Remembering former Tomcat standouts Darryle Kouns and Joe Conley

Two former Ashland Tomcat basketball and baseball standouts, one from the 1950s and another from the 1960s, passed away recently.

Col. (retired) Darryle “Sam” Kouns, who went on to be a star player at West Point Academy for two years and later served as an assistant coach under Bobby Knight, graduated from Ashland High School in 1954. He was part of a third-place finishing Tomcat basketball team in the Sweet Sixteen.

Kouns averaged 8.6 points per game on an Ashland team that included sharpshooter Bill Gray and Jerry Henderson, a duo who did most of the scoring. Kouns matched his career high of 19 points in the consolation win over Adair County in the Sweet Sixteen.

He was also a key player in one of the most unusual games of the year against Olive Hill. Coach Jack Fultz decided the Comets would hold the ball on the high-scoring Tomcats, who managed to hold on and win 25-17. Kouns and Bill Hopkins each scored seven in the unusual victory.

Kouns went to Georgia Tech out of high school and played his freshman season before gaining an appointment to West Point because of his athletic accomplishments. His strong play in basketball and baseball – and later as an assistant basketball coach – earned him a nomination to the Army Sports Hall of Fame.

Kouns played for the Black Knights in the 1957-58 and 1958-59 seasons, averaging 21.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He scored 1,067 points in his West Point career that covered 49 games.

Darryle Kouns, left, with Mark Maynard in February 2022 at a throwback game at the old gymnasium on Lexington Avenue in Ashland.

His best work for the Army came on the battlefields. Kouns served 29 years in the U.S. Army and spent three tours in Vietnam: The first as a company commander of an engineer company. He participated in ground combat patrols, earning a Bronze Star, as well as completing enough aerial work to earn four Air Medals. In 1983, he took part in the invasion of Grenada.

He was selected for the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame Class of 2020. 

Kouns, who was an Elks Sports Day honoree in 1998, was in Ashland last February when a game was played in the Ashland high school gym on Lexington Avenue. Kouns died March 3, 2023. He was 86. His funeral will be Thursday at Steens Funeral Home in Ashland.

Conley was 1,000-point scorer in basketball, member of 3 baseball state champions

Joe Conley, 72, starred in basketball for the Tomcats from 1966-68, scoring 1,007 points in his three-year basketball career that included being a member of 16th Region championship team as a sophomore. He was a key figure on Ashland’s 1967 and 1968 teams that fell to strong Russell teams in the regional finals each year. Conley scored 29 against Russell in the 1968 regional final, a hard-fought 80-75 loss. He was honorable mention All-State in both his junior and senior seasons, teaming in the backcourt with Bobby Lynch.

Conley was also one of only four players on all three state championship baseball teams from 1966 to 1968. Conley made the All-State Tournament team as a senior. He was inducted into the CP-1 Hall of Fame in 2017.

Joe Conley, left, and Charlie Reliford at the CP-1 Hall of Fame ceremonies in 2015 when Reliford was inducted in the first class. Conley was inducted in 2017

He made a game-saving catch in left field during the championship game in 1968 against Southern. Bobby Lynch was pitching and he stepped off the mound and waved Conley back four or five steps. Lynch says it had to be divine intervention because “I never did that in any other game that I can remember.” The move proved prophetic as the next batter drilled a long flyball that Conley raced to catch, tracking it down while sno-coning the ball for the key out. Conley needed every one of those four extra steps to pull off the miraculous catch that helped give the Tomcats their third state championship in a row, a 1-0, 10 inning win over Southern.

Conley umpired minor league professional baseball and was an umpire in high school and a referee in basketball and volleyball. He loved being involved in sports of any kind from player to official.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s