Billy Ray Jennings, point guard on ’53 Tomcats, dies at 86

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Billy Ray Jennings, the point guard on one of Ashland’s greatest teams in the 1950s, died August 14.

Jennings, 86, was a dynamo with the basketball on the 1952-53 Tomcat team that went 28-4 and carried a No. 1 state ranking into the Sweet Sixteen before being stunned by Paducah Tilghman, 46-44, in the opening round.

Billy Ray Jennings

Jennings played on the same team as Tomcat greats Earl “Brother” Adkins, Bob Emrick and Jerry Henderson. He was an all-district, all-region and honorable mention All-State selection as a senior.

Playing for coach George Conley, Jennings was the playmaker and helped set up Adkins for a season where he scored 20.9 points per game. Emrick averaged 14.5 and Jennings followed at 11.3. from Jennings, who scored a team-high 23 in a record-smashing 112-49 victory over Vanceburg in the 16th Region championship game.

The Tomcats were big favorites in the Sweet Sixteen opener, but Paducah slowed the pace and pulled off the upset. Jennings scored 10 in that loss. Ashland went into the state tournament having won 16 of 17 games. They defeated then No. 1 Inez, 70-55, and No. 9 Newport and No. 10 Clark County. The losses were to Inez, then fifth ranked, 77-71, Flaget 59-58 in the Louisville Invitational Tournament and Hindman 57-54.

Billy Ray’s mother, Mildred was the official basketball scorekeeper at the table for Tomcat games for years, sitting alongside Ernie Chattin, the timer.

The 1953 team is regarded by many as one of best in Tomcat history. Jim Host, who was a manager on team and helped with practices for Coach Conley, has long said it is the most talented team ever assembled at Ashland. Adkins went on to play at the University of Kentucky and Emrick and Henderson earned scholarships to Florida.

Jennings played basketball at Ohio Wesleyan but he is best known as a Methodist pastor. He became a Christian and felt a calling to ministry at a revival at his home church, Ashland First Methodist.

He changed his name to Bill in college and seminary at Duke, but his hometown always knew him as Billy Ray or “Squirt.” Jennings was married to Connie Lewis in 1958 and during their honeymoon night he preached at a revival service. Jennings was an ordained Methodist pastor in the Kentucky Conference and served several congregations including as an associate at his home church, First Methodist.

He suffered a stroke in July and that led to his health downfall and eventual death.

A service honoring Jennings will take place at noon on Aug. 28 at Southern Hills United Methodist with visitation from 10 a.m. to noon at the church.

Emotional day for inductees into CP-1 Hall of Fame

ASHLAND, Ky. – Under a God-kissed sky, the sixth class of the CP-1 Ashland Baseball Hall of Fame was inducted Saturday afternoon.

With the gorgeous freshly trimmed diamond at their backs, the class of 10 was enshrined to bring it to 70 since the hall of fame started in 2015. About a half dozen former hall of famers (Drew Hall, Jody Hamilton, Bill Lynch, Bob Lynch, Mike Smith, Dave Staten, Ed Radjunas) joined a nice crowd of about 90 family and friends of the inductees.

They talked about father-and-son moments, lessons learned from coaches and the fun they had playing baseball with teammates. Players and coaches were among the inductees who have waited since learning they were going into the CP-1 Hall of Fame in December 2019. The pandemic postponed last August’s ceremony, so they had to wait an extra year for their time in the sun.

But if they were anxious or nervous, it never showed. Everybody who spoke, including two who talked on behalf of inductees, were succinct and relevant. They had the appreciative crowd eating out of their hands.

There were themes to the group that also included one of the best-known players ever to step foot on the diamond. Wilson Barrow, one of the hardest-throwing pitchers the area has ever known, was taking his place in the hall. He was so excited after learning about the induction, said his nephew Charlie Johnson, who spoke for him. Mr. Barrow passed away in November 2020.

Charlie said he remembered the excitement his uncle showed after receiving a call from Bob Lynch that he was going to be an honoree. “He said, ‘Guess who called? Bob with the Hall of Fame!’ I’ve never seen him so happy.”

The other inductees: Scott Crank, Mike Delaney, Bryan Finkbone, Bill Hammond, French Harmon, Jon Hart, Cabot Keesey, Mark Moore and Mike Tussey.

Delaney’s message was heartfelt and emotional as he spoke about his father, 90-year-old John Delaney who was not only on hand for the ceremony but was on the field later having a catch with his son like they’d done a million times before.

Hart talked about his father, too, who had passed only a couple of months ago. He was able to share with his dad the news that he was going into the Hall of Fame.

