• EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a six-part series profiling the individuals who will be inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday. Tomorrow: John Bomboy.
The way Jim Bothell sees it, this story isn’t about him.
Sure, he took the shots and rounded the bases, broke the records and hoisted the trophies. But for every point, strikeout and accolade he earned, he was always quick to deflect praise nearby.
Truth is, that is Bothell’s story, one in which humility and a drive toward greatness met to paint the type of athletic career few are fortunate enough to realize.
And come Sunday, when he will be inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame, you can be sure the one-time baseball and basketball standout will bring along everyone who helped him make the climb.
“One of my favorites sayings in life is this,” Bothell said. “If you find a turtle on a fencepost, you can be sure it didn’t get there by itself. And that’s how I feel about this hall of fame thing.”
Growing up in Creekside, Bothell, 58, was faced with two choices to pass the time: physical labor or physical activity. Naturally, he chose the latter.
And when it wasn’t his mother, Joan, driving him to and from each practice and game, it was his father, Bill “Lumpy,” making sure he stayed busy.
“If my mom wouldn’t have driven me to practice while my dad was working, none of this would have happened,” Bothell said.
“My dad, as a construction worker, worked tirelessly. And every day that he came home, I met him in front yard with two ball gloves. He would put his lunchbox down and throw catch with me before he even went in the house and said hello to my mother — every night. He was a driving force to teach me to have a desire to be the best.”
It was an aspiration that began early in recreational and youth athletics and eventually blossomed into a stellar three-sport high school varsity career.
A 1979 graduate of Marion Center High School, Bothell became a three-year letterwinner on the Stingers’ cross country team. But in a time before his alma mater had a football program, he admits that he ran off-road primarily as a way to stay in shape for the stages on which he shined best, the court and the diamond, where was named the Indiana Gazette Athlete of the Week a combined five times.
And by the time Bothell’s high school basketball career began truly taking flight, he had already spent much of his spare time preparing for a rise in competition while playing pickup games with a pair of Marion Center alumni, 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Dave Fairman and his cousin Ernie Fairman, on the courts at IUP.
“They made the biggest influence on me being a basketball player more than any other person, hands down,” Bothell said. “They were 20 years old. They’re picking up a high school sophomore, taking me into IUP, and taught me how to play against grown men. So by the time I was a senior, it was like I was already playing college basketball.
“I was a junior and college kids were recruiting me to play on their intramural teams. I said, ‘I’m in high school. I can’t play.’ They said, ‘Nobody will know. We want you to play for us.’”
For the most part, and with nearly unparalleled success, Bothell stuck to competing against players within his own age bracket.
And once Don Seanor, a 2010 Hall of Fame inductee, took over the Marion Center basketball program ahead of Bothell’s sophomore season in 1976, he learned one key distinction that would set the course for a long line of accomplishments.
“Don Seanor taught me the difference between being an all-star and being a champion, and that has served me better than any lesson in life in business and success,” Bothell said. “An all-star is an individual but may never win a championship, and a champion may never become an all-star, but they can be very successful in life because they understand what a champion is.”
In every sense, Bothell proved to embody both characteristics. And in just a few short seasons, he and the Stingers had restored a program that won just four games in 1975-76 to once again claiming the Appalachian Conference championship in 1979.
Marion Center surged to a program-best and then-area-record 28 victories in Bothell’s senior season against just six losses, the last of which was a painful 78-77 defeat by Girard in the PIAA quarterfinals. And were it not for their leading scorer, the Stingers likely would have fallen much sooner.
The ’79 All-Gazette and Appalachian Conference Player of the Year, Bothell scored a Marion Center single-season-record 744 points en route to a career program-record 1,408 — each still intact — while breaking the career mark of 1,396 set by Chuck Glasser the season before. He scored in double figures in 33 of 34 games, including five 30-plus-point performance, all in a time when racking up the points wasn’t quite as easy as it is today.
“What’s amazing is, he did it without a 3-point line,” Todd Brice, a 1980 Marion Center graduate and former basketball and baseball teammate, said. “You couldn’t imagine how many points he would have. He was just a great athlete all the way around.”
“He never liked to pass it too much,” Brice added jokingly, knowing full well that Bothell posted a Marion Center single-season-record 200 assists.
Of course, the personal goals never outweighed those of the entire team.
“I never really thought about breaking the school record until my senior year, but the most important thing to me was for my teammates and I to win championships,” Bothell said. “That was the most important thing. The whole scoring record thing only happened because I was surrounded by great teammates and we won championships.
“If I could say anything that maybe could benefit anyone, it’s the life lessons that sports teaches you. It’s how to keep going when things aren’t going your way, how to be focused on a team and not yourself.”
But while basketball got Bothell through the winter months, it was in the spring and summer when he was at his best.
Stepping into the varsity baseball spotlight immediately as a freshman, Bothell became a four-time letterman on Marion Center teams that claimed a pair of Tri-County League Section 2 titles in his four years under late coach Ted Holtz.
A true difference-maker with a bat, with a glove and with a ball in his hand, he set multiple program and area milestones. In addition to being named to the All-Gazette first team twice, he led the area with 24 straight successful steals and 34 hits, both of which are school records, in 1978.
