ASHLAND, Ky. – One of Ashland’s greatest athletes from the early 1960s has died.
Wilson Barrow, a hard-throwing pitcher and sharpshooting basketball player who bridged Booker T. Washington and Ashland High School, died at his home Thursday.
Barrow played basketball for BTW prior to the black school closing after 1961. He made the 1962 Ashland Tomcat varsity basketball team as a sophomore, which was rare in those days, and had several big games. The first black player in school history played half a season before being dismissed for unsatisfactory grades.
He played in Ashland’s inaugural Little League season in 1955 and could make the mitt pop with the best of them. As he grew older, Barrow’s fastball was compared to how left-handed fireballers Bill Lynch and Don Gullett threw later in the decade.
Most believed Barrow, who also played American Legion baseball in Ashland, had a fastball that could have taken him into pro baseball. But it never happened. He made a home in Ashland where he worked and raised a family.
Barrow, who was also an outstanding hitter, was part of a 10-man class that was to be inducted into the Ashland CP-1 Baseball Hall of Fame last summer but the event was postponed until August 2021 because of COVID-19. The ceremony will include a posthumous honor for Barrow who will be included with his class on the plaque behind the press box in Central Park.
“I’m glad I got to talk to him and congratulate him on the CP-1 Hall of Fame,” said Tobey Tolbert, a 2019 inductee into the Ashland HOF. “He was equally good in baseball and basketball. He could step across halfcourt and make it. He’d have torn up the 3-point line.”
Tolbert posted Barrow’s death on Facebook and several commented on his passing, speaking kindly of him and speaking of his athletic prowess.
Barrow was described as “always upbeat and happy” while working for Ashland Oil, said David Cox in a Facebook post. “Love to sit behind the backstop and watch him pitch. Played a little basketball with him too. He could really move well, especially for a big man. Probably the best athlete I’ve seen here in Ashland.”
Brothers Bill and Bob Lynch, who were instrumental in guiding the Ashland Tomcats to three consecutive state high school baseball championships in the 1960s, remember watching Barrow on the mound. They said it was an ear-opening experience to hear the mitt pop when he was warming up.
“I don’t remember him on the mound as much as I remember him throwing on the sidelines,” Bob Lynch said. “John Oliverio, who was the Pittsburgh (Pirates) scout, had him throwing and encouraged him to go to the tryout camps. Wilson looked like a great athlete.”
Bill Lynch said, “He was the kind of player that you stopped what you were doing to go watch him. Wilson had perfect technique in all the sports. It was natural. No one taught him how to do it.”
Barrow played for BTW from 1959 to 1961 before the school closed for good in 1962 when he was a sophomore. The Tomcats were coming off a state championship season in 1961 under coach Bob Wright. Barrow made the 61-62 team that included All-Stater Larry Conley, who had led the Tomcats to the state title as a junior. Barrow averaged 9.8 points per game in 14 games, but poor grades forced him to quit the team in January, Tolbert said.
He scored 28 against Olive Hill and had 23 against Dixie Heights in the championship game of the Ashland Invitational Tournament. He also scored 19 against Newport. The Tomcats finished 32-6 and lost in the state championship game to St. Xavier, 62-58.
When he was at Booker T. Washington, Barrow played as a seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grader. His freshman season he averaged 18.7 points per game and made the all-district and all-Eastern Kentucky Conference tournament teams. He scored a high of 34 against Carter City and had 27-point games against Greenup and Blaine.
“When we played at Booker T. or in the park, everybody wanted to be on Wilson’s team,” Tolbert said.