Author: Mark Maynard

Finding a passion watching Tomcat sports

By MARK MAYNARD / Mark My Words

I’m so honored to be this year’s Distinguished Tomcat Award recipient.

Having written about most (all?) of the previous honorees, it’s easy for me to say I’m not worthy! Not trying to be humble, just real. I’d be proud to even be mentioned in the same breath with these greats who all gave so much more than I ever did.

These are awards you never expect to receive so when Ashland AD Mark Swift called me about a month ago to tell me the news, I was floored. “You sure you have the right number?”  I asked. He assured me he did.  I was still floored and even more so when he told me the committee’s vote was unanimous.

Here’s why. Take a look at this list of past 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?

So how in the world does Mark Maynard make that list? It boggles my mind.

No matter if I was writing about the Tomcats or somebody else in the area during my 42 years at The Daily Independent, it was most important for me to be fair. However, I did grow up on Tomcat sports in the 1960s – a golden era in Ashland history. I watched the great baseball champions in Central Park and was faithful to the Friday Night Lights before they ever called it that.

My dad took me to the 1967 state championship football game in Louisville although I was only 10 and didn’t know about the Joe Franklin tragedy until years later. I can remember when those Tomcats would give kids on the field their chinstraps coming off the field. I may or may not have snagged one from John Radjunas, who helped me write Tragedy and Triumph a few years ago.

My dad and I often frequented the Sweet Sixteen when Ashland made the trip, which was often during those days. I died with them in 1969 during that last-second loss to Ohio County in the state semifinals and was stunned whenever they didn’t win the 16th Region. (That loss to Russell in the regional finals in 1972 was especially disturbing).

My love of sports developed through watching the Tomcats.

I’ve written three books that are Tomcat specific – Teamwork (1961 state basketball champions), Tragedy and Triumph (1967 football champions) and Tomcat Dynasty (1965-69 baseball teams, including the state championship 3-peat) – and all of those occurred during the fabulous ’60s.

I owe the Ashland sports tradition a lot for giving me a passion for something that turned into a career.

My first byline was the 1976 Kiwanis Bowl between Coles and Putnam Jr. High and it started one wild ride for me that included three trips to Final Fours, covering the 1990 National League Championship Series and World Series (not to mention the Tomcats football championship that year), interviewing Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan and watching Christian Laetner break everybody’s heart in 1992.

I covered thousands of stories for the ADI, as it was called when I started, and earned respect throughout the area, not just in Ashland, which was important to me. I was so blessed to learn under the best – the late, great Mike Reliford. He was my mentor and taught me how to communicate not only in print, but in person.

He taught me to write from the heart, write what you believe and have a tough skin because “you’re going to need it.”

That “tough skin” may mean not tearing up  Wednesday night before the first game of the Ashland Invitational Tournament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A graduation day like you’ve never seen before

a21

By MARK MAYNARD / Amy For Africa

NJERU, Uganda – In what may have been the grandest kindergarten graduation ever – and that’s not overstating the case by much – the El-Shaddai Primary and Nursery School put on a seven-hour extravaganza Saturday that will be hard to top.

Ten students from the Top Class will move on to P-1 (first grade) in what surely was the most memorable day of their young lives. El-Shaddai, the school located on the grounds of the Lifepoint Church, is sponsored fully through Amy For Africa.

The Christian organization pays students fees, teacher salaries, staff salaries and more. The 4½-year-old ministry’s goal is to reach thousands for Jesus Christ, be it in Uganda or the United States or other parts of the world.

Hundreds came to the graduation celebration from within the small village located on the outskirts of Jinja, one of the largest cities in Uganda. This was the first graduation at El-Shaddai and word had spread that it was going to be big. Mission accomplished.

“That’s what I like about Pastor Cyprian,” said Amy Compston, the face of AFA. “He does things in a big way, just like AFA. I love it.”

Amy was right. It was a big deal and the children were made to feel extra special with so much attention. The day started late because of some heavy overnight and morning rain, but it didn’t detour the crew from the school. They worked throughout the night and into Saturday morning to prepare the grounds and food for more than 500. AFA provided the funds for the celebration and they provided the hard work.