In 1979, he posted Marion Center single-game-records of 16 strikeouts and nine consecutive strikeouts and led the area with eight wins to go along with a trio of saves.
And of course, he learned to play through the pain, posting area highs of 92 strikeouts and 77 innings pitched while stepping on the mound in 15 of 17 games — including nine complete efforts — during his senior season.
“Ted Holtz believed in me enough that I started as a freshman. And by the time I was a senior, he had just built a lot of confidence in me as a pitcher and as a player,” Bothell said. “Ted Holtz taught you how to have guts. Don Seanor taught me how to be a champion, but Ted Holtz taught me how to have guts. When you’re out there on the mound and it’s not going the way you want, you dig in and you do what your team needs you to do.”
Bothell continued his baseball career between school years and after graduation, from Junior Legion to the Indiana County League to a college career at the University of Pitt Johnstown, where lettered three times and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1983.
Before his time in high school came to a close, he played with the Indiana Lions Junior Legion team in the 1976 Pennsylvania State Junior Legion Tournament and was named to the Pennsylvania American Legion All-Stars West Team in 1978 and ’79.
His talents on the diamond quickly garnered the attention of the major leagues and earned him tryout invitations with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers in the summer of ’79. Unfortunately for the young man from Creekside, a shoulder injury that required surgery the following spring all but sapped any hope of landing a professional contract.
“I just wanted to sign a contract, and when it didn’t happen, I knew God had other plans for me and I’ve been trying to pursue that ever since,” Bothell said.
Bothell continued to play at UPJ through the beginning of his senior season, appearing at pitcher, the infield and the outfield, before opting to step away in pursuit of a working wage.
However, that would not keep him from continuing to take the county by storm.
Bothell put together three stints spanning more than a decade in the Indiana County League, most notably a stretch from 1979-87 in which he helped lead Creekside to five league titles. He strung together a pair of no-hitters on the mound and was named to at least three ICL all-star teams.
His crowning moment, though? A complete-game victory in an 8-2 Game 7 win over NBOC in the 1983 title series, just one of several factors that led to him being named the series most valuable player.
He led off the game with a triple, his eighth hit of the series, before scoring the first of four runs in the opening inning.
On that August evening nearly 36 years ago, Bothell was just as quick to dole out commendations to the Creekers, saying, “You just can’t say I’m the most valuable player. It took a team effort for us to beat them.”
“He was a pitcher, he was a fielder, he was an outfielder and he was a great batter,” Mike Irvin, who played alongside Bothell for Creekside, said. “We all competed on the team because we always pushed each other, and he was a great teammate.
“You have a few people in your life you can talk to today and then 10 years later talk to them and it feels the same. He’s one of those guys. There’s no conditions, and he’s one of those kind of guys. There’s only a few people you get to know like that.”
And just as he did every time his father returned home from work as a child, Bothell was sure to share another proud moment with his biggest fan.
“Beyond making the East-West team two years in a row, my most proud moment is the picture I have of my dad and me with the Indiana County League MVP when Creekside won the championship,” Bothell said. “I always looked up to people who did that and I still have that picture of my dad and me with that trophy on my desk at work.”
Bothell laced up his cleats for a couple more seasons in 1996 and ’97 before eventually trading in his batting helmet for a manager’s cap for four years when his son, Luke, reached Little League. The Marion Center team had its best year under Bothell in 1999, reeling off an 8-1 record to claim District 7 and Section 2 championships before finishing in fifth place in the state tournament.
That same year, Bothell added a brief run in bodybuilding to his competitive résumé. He took first place overall in the Novice Tall and Novice Overall divisions as well as fourth place in the Masters (age 35-45) division at the Natural Lions Country Classic in State College. In 2000, he placed second in the War for the Sword natural bodybuilding competition in Pittsburgh, and in 2001, he took fifth.
For a man who had likely pitched to and escaped more full counts than he can remember, stage fright finally made at least one appearance.
“Probably the scariest thing that I ever did was walk on that stage for the very first bodybuilding show,” Bothell said.
Nowadays, Bothell, who has since moved to Harrisburg, remains just as active ever.
He is an avid outdoorsman, hunting and fishing as the seasons come and go.
At the age of 44, he even picked up a new sport, one that typically isn’t kind to those who don’t begin at a young age.
Some 14 years later, he is, of course, a natural.
“I developed an addiction. It’s called golf,” Bothell said with a laugh. “On Easter Sunday, I shot an 81 from the blue (tees) and I had a triple-bogey on 18, so I should have broke 80 from the blues.”
Bothell’s athletic story remains far from over. In fact, this is just another page.
Another chapter begins Sunday with the recognition of each highlight to date.
Where it ultimately leads is simply a matter of who helps write it next.
“First of all, I give credit to God — he gave me an athletic body,” Bothell said. “I give credit to my father, who taught me how to have drive. My mother, who drove me to practice and picked me up. My coaches and my teammates. I’m last. I’m like in sixth place in all of this. It’s all of them and then me, and I get to be celebrated because of these people. I give thanks to all of those people.”