Four coaches – Delaney, Hammond, Harmon and Tussey – spoke about experiences with players and sometimes umpires. Harmon talked about the importance of being part of a team and how that team ca become like family. Hammond was known to fight for his players even to the point of almost going to jail after becoming irate with an umpire. Tussey told that story and how he was able to speak with the law enforcement to give him another. They did, Hammond behaved and the Ashland All-Star team won a game in Mt. Sterling.

It was story after story but it always circled back to Central Park’s No. 1 diamond – CP-1.

The inductees shared stories about each other, including Keesey remembering an absolute fit that Finkbone threw on umpire Clyde Chinn in a Little League game on the 22nd Street diamond. Keesey tried the same kind of fit in a Babe Ruth game, slinging his helmet after being called out at the plate by the aforementioned Chinn, who threw him out of the game before Keesey could celebrate going “Finkbone” on him for one second.

Several players were emotional and had to pause lest they broke into tears. It was raw and real. Hammond mentioned how proud his father would have been of him. Grown men showing raw emotions is what makes the CP-1 Hall of Fame ceremony show special.

Six of the inductees played for former Tomcat baseball coach Frank Sloan, who couldn’t attend the ceremony but send a message to the players about how proud he was not only of their ability but their character. Several of them talked about the important role Sloan played in their lives.

Harmon was another influential coach and mentor who turned baseball lessons into life lessons. He taught them what it meant to care for each other. He was a counselor to many and coached some of the greats in the area, including future Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb with the Ashland Athletics.

Tussey coached players on every level and also broadcast baseball games from Central Park. He also put together a powerhouse Stan Musial team made up of college players from throughout the area and Paintsville. They were state champions in 1988 with a 32-7 record.

Moore is the all-time veteran player, compiling 18 seasons overall throughout his career. He was known for being the “Cal Ripken of Ashland, a real ironman who never missed a game in nine seasons,” Tussey said.

Moore told on himself about how he and Keesey made sure Sloan’s torturous practice balls didn’t make it home from Morehead on a bus ride. The hard-shelled balls were like Super Balls, he said, and were hated by the players. When told Sloan may be watching a livestream, he said, “Oh, well, sorry coach! Now you know what happened to those balls.”

Former Hall of Farmer Rick Reeves pinch-hit and spoke for Crank, who is one of Ashland’s greatest all-around athletes. Reeves talked about how Crank could do anything on the baseball field or any other field. “He was just a great athlete, one of the best I’ve ever been around,” he said.

CP-1 Hall of Fame ceremony set for Saturday afternoon

ASHLAND, Ky. – It has been a long wait for the Ashland baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame class of 2020.

Last year’s ceremony was postponed because of COVID-19, but it’s back on for Saturday beside the big diamond at Central Park.

For those wanting to make a weekend of it, the Ashland Tomcats open defense of their 2020 state football championship on Friday against Raceland in Putnam Stadium.

On Saturday at 1 p.m., the inductees will have the stage in a ceremony that begins at 1 p.m. The class has memorable players and incredible coaches who have given much to Ashland baseball.

It promises to be an emotional ceremony for the inductees and their families. Sadly, one of the inductees, Wilson Barrow, passed away last fall. He was considered one of the best athletes to ever play on the park field. His nephew, Charlie Johnson, will represent him.

The 10-member class will bring the total in the CP-1 Hall of Fame to 70.

Here is a look at the inductees:

The sixth class of the CP-1 Ashland Baseball Hall of Fame will be inducted on Saturday in Central Park.

-Wilson Barrow, who played in Ashland’s inaugural Little League season in 1955, could make the mitt pop like few others who ever played in the park. Barrow’s fastball was compared to how Bill Lynch and Don Gullett threw later in the decade.

-Scott Crank was one of Ashland’s best three-sport athletes. He starred in football (quarterback), basketball (point guard) and baseball (shortstop) for the Tomcats in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was a clutch hitter and slick-fielding shortstop for the Tomcats and Post 76.

-Mike Delaney is going in for his longtime coaching role with Post 76, basically keeping the program alive, but he was an outstanding player in his own rights as a middle infielder in the mid-1970s for the Ashland Tomcats and Post 76.

-Bryan Finkbone was the consummate leadoff hitter and the sparkplug for the Tomcats in the mid-1970s. His speed made him a pest for opposing pitchers who had a hard time keeping him off the bases. His all-out style made him a favorite with teammates.

-Bill Hammond has coached at CP-1 for many summers and continues as a co-coach with Delaney for Post 76. He was also a standout pitcher for the Tomcats and Post 76 in the mid-1970s and became an outstanding teacher of the pitching craft.

-French Harmon was a solid contributor as a player for the Tomcats in the late 1970s, but it was his coaching skills that make him a CP-1 Hall of Famer. He was a Tomcat assistant coach led a Connie Mack League resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s and taught baseball and life lessons to his players.