“They wanted to make the first graduation in the history of this village something special and we wanted to help them,” Compston said. “I think that goal was easily achieved.”

Six of the 10 making up this AFA mission team participated in a pre-ceremony parade that started a mile from the school and was complete with a uniformed marching band. The drums kept cadence and the brass blared out some songs. The band looked a little like the “Mayberry Band” of Andy Griffith fame but they sounded good. The cymbals had some rough edges and the other instruments looked a little used. However, they made it work. Ugandans know how to make things work.

Fifty-one students from the school gathered at the end of the road with several adults, including some parents. The little ones had their faces painted and were dressed in their green school uniforms. They marched up the dirt road with so much pride in their step. Others carried banners for Lifepoint Church, El-Shaddai School and even Amy For Africa, which they had made for us.

It mattered not that the road was full of mud holes from the overnight thunderstorms. They plodded around and through it on the way to the church. It was something to see.

Amy’s husband Chris and I had dressed for the graduation in the best we brought including long sleeves and a tie. Humidity after the rain brought out some oppressive heat. I was wringing wet with sweat by the time we walked the one mile down the road and then marched back the same one mile to the church.

But my shirt had plenty of time to dry with about five hours of ceremony awaiting us.

The children from each of the classes, led by their precious teachers, performed songs, academic skills and recited Bible verses and poems. These 3- to 5-year-olds were so smart and incredibly well-behaved especially with a large audience surrounding them. Nobody was shy about performing. Estimates of 450 to 500 was in the ballpark of how many came to the graduation.

Dignitaries offered speeches and Amy and I also were given the opportunity to talk about Amy For Africa and Jesus Christ in an area where the Muslim religion is thick. Nothing was said to us and Pastor Cyprian makes it clear this is a Christian school and students attending there, including ones with Muslim backgrounds, will be taught through the Holy Bible.

The 10 Muzungus (white people) from America were treated with dignity and respect the entire trip. In fact, if anything, they pampered us. The marching band even played the United States national anthem as Mike Blankenship and I performed a never-rehearsed duet – and it wasn’t bad.

Pastor Cyprian asked Amy to sing, but she quickly pointed my way. I recruited Mike, the pastor at Oakland Avenue Baptist Church who frequently sings the anthem at Boyd County High School sporting events where he serves as the public address announcer. We made it through it on pitch (at least that’s what we were told).

The day was certainly filled with entertainment, including the master of ceremonies and a translator, who could have moved things a little quicker. Nevertheless, no one was complaining. They brought in other dancing, singing and drumming acts to keep everyone entertained for the afternoon.

Pastor Cyprian had Amy and I, along with the graduates, collectively cut a huge cake, and then we passed out graduation certificates to the children.

After that it was time to run 500 people through a chow line that included three different meats – chicken, turkey and beef – white rice, potatoes, yams, cole slaw and a soda pop. And it went amazingly smooth.

Several parents came up to AFA mission team members afterward, thanking us for the support and high quality education their children were receiving.

El-Shaddai will be adding a Primary 1 class (first grade) when the school year starts in January and plans on continuing to add classes one at a time in subsequent years.

Pastor Cyprian said the biggest problem the school faces is space. They will build another classroom but are quickly running out of room. More than 100 students are expected to be enrolled in the next school year. He said none of what has happened would be possible without the Amy For Africa partnership.

“We are changing this community through the school,” Pastor Cyprian said. “These people have some money in their pockets because Amy For Africa is paying the school fees for their children. It is allowing them to shine.”

Saturday was certainly a day where El-Shaddai school shined brighter than ever.

 

 

’67 state champion Tomcats to be recognized Friday in Putnam Stadium

 

Ashland is honoring its 1967 state champions on the 50th anniversary Friday night in Putnam Stadium. These Tomcats were the first outright championship team since the playoff system that started in 1959.

When the last regular-season game was played in 1967, the Ashland Tomcats looked like it was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The Tomcats polished off Raceland 26-6 for a 10-1 record, but the prospects of making the Class AA playoffs seemed mighty slim.

