilson said of Trumbull County and Ohio basketball great Rex Leach. “He was like another coach on the floor.”
Fifty-nine years, 2,537 points and a wisely predicted career in education and coaching later, Leach’s legacy still grows. On Friday evening the Mathews — formerly Vienna — basketball court was named in his honor.
“I’m kind of touched,” said Leach, who graduated from Vienna in 1955, when the team was nicknamed the Flyers. “It’s tough, but I’m glad they’re doing it. It means a lot to my teammates too, so it’s nice.”
Rex Leach Court saw its namesake set records for career scoring (2,537), points in one season (1,256), and season scoring average (43.3).
In three seasons together, Wilson and Leach lost just five games and during Leach’s senior season in 1955, the team’s undefeated regular season brought them to the Ohio B Division state semifinal. Wilson, who arrived early to see his former pupil’s latest turn of recognition, regards Leach as the humble superstar.
“It’s great,” Leach said of his family and friends who were in attendance for the ceremony between Mathews’ junior varsity and varsity games against Badger. “It wouldn’t be the same without them, so I’m glad they’re here.”
As he walked past rows of current Mathews players, all with the his name and retired No. 7 across the backs, he reflected on the evolution of the game since he played.
“I think it’s a lot more physical than it used to be,” Leach said. “I think the kids jump better. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s the training. I think they’re a little quicker, their skills are a little better, but we did have a nice ball team.”
Only four names are above Leach’s for career points. Until the record was surpassed by future Ohio State standout Jay Burson in 1985, Leach was unaware he even owned the mark.
“It’s shocking,” Leach said of company like Jon Diebler and LeBron James. Leach’s records for points in a season and single-season scoring average remain.
What his successors were able to do in four years, Leach was able to do in three years of varsity eligibility.
“First of all, the record that was broken, I didn’t even know I had for 25 years,” he said. “Then the other ones, I’ve just been fortunate to hang on to and we have some team records also.”
Leach rose to more success for Bowling Green.
The 6-foot-4 forward led the team in scoring for two seasons and rebounding in every season on campus and is still the sixth most prolific rebounder in school history. After college, Leach turned down interest from the New York Knicks and the St. Louis Hawks to fulfill a two-year Army ROTC commitment.
Wilson’s veiled prophecy became reality as Leach took a ninth-grade coaching job at North Royalton thereafter. Stops at Richmond Heights, South Range led him back to Mathews, where he coached his two sons and continued to teach. He is now a massage therapist, living in Canfield with wife Carol.