By George, this Sports Day will be special to me for more than the obvious

By George, this Sports Day will be special to me for more than the obvious

For as long as anybody can remember, George Stout has been the chairman of the Elks Sports Day committee.

This year, the 44th in the annual summer event, will be his last. I’ve worked alongside George for probably three decades of his planning Sports Day weekends and that makes me being the honoree for the Elks Sports Day on June 16 all the more special. I’m still not convinced that my photograph belongs on that wall of greatness in the Elks Lodge.

Flipping through pages of a scrapbook recognizing the first 16 Sports Day honorees made me realize even more that I’m in elite company. All-Americans, an Olympian, football and basketball greats and coaching legends, a marketing genius, community leaders who impacted hundreds, a Rose Bowl participant, a major league umpire who was a part of two World Series are only a few of the past honorees.

I’m honestly not sure how my photo fits up there with such legendary people. And I’ll tell you another one that deserves a spot somewhere: George Stout. Nobody – and I mean nobody- has done more for this program than him. Anybody who has played a part in Sports Day understands how much George means to the program. He’s a do-it-all machine, organizing everything down to the smallest detail, down to what the person who introduces the honoree is supposed to say word for word. Let me just say this and the Elks know it’s true: Without George Stout’s passion for this program, it would be kaput by now. He has nearly single-handedly kept it alive and we should all be thankful.

George has been around the block. He was witness to the first game ever played in Putnam Stadium and then saw the last one before the walls came down to make way for the “new” Putnam Stadium. He has been a friend to this community longer than I’ve been alive and still drives meals to shut-ins during the club’s Thanksgiving and Christmas feeds.

George deserves a good sendoff. It would be fitting to set the attendance record on his last night as chairman. The program will be a one-day affair with the reception and banquet on the same night. Charlie Reliford, one of the best storytellers you will ever hear and a former Sports Day honoree, is the speaker. If you’ve never heard Charlie speak, you are in for a treat. If you have heard him, you know he’s worth the price of the ticket. Reception food, Elks famous baked steak and Charlie Reliford speaking for $30? It’s worth the price.

I’m not asking for me, although I’d love to see players and coaches I’ve covered through the years in attendance along with my friends and family, but let’s make the last Sports Day that George will be the man a night he will never forget too. I know it will be one that I’ll never forget.

Like George, I was no athlete. I was only a witness to the greatness that has come from the Ashland area. Of the previous 43 honorees, I’ve covered nearly all of them one way or the other and about 27 of them directly. Many of them I didn’t see compete as athletes, but I’ve written about them as part of the glorious history of this area. What an honor that was for me to tell the stories of the great individuals on the wall.

Do I belong up there? I’m not sure but the recognition, while maybe not deserved in my eyes, is humbly appreciated.

We’ll have to get about 250 there for the record. Can we do it Ashland?

June 1 deadline for Putnam Stadium donor wall, commemorative bricks

June 1 deadline for Putnam Stadium donor wall, commemorative bricks

ASHLAND, Ky. – Ashland Tomcat fans who want to have a Donor Wall inscription or a commemorative brick at Putnam Stadium before the start of the 2018 football season have about a month to decide. The deadline to place an order is June 1.

Donor Wall inscriptions come at four levels with costs between $500 and $10,000. Here are the categories:

-Tomcat Touchdown Club: $10,000 or more

-Tomcat Maroon and White Club: $5,000-$9,999

-Tomcat Paws Club: $1,000-$4,999

-Tomcat Pride Club: $500-$999

The commemorative bricks and Donor Wall inscriptions display family names, “In Honor” of or “In Memory” of for family members or friends, teachers, players, band members, cheerleaders, fans, classes, etc.

For a donation of $100 or $175 you can have a brick placed in the Donor’s Corner with an inscription that you choose (name or family name, etc.).

4×8 brick:  $100 (3 lines/20 characters each line (this includes spacing and punctuation)

8×8 brick: $175 (6 lines/20 characters each line (this includes spacing and punctuation)

Complete the order form with inscription and contact information, then send the form and check to: The Putnam Stadium Restoration Foundation P.O. Box 3000 Ashland, KY 41105-3000 or deliver to Donna Childers Suttle at the South Ashland Greenhouse, just a block from Putnam Stadium.