Coach Jake Hallum had already done the math and, barring a monumental upset in northern Kentucky, where Fort Thomas Highlands was playing Campbell County, the season was going to end with the game against Raceland.

Ashland finished its district schedule the previous week and stood at 5-0. Highlands was 4-0 with a likely win over Campbell County coming in the last week of the regular season. If the teams were tied at 5-0, which seemed probable, the complicated Dickinson System determined the winner – and the news wasn’t good for Ashland.

Hallum knew it and so did the players. After they finished off the Ramblers, they boarded the bus for Blazer where they dressed. Hallum told them to put the equipment in separate piles in the middle of the room .

For 18 senior football players who had worked hard and did everything the coaches asked of them, it didn’t seem right. It wasn’t fair. Paul Hill, a co-captain, was in denial. He told Hallum he would not turn in his equipment, that he had done everything he was asked to do and he would see him at practice on Monday and stormed out of the dressing room area.

Hallum was speechless, not knowing what to say to Hill or the rest of the Tomcat seniors who it seemed had played their last high school football game.

Hill left the building and the rest of the team kept dropping off the equipment in the appropriate piles. And then came word from a manager with a startling message: Campbell County had upset Highlands 6-0 in a muddy quagmire in northern Kentucky. The door had been reopened for the Tomcats to be in the playoffs.

Hallum couldn’t believe what he had heard and began making calls on his own. Confirmation came that indeed Campbell County, which finished 4-4-2, had pulled off the upset. The Bluebirds (6-4) were stunned and angered over the loss. The following year they would take out some of that frustration on the Tomcats with a 61-0 victory in Putnam Stadium.

But in 1967, Ashland was king of the district and would be home for the playoffs.

The players went back into their equipment piles and gathered up gear but not until after taking a dip in the Blazer pool. By the time they got out, the mud from the uniforms made the pool resemble the Mississippi River.

Ashland didn’t miss its opportunity to shine once the postseason started, defeating Belfry 42-0, Harrison County 20-13 and Elizabethtown 19-14 in the state finals to complete a 13-1 season.

In the western half of the state, an Owensboro team that had gone 9-1 was wondering what might have been. The Red Devils had lost only to eventual Class AAA champion Flaget 20-7 and had eight shutouts in 10 games.

But because of circumstances surrounding the last regular-season game of 1966 between Henderson and Owensboro, which had fights before, during and after the game, the Red Devils would not be eligible to participate in the postseason in 1967.

Owensboro was ranked No. 3 in the final AP poll for all classes. Harrison County was No. 2, Elizabethtown was No. 8 and Ashland was No. 9.

In the Litkenhaus Ratings, Harrison County (103.6) and Owensboro (100.7) were 1-2 while Elizabethtown was No. 5 (90.3) and Ashland was No. 10 (79.3).

By those rankings, the Tomcats were two-point favorites over Belfry, 24-point underdogs to Harrison County and 11-point underdogs to Elizabethtown.

But they were state champions.

Read more about the Tomcats’ 1967 season in the book Tragedy and Triumph. Contact Mark Maynard at mainrod@windstream.net to purchase one.

 

Seeing is believing with solar eclipse

ASHLAND, Ky. – So did you watch the eclipse on Monday?

If so, you should no longer be in the dark – approved glasses or no glasses – about an Almighty God who created our universe. His unbelievable power was on full display for all to witness. Millions looked up toward the heavens (Is there a better place to look?) and saw this miraculous sight.

Do we really think we can alter anything He has created? How can anyone doubt His existence? He is showing Himself to each one of us – to you, you, you and to  you.

It simply doesn’t make sense that the universe is the result of a blind process. Eclipses occur on earth because the moon is both 400 times closer and 400 times smaller than the sun. That perfect ratio (Do you think that was by happenstance?) allows the moon to completely block the sun on rare occasions.

We are talking about a universe in such divine and precise order that we knew in advance that a solar eclipse was going to happen on Aug. 21, 2017 and that the next one is coming April 8, 2024. Could that possibly be chance? Hardly. It’s an all-powerful, all-knowing God who divinely made this universe and remains in control of it. He suspends the stars in place and calms the winds and the seas. He knows all about you – the good and the bad – and He loves you anyway.