-Jon Hart’s smooth swing made him a feared hitter for the Tomcats, Post 76, Stan Musial and Marshall University. If he didn’t beat you with his bat, he’d do it with the glove. Hart was one of the top all-around players wherever he played in his career.

-Cabot Keesey spanned the late 1970s and early 1980s and was a pure hitter who swung the bat as well as anyone along with being a strong defensive player who played nearly everywhere during his playing career with the Tomcats, Post 76 and Stan Musial.

-Mark Moore played for the Tomcats and Post 76 and then another 10 years on the Stan Musial level, making him one of the all-time veterans of the park. He hit for power and played flawlessly at shortstop, making every team he played for better.

-Mike Tussey, who coached youth league baseball for 22 years and won a state championship in 1988 with the Stan Musial adult league where he won more than 200 games in 10 seasons, was also a cable television broadcaster who was in the booth for countless high school and American Legion games in the 1970s and 1980s.

Busch’s Greene Beans claim elusive AFA Wiffleball crown

ASHLAND, Ky. – Scott Busch and Zach Greene have been playing in the Amy For Africa Wiffleball since before they were teenagers.

They both carried Home Run Derby champion titles but until Saturday had never taken home the big team trophy despite playing nearly every summer since the tournament started in 2013.

Now they own that too.

Busch’s Greene Beans defeated Viller’s Victors, 9-2, in a championship game that lacked some drama – even with one controversial call – but was still sweet for the Beans who jumped ahead 6-0 in the first inning. The four-man team also included Evan Dickison and Cameron Marushi, who may have well been the tournament MVP.

Zach Greene said it was a matter of “getting rid of some dead weight” that was holding down the team. It was a Smooth answer from the veteran player.

Viller’s Victors included Cole Villers and Colin Porter, the dynamic duo for Ashland Tomcat basketball the past two years, and former Tomcat Chase Villers (Cole’s big brother) and Greenup County standout Zane Carter. Viller’s Victors may well have been the most athletic of the 32 teams participating, running down wiffleballs all day long.

Busch’s Greene Beans: Shane Marushi, Evan Dickison, Scott Busch and Zach Greene.

They were told before the first game from tournament organizers they were not allowed to dive for any wiffleballs. “Please don’t take any chance that may injure you,” said organizer Mark Maynard. “We want to keep the reputation of the AFA Wiffleball Tournament unstained. If either of you get hurt playing wiffleball, our name will be mud around Ashland.”

Fortunately, neither was injured although they played 100 percent (what else would you expect?) and celebrated each win like it was a Sweet 16 game.

An estimated 300 home runs were blasted out of the two replica fields – the Fenway Park field and the Camden Yard field – on a perfect day for wiffleball.

Viller’s Victors outlasted the Kona Krushers, 11-8, in the semifinals while Busch’s Green Beans needed a big last inning to defeat the One-Hit Wonders, 10-9.

During the pulsating semifinal game, with a good crowd watching, Cole Villers was heard before batting in the last inning, “I’ve never been more nervous during a sporting event.”

AFA Wiffleball will do that to you.

Busch captured his second AFA Home Run Derby crown, edging Marushi in the championship round by blasting five home runs on six pitches. Marushi had four home runs.

The biggest winner was Amy For Africa, which brought in more than $2,000 in donations from the tournament. PRAISE GOD!!!

Next year’s tournament will be July 30. Please mark your calendars now!

AFA TOURNAMENT AWARDS

ROOKIES OF THE YEAR: (tie) Viller’s Victors, All the King’s Men and Lawrence County Long Knockers. (We hope they all come back next year!)

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: (tie) Shane Marushi, a home run masher who pounded some monster shots. Not even our own Green Monstah could hold him, and teammate Evan Dickison who abused the short right field fence on the Camden Yard field.

ESPN TOP DEFENSIVE PLAY: Rex Trimble, who laid out for a catch for the Big Blue Bombers that had the place buzzing.

BEST PARTICIPATING CHURCH: New Faith Fellowship which sponsored three Muzungu teams.

BEST CROWD: Faith Baptist Church brought about 25 people in matching jerseys to cheer on the Faith Fury.

OLD-TIMERS AWARD: (tie) Greg Jackson of the Jackson Four, Duane Porter of Get A Wiff of This and Rex Trimble of Big Blue Bombers.

ROOKIE PLAYER AWARD: (tie) Brooks Wyatt of Mark’s Mighty Men and Griffin Brammell of Griffin’s Greats

WELP AWARD: (tie) Chase Villers of Viller’s Victors and Syndey Whitt of Get A Wiff of This after taking line shots that left a mark on them.

HUMAN MEGAPHONE AWARD: Chuck Williams, whose voice could be heard over the music blaring across both fields. He was “instructing” New Faith Fellowship teams and others from a comfortable chair on the sidelines. Williams was heard more than seen.