Forms can be found on the stadium website at

Contributions to the Putnam Stadium Restoration Foundation are deemed charitable under section 170 (b) (1) (A) (vi) of the Internal Revenue code as an organization described in Section 501 (c) 3.  U.S. Federal Tax ID 26-1674277.  Please consult your accountant for any clarifications.


‘Is Mickey Mantle bigger than God?’

‘Is Mickey Mantle bigger than God?’

One great thing about my job of 42 years at The Daily Independent was the chance encounters with the celebrity world.

For me, it was the sports celebrity world.

The list goes on and on of sports heroes that I’ve been able to interview – Muhammad Ali, Pete Rose, and Michael Jordan, to name a few.

And, oh yes, Mickey Mantle.

The story of my five-minute interview with The Mick is much better than the interview itself.

Mantle, the baseball idol of the 1950s and 1960s, is a name that everybody knows.

It was back in 1989, long after Mantle had retired from baseball as one of its all-time home run leaders. The Mick didn’t just hit home runs, he hit them out of sight. His legend was unprecedented.

While browsing through a magazine at work one day, I began reading an article about the Mickey Mantle-Whitey Ford Fantasy Camp in Fort Lauderdale. At the bottom of the article, there was a number to call. It had a 606 area code and a 474 exchange. That said one thing to me — Grayson, Ky.

The curious reporter in me made the call to the number and on the other line was Wanda Greer, who was the camp director. Dave Carter, who produced the “Ashland’s Field of Dreams” documentary, was actually the one who had a hand in starting the fantasy camp many years ago.

I set up an interview with Wanda and she asked if I’d like to speak with Whitey and Mickey.

Well, uh, absolutely, I told her.

So the wheels were put in motion. She actually gave me Ford’s number and I called him about a day later. We spoke for 15 of 20 minutes about the camp, about Mickey and about Wanda. It was a good interview but The Mick would be what could turn the article from good to great, at least in my estimation.

Wanda said Mickey would be a little harder. She wasn’t going to share his number, which was understandable. And, besides that, Mickey was always on the go, flying here and there, doing autograph signings or whatever. He was Mickey Mantle and that was job enough.

Wanda took my home phone number – these were the days before cell phones — and told me when Mickey was available she’d give me a call.

That was good enough for me. So I waited.

One Sunday night, my wife, 5-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter and I were at church. My wife wasn’t feeling well, so she told me she was taking the kids and going home. We’d driven separately, so that would be fine.

On the way home from church, my wife drove by the Oakview Elementary playground and Stephen, being a 5-year-old, begged her to stop.

“No,” she said, “if we were anywhere right now, it would be in church. The only reason we’re going home is because Mommy doesn’t feel good.”

So that was that. Stephen wasn’t happy about it but understood as much as 5-year-olds understand these things.

Well, lo and behold, when Beth arrived home she got a phone call and Wanda Greer was on the other end. She asked for me and Beth told her I was at church. She told Beth that if there was any way possible, could she have me at the phone in 15 minutes because Mickey Mantle was going to be calling.

Mickey Mantle!

My wife knew I was working on the story and didn’t want me to miss the opportunity. She hurried back to church, with Stephen and Sally in tow, and told someone in the back of the church, in our sound room, to let me know.

He came down the side aisle – I was sitting near the front – and told me. I jumped up and walked out of church and headed for home, excited about the opportunity that awaited.

In the other car, Beth was posed with an interesting question by our 5-year-old: “Mom,” he asked, “Is Mickey Mantle bigger than God?”

Wow! What a zinger. Always quick on her feet, Beth said, “Well, no, but this is different. It’s Daddy’s job. That’s why we got him out of church.”

It turned out, that wouldn’t be when the interview with The Mick happened. Mantle was at an airport and didn’t have time to make the call. Wanda called me and apologized and promised that Mantle would call me at work on Saturday.