We are significant to Him and that’s really something when you consider the majesty we witnessed today.

All of this is His creation and the way that He continues to reveal Himself to a lost world. His creation couldn’t have been more obvious and in better display than during the total solar eclipse on Monday.

Seeing was indeed believing.

Joy on display again at CP-1 Hall of Fame ceremony

The 2017 CP-1 Hall of Fame inductees and representatives. (Tim Gearhart photo)

ASHLAND, Ky. – When it comes right down to it, Saturdays in August for me are both exhilarating and exhausting.

Whether it’s a 36-team Amy For Africa wiffleball tournament or the CP-1 Hall of Fame inductions, they both rate as two of my favorite Saturdays of the year.

They both take preparation and keen attention to detail.

I was asked by a reporter (now there’s a change for me) what my motivation was for the CP-1 Hall of Fame ceremonies on Saturday.

It’s simple and described in one word: joy.

It’s the joy on the faces of the inductees.

It’s the joy on the faces of their families and friends.

It’s the joy that comes when people begin pouring into Central Park’s big diamond (yes, that’s CP-1) about 30 minutes before the scheduled starting time. Some of them haven’t seen each other since the last time we met for a CP-1 reunion.

It’s all pure joy and that’s my motivation.

As a respecter of history, it’s important that we not only recognize our past but that we celebrate it. That’s what we did Saturday in Central Park where 13 more were inducted into our Hall of Fame.

The speeches from the 10 living inductees and the three deceased inductees who had family speaking for them were emotional and thankful. You don’t think it’s going to get you and then it does.

A poignant moment came when Terry Hemlepp, who was speaking for Steve Hemlepp, brought up two of Steve’s grandsons for a closing story. We were able to present them with the plaque and commemorative baseball.

Another was Tim Huff emotionally thanking his father for making him the player he became and Joe Conley humbling breaking down while speaking.

Or inductee Johnny Mullins, bad back and all, standing behind teammate Bo Carter as he spoke last. It was extra emotionally charged for Bo because he buried his dear mother and spoke at her funeral only a week ago.

We missed Ginny Carter on Saturday, but Bo was certain she had a front row seat for the show. I have to agree.

As a special tribute to Ginny Carter, we passed out maroon-tipped carnations to every woman in the audience that wanted one and gave a single red rose to her daughter and caregiver Susie Carter. It was another moment full of emotion.

Moms and baseball: Does it get better?

We heard from the daughter of an umpire, Dale Griffith, and Marla Haller made sure her daddy was represented in the most proper way possible. As Charlie Reliford so eloquently put it in an emailed message, putting Dale Griffith in the Hall of Fame was certainly a great call.

Each of the inductees spoke from the heart and it was beautiful.

Brothers Kevin and Mike Gothard thanked their parents, Denny and Helen, for always being there and always teaching them not just how to play baseball, but how to be good people.

Pride took a backseat to saying thank you for always being there for us. The inductees thanked parents, coaches, friends and teammates.

Each class we’ve been able to honor has been unique and special and the couple of hundred who witnessed Saturday’s ceremony will remember this one.

What Gary Wright started 10 years ago with a $125,000 donation to revamp and rebuild the baseball field at Central Park has turned into a reason to make another trip to the ‘ol ball field something special.

That happened for the inductees and their families on a sunny day in Central Park on Saturday.

 

 

2017 CP-1 HOF class carries some clout

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 is among 13 in the 2017 class.

ASHLAND, Ky. – Looking over the 2017 CP-1 Ashland Baseball Hall of Fame class it’s clear this bunch has a little bit of everything.

You want pitchers? We have some of the best.

Hard-throwing Jim Speaks and John Mullins, dominating lefties Tim Huff and J.D. Browne and the incredibly steady Bo Carter makes for an incredible staff.

Browne owned the mound during his day and he picked off everybody in his generation at least once.

Nard Pergrem and Mike Smith or Kevin Gothard make for a dandy shortstop-second base combo. Gothard also played in the outfield some as did Joe Conley, who turned in some spectacular plays for the 1968 state champions.

