Frank Sloan was one of the rare breed of high school coaches in northeastern Kentucky history.
He’s actually legendary, which makes it fitting that he will be recognized with the Distinguished Tomcat Award before Friday’s game between Ashland and Lawrence County in the 65th annual Ashland Invitational Tournament.
Sloan was a head coach who guided the Ashland Tomcats (and Kittens) to regional championships in three sports — baseball, girls’ basketball and soccer — during a career that spanned more than three decades.
He coached something — and sometimes a couple of somethings — for 32 consecutive years from 1973-2005.
Few can say they coached 32 years.
Fewer can say they have regional titles in three sports.
Sloan coached some of Ashland’s greatest athletes, players like Drew Hall, Daniel Smith and Jody Hamilton in baseball, Audrey Arthur in girls’ basketball and Stuart Smith and Clayton Hill in soccer, to name but a few.
“Ashland always had good kids,” he said. “It makes it easier to coach in a place like that.”
Sloan didn’t mind the pressures that came along with being the Tomcat coach. “I’d rather coach at a place where everybody wanted to beat you. That was Ashland.”
Sloan said he’ll never forget his days of coaching Ashland sports. His journey started in 1973 when Rex Miller called and told him about an opening to teach German. Sloan’s plan was being a graduate assistant coach for Morehead State soccer, where he had been a player for the Eagles.
“I was interviewed on a Friday and teaching by Tuesday,” he said. “What a better place to be than Ashland? They were strong athletically and academically.”
Sloan said when he was a freshman in high school his goal was to become a coach and teacher. He realized that dream right out of college.
It wasn’t long until he was coaching at Ashland, going to Putnam Junior High School to coach football and basketball.
Sloan, who was inducted into the CP-1 Baseball Hall of Fame last summer, took over the Tomcats’ high school baseball program in 1976 and inherited some outstanding players, including Hamilton, Mark Moore, Donnie Allen, Jon Hart, Scott Crank, Kevin Gothard, Steve Rolen, Daniel Smith, Cabot Keesey, Hall and many others.
Sloan was an outstanding high school catcher in New Jersey so he knew a little something about the game. The players took to his disciplined style but he was always quick to give credit where credit is due.
“Seventy-five percent of being an effective coach is having effective players,” he said. “The other 25 percent is discipline.”
Sloan never bought into the 40-game high school seasons that were starting toward the end of his baseball coaching career. He always wanted more time on the practice field.
“When do those teams practice?” he asked. “That’s when you work on things that aren’t working. I never understood the 35- and 40-game seasons. Practice is just as important as games. Plus, how many teams have enough pitching for that kind of season? Not very many.”
Sloan, 68, was always respected by players and opposing teams for his knowledge of whatever sport he was coaching. He won numerous Coach of the Year awards, including a couple in baseball from the days of the Ohio-Kentucky Athletic Conference. He was All-Area Coach of the Year several times in soccer, including when leading the Tomcats to their only Final Four appearance in that sport.
Sloan’s mother and father moved to Ashland during his sophomore year at Morehead. It became home to him and them.
Sloan’s father was in the service and the family moved from place to place. They were stationed in Germany for eight years which is where Frank learned the language. His mother was his biggest fan, going anywhere the Tomcats went and cheering for her son. She was never shy about offering her opinions either.
“Mom was pretty outspoken,” he said.
Sloan was in the classroom for 10 years and then became an assistant principal under Herb Conley, who he considered a role model both in coaching and administrative work, at Verity Middle School (now Ashland Middle School). Conley and Sloan together returned Verity into a disciplined school with some tough love. “We did a lot of paddling,” Sloan said. “Herb was great. He did an amazing job at Verity.”
Sloan’s success as Ashland’s boys soccer coach, besides the Final Four appearance, included coaching Hill, who went on to a scholarship at UK and the year Smith set a state scoring record. He also coached two of his sons, Brandon and Jordan, who were both accomplished All-Area players. Brandon was even named the All-Area Soccer Player of the Year. Jordan was an All-Area soccer player and also kicked for the football team where he made honorable mention All-Area. Frank’s youngest son, Christian, was a swimmer for the Tomcats.
“They were all good athletes, which made it easier for me,” he said. “I’m proud of all three of them.”
Sloan has been retired for several years and many asked him about his coaching records and success. He decided to do a little research in the Boyd County Public Library and was admittedly astounded at the body of work.
“It’s not something you think about at the time it’s happening,” he said.
But it was never about the records for Sloan. It was always about the kids and it was about winning, which he did in every sport he guided.
Frank met Cheri Hambrick in Ashland and they married in 1977. Cheri, 62, retired from Crabbe Elementary after 20 years as an instructional assistant in 2013. Their oldest son, Brandon, died unexpectedly last December.
Past Distinguished Tomcat honorees
2001-Ralph Felty, All-State football player in 1937 for the Tomcats who went on to play in the Rose Bowl for Duke.
2002-Charlie Reliford, major league baseball umpire who is still regarded as the best “rules man” in the game.
2003-Brandon Webb, major league baseball pitcher and a Cy Young Award winner for goodness sake!
2004-Bob Wright and the Lynch family, a state championship coach of the famed ’61 Tomcats and a family whose talent – and class – was unmatched in Ashland sports. Billy and Bobby Lynch are two of the greatest athletes to ever wear maroon and white.
2005-Salyers family, Greg, Phil and Bryan, all great basketball players and great people who loved their Tomcats.
2006-Conley family, George, Larry, Joe and Linda. Some of the best of the best be it coaching or playing.
2007-Jerry Henderson, one of the greatest all-around athletes in Tomcat history and one of the greatest gentlemen in Ashland history.
2008-Harold Cole, outstanding basketball coach who knew how to win.
2009-Dr. Garner Robinson and David Green, who helped Ashland become the state’s first school with certified trainers.
2010-Dr. Loren Ledford, a diehard Tomcat who starred in basketball and was later a passionate supporter and team doctor.
2011-David Payne, Mr. Tomcat. Need more be said? Dirk Payne did more for the Tomcats than anybody on this list, period.
2012-Dicky Martin, The Voice. He is a strong part of the tradition and will fight you if you say anything bad about a Tomcat. He can say it, because he’s family. But don’t you try it around him.
2013-Mike Johnson, football and baseball player for the Tomcats who gave much back to Ashland’s youth as a baseball coach.
2014-Herb Alban, a 60-year Tomcat fan who has seen a lot during his 98 years. An amazing man whose life could be a movie.
2015-Steve Gilmore, whose lifetime has revolved around the Tomcats as a coach, teacher, administrator, superintendent and now huge fan as he works as mayor of the city.
2016-Herb Conley, an all-sport athlete and a football coach whose legacy is unmatched. Anybody else have a statue?
2017-Mark Maynard, sports historian and former sports editor and editor of The Daily Independent who has written eight books .
2018-Vic Marsh, the all-time winningest coach in Ashland Tomcat football history. He led the Tomcats to the 1990 state championship.
Managing editor of Kentucky Today, the digital newspaper of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, since July 2017. Worked 42 years for The Daily Independent in Ashland, Kentucky, the last 12 as managing editor and editor and the previous 30 before that in the sports department, including 17 years as sports editor. I have been in the business since 1975 with more than 75 writing awards from the Kentucky Press Association. I have also have written eight books, used to run fast but now look more like I have a piano on my back. President of Amy For Africa, a faith-based Christian ministry serving Uganda. I'm a husband to Beth and father to Stephen and Sally, grandfather to Brooks and human to Opie!