That was fine with me. I was working on a Saturday morning – the paper was afternoon back then – with the late Tony Curnutte. Nobody was a bigger baseball fan than Tony. When I told him The Mick was calling today, he was giddy.

I told him that we needed to make sure one of us was always near the phone because I didn’t know when the call would happen. Well, naturally, The Mick called when we were both away from the desk.

Our switchboard operator at the time didn’t look for me because she thought it was a bogus call.

“Somebody saying he was Mickey Mantle called but I knew it couldn’t be him,” she said. “So I hung up on him.”

“What?” I screamed. “That was Mickey Mantle!”

I quickly called Wanda back and told her what had happened. She didn’t know if The Mick would call back but told me to sit right by my desk. I’m sure she had to do some explaining but whatever she said worked.

I told Tony what was happening. He begged me to let him answer the phone so he could say he talked to Mickey Mantle. I agreed.

Ringggggggggg! Ringggggggggg!

Tony, in his most proper and professional voice, cleared his throat and then answered: “Sports, Tony Curnutte.”

The countenance on his face dropped immediately. In subdued tones he said “Yes, uh, I guess. Hang on a minute.”

“It’s not The Mick it’s The Rick,” he said. Rick Greene, a sportswriter for us at the time, wanted to know if I wanted him to cover an American Legion game in the park that afternoon.

“Get him off the phone!” I said.

We both sat quietly. Tony stared at the phone, poised like a cat getting ready to pounce on a mouse.

Ringgggggg! Ringggggggggg!

Tony answered again in professional voice. “Just a minute,” he said firm and proper. This time it was The Mick. He transferred the call to me and on the other line was none other than Mickey Mantle.

The first thing he said to me, in his thick Oklahoma drawl, was: “You sure are a hard guy to get a hold of.”

We both laughed. I was as professional as I could be and we had a brief interview that was cut off when I asked him about Pete Rose and gambling.

“I’m not here to talk about that,” he said.

Good enough. I mean, it was Mickey Mantle.

I hung up the phone and the journey had ended. After plugging in Mantle’s quotes in the story, the job was done. The feature ran the following day and Wanda, being so classy, was kind enough to get me an autographed Mickey Mantle baseball. It had “To Mark, best wishes, Mickey Mantle” on it and it still sits today on my mantle at home.

Autographed baseballs that are personalized are worth less on the open market than those that just have the name. But I liked that it was personalized and wouldn’t sell it anyway.

To me, it serves as a reminder of a story worth telling.

Hometown hero: Ashland has a Host with the most

Hometown hero: Ashland has a Host with the most

Jim Host, George Rupert and Jack Ditty at the Highlands Museum’s Hometown Sports Banquet.

ASHLAND, Ky. – Jim Host, the very definition of an entrepreneur, was the first person in his huge family to graduate from college.

His impact on the sports marketing and business world are immeasurable. Host isn’t just a giant in the industry, he practically created it. He’s the King Kong of that world. It’s truly not that much of a stretch to say the March Madness that we all enjoy so much is fruit from Host’s tree as is the familiar phrase “Final Four.”

Jim Host is from Ashland and darn proud of it. The man who grew up on Elm Street in South Ashland made that abundantly clear on Friday night during the Highlands Museum’s Hometown Sports banquet.

Living history was on display with the likes of basketball greats King Kelly Coleman and J.R. VanHoose, Mr. Basketballs about 40 years apart, and high school football coaching great Ivan McGlone in the house along with Host and a host of others.

Jim Host isn’t just proud to be from Ashland, he says it was this little town on the Ohio River that helped him succeed in life. Because of the nudges he received from what he considers his “hometown,” despite only living here for eight years, Host became only the second scholarship baseball player in University of Kentucky history and springboarded from there to become a giant in the industry with more Hall of Fame rings than a team of New York Yankees.

He hasn’t forgotten how Marvin Hall took him under his wing and coached him, the impact of the legendary Ernie Chattin and Bo McMillen, who made sure kids had bats and balls to play with in Central Park before organized baseball came to our city in the mid-1950s, and the tenacity and no fear attitude that he learned from being around the coaching of George Conley.