Catchers? We’ve got three great ones with Mike Gothard, John Thomas and Steve Hemlepp. That trio brings the power to a lineup that would be hard to beat.

We even have umpires. Two of the greatest umpires in CP-1 history are on the field with us in Dale Griffith (also an outstanding player in the 1950s) and Conley (a member of all three Tomcat championship teams).

Try this lineup on for size:

1.Nard Pergrem, ss

2.Mike Smith, 2b

3.Kevin Gothard, rf

4.Mike Gothard, 3b

5.John Thomas, cf

6.John Mullins, lf

7.Tim Huff, dh

8.Steve Hemlepp, c

9.Bo Carter, 1b

Pitchers, J.D. Browe and Jim Speaks

Umpires, Joe Conley and Dale Griffith

Every one of this year’s honorees has a story to tell and they (or a representative) will have the opportunity to do it from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday in front of the big diamond in Central Park.

We will also be dedicating the historic marker recognizing Baseball in Central Park and have some special recognitions planned.

Come in casual dress and enjoy The Show.

And be sure to bring a hanky because it’s going to get emotional.

The 2017 class:

J.D. Browne

Bo Carter

Joe Conley

Kevin Gothard

Mike Gothard

Dale Griffith

Steve Hemlepp

Tim Huff

John Mullins

Nard Pergrem

Mike Smith

Jim Speaks

John Thomas

Gene Bennett: A well-lived life of adventure

A few years ago, I shared a lunch with Gene Bennett, the Cincinnati Reds amazing scout of 58 years, at the invitation of major league umpire Greg Gibson.

Bennett held court with us by telling baseball stories, basketball officiating stories and many more. Gene was 86 but could recount people, places and dates like few others.

He was part of the Cincinnati Reds family for almost 60 years, from when he was signed as a player in 1952. He moved into scouting in 1958 and was promoted to scouting supervisor in 1975. His notable signings include Reds Hall of Famers Don Gullett, Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo along with Jeff Russell, Charlie Leibrandt and Paul O’Neill.

Bennett, who lived in Wheelersburg, was a treasure for the entire area for years. He died on Wednesday at the age of 89 in Portsmouth. His wife Loretta preceded him in death.

If baseball was the subject — and it almost always was if Gene Bennett was in the room — then the clock was turned back.

Bennett’s life was certainly an amazing one. He met two presidents — President Jimmy Carter and President George W. Bush — and was known throughout the baseball world for his scouting prowess.

He met President Carter in Atlanta while chatting it up with Bobby Cox and met President Bush in the Astrodome.

He also had a secondmeeting with President Bush when he came through Portsmouth on a campaign swing.

Bennett recounted that story during that lunch a few years ago, telling us it was when the Portsmouth Mural project had just started. Al Oliver’s portrait was going up but not quite finished. The socks he was wearing were still white.

President Bush took notice that it was indeed, Oliver, who had also played for the Texas Rangers when Bush was a minority owner there. He also noticed the uncompleted socks.

“He pointed that out right away,” Bennett said. “But he knew who Al Oliver was.”

He met President Carter and to his amazement the president actually remembered his name on a later trip to Atlanta when they met again.

“What a memory!” Bennett said.

Of course, he probably remembered Bennett because he has that kind of effect on people.

He was a warm person from top to bottom.

I didn’t know Bennett’s college basketball officiating background but it included stints with the Ohio Valley Conference, Missouri Valley Conference and Mid-American Conference. He called games until 1991.

His first game was between Morehead State and Western Kentucky University in Laughlin Gymnasium.

Bennett said he never called a game involving the University of Kentucky or Ohio State, so he never dealt with the wrath of Adolph Rupp.

Baseball has always been Gene Bennett’s calling card.

In January 2009 he received the Legends In Scouting Award from the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation and at the December 2009 Winter Meetings he received the Midwest Scout of the Year Award.

More recently, Bennett penned a book My 58 years with the Cincinnati Reds and donated the proceeds to the Wheelersburg Little League baseball program.

He was also in the inaugural class of the CP-1 Ashland Baseball Hall of Fame three years ago. Bennett spent more than a few days watching baseball in Central Park.

His funeral arrangements are incomplete.