Basketball great Bob Cole loses battle with cancer

Hall-of-famer played on the undefeated state champion 1956 team.

Cole played on the undefeated and state champion 1956 Middie basketball team as a junior, but because he turned 19 before his senior season, he was ruled ineligible. He was recruited by North Carolina State and earned enough credits there to receive his high school diploma. But he returned to Middletown after one season, then transferred to West Kentucky University where he finished his college career.

All five starters on that 1956 team earned Division I scholarships, the others being Jerry Lucas (Ohio State), Ron Dykes (University of Cincinnati), Oliver “Skeeter” Wallace (Kent State) and Jay Byrd (Ohio University).

Lucas, who starred at MHS, Ohio State and was named one of the 50 greatest players in the NBA, said he played with “all kinds of great shooters at all levels,” but none was better than Cole.

“He was phenomenal,” Lucas said. “He truly loved the game. He was exceptional.”

Don “Woody” Withrow, 76, a 1953 MHS graduate, said Cole commonly made at least 95 out of 100 free throws every day at the Middletown YMCA. He also was known to make halftime hook-shots and Withrow said a 3-pointer was like a layup to Cole. If Cole played NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson in a game of s-k-u-n-k, Withrow said he’d bet on Cole.

Cole is a member of the Middletown High School, Butler County Sports and Ohio Senior Olympics halls of fame. As a senior athlete, his teams won 12 medals at the state Senior Olympics.

Jerry Nardiello, 89, who served as sports writer and editor of The Journal for 60 years, remembers one of Cole’s shots in particular. Nardiello called it the “greatest shot” he ever witnessed. Cole, then a sophomore, made a basket with two seconds left near midcourt against Dayton Stivers during the 1955 district tournament that Nardiello said “dropped straight down through the net.” The Middies won, 52-51, then lost in the regional.

Cole’s lifetime friend J.B. Deaton said he will remember the person more than the player. He said they were inseparable and had become friends in the sixth grade.

“I couldn’t ask for a better buddy than like he was,” Deaton said. “Nothing never did come between us. Not money or girlfriends. He was the right guy for me.”

Visitation will be from 6-8 Friday at Breitenbach-McCoy-Leffler Funeral Home, South Sutphin and Woodlawn Avenue. Funeral services will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and burial will follow at Woodside Cemetery.

Contact this reporter at (513) 705-2842 or

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