Make no mistake, Ashland has a friend in Jim Host.

It’s not just lip service either. He’s always helped me with projects and been supportive of any effort that I’ve made to enhance sports history in northeastern Kentucky.

Ashland also has always had a friend in Dr. Jack Ditty, who joined me on the platform along with one of Ashland’s great businessmen and athletes George Rupert, who we learned was instrumental in being the one to give Dr. Ditty the nudge he needed. It was a bit humbling to stand up there with those three great men who have done so much in their lives with Ashland at the root.

Jack talked about Donald Putnam and Sam Mansbach, businessmen who were doers in Ashland and the reason why one of our town jewels – the Ashland Area YMCA – is here today. Few cities this size have a YMCA quite like Ashland.

The momentum that Ashland is currently feeling with the news of Braidy Industries arrival has revived us. Hope is no longer in the rearview mirror. Ashland has a proud past and we should look back with much pride, but let’s not discount the future at our fingertips. Braidy not only brings in jobs but it brings in bright people with big, new ideas that could reshape this area for years to come. A town has no better resource than its positive thinking people and we may get a bunch of them with Braidy. We have them here already rolling up their sleeves (think Build Ashland) and leading by example.

Looking around the fourth floor of the museum, where the banquet took place, put you in an Ashland past mode. Many of us “old Ashlanders” remember the museum as Parson’s Department Store. It was on the mezzanine in Parson’s where I learned of a love for books. When my mother shopped in Parson’s I didn’t go to the toys, I went to the books – sports books (of course). I looked through dozens of them as she shopped and almost always came away with one to read. That put me in a world of sports history that I’ve never stopped loving.

You may get that same feeling of history if you go into the old Parson’s building now that has transformed into an amazing museum. The sports exhibit that is being showcased for the next few weeks will not disappoint. Kudos to progressive thinking Carol Allen and her capable staff that includes Matt Potter and curator Heather Akers. I’ve worked with all three of them in different areas at the museum and they should all be commended.

Carol’s leadership at the museum has given Ashland another bright light for the future as we navigate toward a new beginning. It sure is a lot easier to follow the path with a spotlight in front of you.


Bill Lynch first of ‘Dynasty’ Tomcats in KHSAA Hall of Fame

Bill Lynch first of ‘Dynasty’ Tomcats in KHSAA Hall of Fame

Bill Lynch was 27-2 in three seasons with the Tomcats, including 11-0 with a 0.31 ERA as a senior.

ASHLAND, Ky. – More than 50 years since winning the first of three consecutive state high school baseball championships from 1966 to 1968 – a feat equaled only one other time in Kentucky high school history – the first member of the Ashland Tomcats dynasty era is being inducted into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

Billy Lynch, who as a senior left-handed pitcher in 1966 orchestrated maybe the best individual season in Kentucky baseball history, is one of 13 members in the Class of 2018 that will be inducted Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.

Here are Lynch’s numbers his senior year when Ashland was 25-0 and state champion:

-11-0 record

-0.31 earned run average

-Eight complete games out of 10 starts

-150 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings

-Averaged 15 strikeouts per game

-Allowed only 17 hits

-Allowed only 3 earned runs

Those are Hall of Fame numbers in anybody’s book and that’s just his senior season, which also included a .386 batting average. During his Tomcat career, he carved out a 27-2 record and as a junior was on a team that lost only once, in the state semifinals. That year he was 8-1 with a .679 batting average (you read that correctly; during one stretch he had a hit in 14 consecutive at-bats).

Ashland was 42-1 during his junior and senior seasons combined.

There are 469 members in the KHSAA Hall of Fame, including this year’s class, so saying Billy Lynch’s induction is overdue is obvious.

Hopefully, Billy Lynch isn’t the last member of the Tomcat dynasty era to make the hallowed halls. On deck should be Billy’s little brother Bob, who also went 27-2 in his Tomcat career and started on all three state championship teams and was the winning pitcher in the state finals during two of those seasons.

No question, Bob Lynch belongs, too. Very few players in state baseball history were starters on three state championship teams. Only the Tomcats and Pleasure Ridge Park (1994-96), whose coach Bill Miller is a member of this year’s class, achieved the feat.

