If there’s anything Hal Ehretsman likes better than the sound of a basketball hitting
“I think we all have a responsibility to do something for others, and I choose to do that through basketball,” he says.
Ehretsman, a commercial real estate professional with the Chartwell Group in Cleveland, has coached talented basketball players—many from underprivileged backgrounds—for more than 20 years.
Among them have been 22 Amateur Athletic Union All-American players, three NBA players, two NFL players, and four of the last six high school standouts to be named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball.
But Ehretsman does much more than coach. Besides founding an AAU team called the Ohio Stars, he’s contributed more than $250,000 of his own money to support his teams and players, and has helped his players obtain more than $10 million in college scholarships.
Most of his players come from the inner city, many from single-parent homes. As a result, Ehretsman tries to be a strong role model, on the court and off.
“On long road trips we spend a lot of time talking about what it takes to succeed in school and in business,” says Ehretsman. “I always tell them life is a lot like basketball—you don’t get good results without hard work.”
Ehretsman’s teams do get good results. In 2001, the Stars made the Final Four at the Junior Olympics, and the team has been in the championships of the prestigious Solon Tournament, a national tourney near Cleveland, four of the last eight years—more than any other AAU team.
But more important than developing outstanding teams is Ehretsman’s commitment to developing outstanding individuals, says Gary Waters, head basketball coach at Rutgers University. “What’s unique about Hal is he does the right things and doesn’t expect anything back for it,” says Waters.
Although some of Ehretsman’s players go on to the NBA, he’s just as proud of those who don’t—young men such as Adrian Hills, a young man whose basketball career ended after junior college and who is now a firefighter.
“After 9/11, we know who the real heroes in life are, and I recently told Adrian he’s one of my heroes,” says Ehretsman. “Every time that fire bell rings, he’s putting his life on the line.”
Neither Ehretsman nor his assistant coaches are paid for their time, which is considerable. In 2001 alone, he traveled more than 20,000 miles and put in more than 1,300 hours on the court or handling chores like lining up equipment and making arrangements for out-of-town games.
“We all know that real estate is a 24/7 job,” says Spencer Pisczak, senior vice president of Cleveland’s Duke Realty and a good friend who has coached with Ehretsman. “Still, Hal has figured out a way to get more done for those young men and for the community than anyone I know.”
Ehretsman remains involved in the lives of his players even after they’ve graduated from his team. He’s especially close to Ruben Patterson, who, as a teenager, lived with Ehretsman’s family and was raised by Ehretsman after Patterson’s mother died. Today, at 27, Patterson plays for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.
“He’s always in my corner, keeping my spirits up,” says Patterson, who asked Ehretsman to be best man at his wedding. “If I have a problem, I talk to my wife first. Then I call Hal.”
Ehretsman’s coaching career has included challenges—athletic and personal. In 2001, one of the team’s coaches died of cancer at age 54. Then Ehretsman’s son, Steve, had his legs crushed in an auto accident and had to undergo 17 surgeries and two amputations.
While Ehretsman took two months off to see to his son’s care, his team continued to practice, played with extra determination for their absent coach, and won eight games in a row, to reach the National AAU Final Four.
“Out of tragedy and hurt, great things can happen. The way the team came together was something absolutely special to behold,” he remembers.
Some of Ehretsman’s players have also faced challenges off the court, and he has been there to help them. When one player ran afoul of the law, Ehretsman arranged for house arrest in his own home so the player wouldn’t have to go to jail.
Yet another player was stabbed when he attempted to break up a dispute at a college party. The player was airlifted to a trauma center while Ehretsman helped arrange for his care. Today, the player is recovered and ready to win again.
“Our players are winners no matter what happens,” says Ehretsman.
The same could certainly be said of Hal Ehretsman.
How to contact Hal Ehretsman
RE/MAX Premiere Properties Commercial Division
30559 Pinetree Road, Suite 206
Pepper Pike, OH 44124
Ohio Stars AAU Basketball
2291 Delaware Drive
Cleveland, OH 44106