When Ted Buehner says the state basketball tournament is a family tradition — that “it’s in our blood” — he’s not kidding.
In the down time between games at the 1995 tournament at St. John Arena in Columbus — just before the state’s two top-rated Division I teams, Cleveland Heights and Springfield North, were to meet in a much-anticipated semifinal game — Ted and his dad, Jim, a longtime area basketball referee, needed to find a restroom and run some errands.
Ted’s two boys — 12-year-old Ben and Teddy, who’s three years younger — were with them. So was his nephew, Cole Sizemore.
“Ben had been begging us to let them go skate at that (Ohio State) ice rink next to the arena,” Ted said. “This time I finally said, “Okay, but just ‘til we get back.”
Teddy remembered that venture quite well Saturday as he sat with his family at UD Arena, where the 101st rendition of the boys state basketball tournament was playing out over three days.
“We had never ice skated before, so we were falling constantly,” he said. “When we got ready to go, Ben pulled his pants leg up to take off his skate and we saw blood running down his leg. I’m not sure what happened.”
“I think a blade caught me and split my shin open,” said Ben, who’s now 40 and the girls basketball coach at Ross High.
Ted Sr. remembered the sight: “When we came back, his leg was bleeding and there was a big hole in his shin. I said, ‘Ben, we’ve got to go take care of this … now!’
“But he threw a fit. He said, ‘We can’t miss this game!’”
Ben now laughs at his youthful insistence: “It was a half hour before the game.”
So rather than miss any basketball, they found an EMT at the arena, who put butterfly stitches on Ben’s wounded right leg and told them he figured the patch job would hold until the final buzzer.
That night they went to a local hospital and by 3:15 a.m. Ben’s leg was stitched up.
He was back a St. John Arena later that same morning for the next round of games.
And the Buehner Family hasn’t missed a state tournament since.
This weekend, Ted, Teddy, Ben and Ben’s 13-year old son JJ — who said this already was his ninth straight state tournament — were encamped in Section 107, 11 rows from the floor.
“For a lot of years this was our family vacation,” Ben said.
“It’s about the only thing we do as a whole family anymore,” Ted Sr. said. “Everybody’s so busy and has their own lives and families now.”
But nothing has changed, Teddy said: “This is always my favorite weekend. It’s something I really look forward to.”
Seeing the greats
The tradition began with Jim Buehner, Ted’s dad, who passed away in 2015.
He was a 1948 grad of Gratis High and was already refereeing when the school made the state tournament in 1957.
“Middletown made it that year too and dad always would tell stories about refereeing some of Jerry Lucas’ games,” Ted said.
His dad also told him about the time he called a technical foul on the Middies’ legendary coach Paul Walker, who emphatically informed him he would not have him back to officiate any more Middletown games.
Jim survived just fine. He refereed for 44 years — sometimes alongside his brother, Bill — and ended up in the Preble County Athletic Hall of Fame.
Ted said he was 8 years old when his dad first took him to the state tournament:
“It was 1964 and I watched Belmont with Bill Hosket and Don May win the title.”
He was mesmerized by the spectacle and did whatever he could to see the tournament after that.
“I don’t know if I should say this, but I saw the whole tournament in 1969 without a ticket,” he said with a grin. “I don’t remember just who the guy was that my dad knew, but he let me slip in and I was right under the basket where you needed a floor pass.”
He did miss a couple of years in the mid-1970s when he played football at Eastern Kentucky — he had been a standout quarterback at Valley View — but then he dropped out of school. He ended up working at Delco Moraine for three decades and now has 17 years in at Thaller Machine in Springboro.
In 1981 he was there when Roth won the big school title and New Lebanon Dixie fell in the Class AA final.
“I had an uncle who played for Dixie and I heard the stories how everybody came to the game and people crawled through windows at St. John to see the game,” Ben said. “I think it still has the attendance record there.”
Five years later, Ben no longer had to depend on other people’s state tournament stories. He began collecting his own.
In 1986, he began attending games.
“I remember carrying him in at first,” said Ted.
“I was three,” Ben said.
He doesn’t quite remember the details in his debut — a pair of local teams, Greenon and Jefferson, both lost their state championship games — but the memories became indelible a few years later:
“One of the most exciting games I ever saw was when Lakota West with Keith Gregor came from like 20 down against Lima Senior, who had Greg Simpson.”
Lakota West won the Division I title that night, 88-86, in overtime.
Teddy said his first foray to the tournament came when he was 4. Saturday, he recalled some of the players who have stood out to him over the years:
“I remember Melvin Levett for Villa Angela St. Joseph’s. He was pretty amazing.”
Levett would go on to become an 1,110 point scorer for the Cincinnati Bearcats and a second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons. He played a few years in the pros and with the Harlem Globetrotters and went on to be a high school coach.
“And there was Jason Collier, he was so tall and so good.”
The late 7-foot center of Springfield Catholic Central starred at Georgia Tech and in the NBA until an undetected heart ailment suddenly ended his life at 28.
“And, of course, there was LeBron James, he was just a year older,” Teddy said.
From Akron St, Vincent St, Mary, James has gone on to become the most prolific scorer in NBA history.
Passing on the passion
Ben — like his brother, Teddy — was a multi-sport star at Valley View. Both still hold many school records there and both went on to play college sports.
Ben headed to Indiana University to play baseball and then transferred to Wilmington. Teddy was a football player who first went to Ball State and then transferred to Wilmington.
After college, Ben made a name for himself as a high school coach. After a year at Preble Shawnee, he spent 10 years coaching the boys at Valley View (eight as head coach) and he’s now in his fifth year coaching the Ross girls.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do was play in or coach in the state tournament at St. John Arena,” Ben said.
While he was a freshman on the Valley View football team that won state, the closest he got in basketball was the district finals, when his Spartans lost to Madeira at UD Arena.
As his dad shared his fantasy, JJ sat quietly in his seat. Like Ben, he was wearing a Duke T-shirt. He’s named, he said, after former Blue Devils star JJ Redick.
While his dad gave him his name, he also has passed on his passion.
As JJ looked out toward the UD Arena floor — where Ottawa Glandorf and Columbus Africentric were warming up to play their Division II semifinal, a thriller OG would win 48-47 in double overtime — he imagined himself out on the court and his family in the stands watching:
“Yeah, that’s my dream — to play in the state a tournament.”
One day it might happen.
He’s pretty good already. He plays on two teams, his school team at Ross and with an AAU team in Cincinnati.
“He’s in the sixth grade, but he plays with the seventh-graders,” his grandfather said.
With his high school basketball still three years off, JJ had to settle for the family tradition from the stands.
The Buehners all planned to back for today’s four title games, but Teddy did make an admission:
“My wife is at home pregnant, but unless something comes up and I’m needed, I’ll be right back here tomorrow.”
It’s in the Buehners’ blood.
About the Author