The Lynch brothers, who were also both dominant basketball players for the Tomcats, were nominated through a herculean effort from teammate John Mullins, who must have contacted more than 100 people to submit forms. Mullins was relentless, just like he was as a player, to give his Tomcat teammates an opportunity to at least get on the ballot.

Ferrell Wellman, who spoke during the Elks Sports Day when Bill Lynch was honored two years ago, also shook the rafters for his friend to be among those included in the KHSAA Hall of Fame.

Hopefully, next year, Bob Lynch can join his older brother in the KHSAA Hall of Fame. These two great players certainly weren’t the only reasons why the Tomcats dominated the state to the tune of 109-11 from 1965-1969. There were other great pitchers and hitters who simply knew how to play the game of baseball.

I’m not sure northeastern Kentucky, or even the state of Kentucky for that matter, will see a program so dominant in a five-year period. The ’65 team made it to the semifinals before suffering a one-run loss on a throwing error and the ’69 team lost 1-0 in the championship game. That’s how close Ashland was to winning five state titles in a row.

Congratulations to Bill Lynch on being the first of hopefully several from the Tomcat dynasty era to receive some overdue state recognition.







AL EAST (Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays)

AL CENTRAL (Indians, Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Royals)

AL WEST (Astros, Angels, Mariners, Rangers, A’s)

NL EAST (Nationals, Mets, Braves, Phillies, Marlins)

NL CENTRAL (Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Pirates)

NL WEST (Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants, Padres)


Red Sox over Angels


Astros over Red Sox

Yankees over Indians


Astros over Yankees


Diamondbacks over Mets


Nationals over Diamondbacks

Cubs over Dodgers


Cubs over Nationals


Astros over Cubs



NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals

NL CY YOUNG: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

AL CY YOUNG: Chris Sale, Red Sox

AL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees


14 more will be added to Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame this summer

14 more will be added to Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame this summer

ASHLAND  Ky. – The 14-member class of the fourth Ashland CP-1 Baseball Hall of Fame includes six more members from the Ashland Tomcat “Dynasty Era” of 1965-1969 and other players and coaches who spanned four decades in Central Park.

Induction day will be Aug. 18 at 1 p.m. in the Central Park.

Don Lentz, Fred Leibee, John Sieweke, Dave Staten, Larry Stevens and Mike Tackett were members of state championship teams during the stretch when the Tomcats won three titles in a row from 1966-68.

Players from the 1950s and early 1960s era include Larry Castle, David Patton, H.F. Dixon and Ernie Daniels.

Players from the late 1970s era are Greg Swift and Donnie Allen while Ashland Post 76 American Legion co-managers Rick Reeves and the late Frank Wagner, who coached together for nearly 20 years, are also among the 2018 class.

“Just like our previous classes, there are some heavyweight players in this one,” said CP-1 Baseball HOF Chairman Mark Maynard. “We’ve got several players who were members of state championship high school teams with the Tomcats and also played on state championship Little League teams in Ashland. It’s a massive amount of talent. I’d take these guys in their primes and take on anybody. We have a little bit of everything, including great coaching and some of the best clutch hitters in CP-1 history.”

The 2018 class is the biggest in the four years and brings the total enshrined to 49.

Previous CP-1 Hall of Fame classes:

2017 (13): J.D. Browne, Bo Carter, Joe Conley, Tim Huff, Mike Smith, Steve Hemlepp, John Mullins, Kevin Gothard, Mike Gothard, Dale Griffith, Nard Pergrem, Jim Speaks, John Thomas.

2016 (10): Bob Lynch, Steve Rolen, “Big” Ed Hughes, Dale Griffith, Wayne Workman, Bill Workman, Chuck Dickison, Ellis Childers, Clyde Chinn, Marvin Hall.

2015 (12): Brandon Webb, Don Gullett, Bill Lynch, Drew Hall, Charlie Reliford, Jody Hamilton, Dykes Potter, Squire Potter, Bob Simpson, Reecie Banks, Jim Host, Gene Bennett.