Author: Mark Maynard

Hometown hero: Ashland has a Host with the most

Hometown hero: Ashland has a Host with the most

Jim Host, George Rupert and Jack Ditty at the Highlands Museum’s Hometown Sports Banquet.

ASHLAND, Ky. – Jim Host, the very definition of an entrepreneur, was the first person in his huge family to graduate from college.

His impact on the sports marketing and business world are immeasurable. Host isn’t just a giant in the industry, he practically created it. He’s the King Kong of that world. It’s truly not that much of a stretch to say the March Madness that we all enjoy so much is fruit from Host’s tree as is the familiar phrase “Final Four.”

Jim Host is from Ashland and darn proud of it. The man who grew up on Elm Street in South Ashland made that abundantly clear on Friday night during the Highlands Museum’s Hometown Sports banquet.

Living history was on display with the likes of basketball greats King Kelly Coleman and J.R. VanHoose, Mr. Basketballs about 40 years apart, and high school football coaching great Ivan McGlone in the house along with Host and a host of others.

Jim Host isn’t just proud to be from Ashland, he says it was this little town on the Ohio River that helped him succeed in life. Because of the nudges he received from what he considers his “hometown,” despite only living here for eight years, Host became only the second scholarship baseball player in University of Kentucky history and springboarded from there to become a giant in the industry with more Hall of Fame rings than a team of New York Yankees.

He hasn’t forgotten how Marvin Hall took him under his wing and coached him, the impact of the legendary Ernie Chattin and Bo McMillen, who made sure kids had bats and balls to play with in Central Park before organized baseball came to our city in the mid-1950s, and the tenacity and no fear attitude that he learned from being around the coaching of George Conley.

Make no mistake, Ashland has a friend in Jim Host.

It’s not just lip service either. He’s always helped me with projects and been supportive of any effort that I’ve made to enhance sports history in northeastern Kentucky.

Ashland also has always had a friend in Dr. Jack Ditty, who joined me on the platform along with one of Ashland’s great businessmen and athletes George Rupert, who we learned was instrumental in being the one to give Dr. Ditty the nudge he needed. It was a bit humbling to stand up there with those three great men who have done so much in their lives with Ashland at the root.

Jack talked about Donald Putnam and Sam Mansbach, businessmen who were doers in Ashland and the reason why one of our town jewels – the Ashland Area YMCA – is here today. Few cities this size have a YMCA quite like Ashland.

The momentum that Ashland is currently feeling with the news of Braidy Industries arrival has revived us. Hope is no longer in the rearview mirror. Ashland has a proud past and we should look back with much pride, but let’s not discount the future at our fingertips. Braidy not only brings in jobs but it brings in bright people with big, new ideas that could reshape this area for years to come. A town has no better resource than its positive thinking people and we may get a bunch of them with Braidy. We have them here already rolling up their sleeves (think Build Ashland) and leading by example.

Looking around the fourth floor of the museum, where the banquet took place, put you in an Ashland past mode. Many of us “old Ashlanders” remember the museum as Parson’s Department Store. It was on the mezzanine in Parson’s where I learned of a love for books. When my mother shopped in Parson’s I didn’t go to the toys, I went to the books – sports books (of course). I looked through dozens of them as she shopped and almost always came away with one to read. That put me in a world of sports history that I’ve never stopped loving.

You may get that same feeling of history if you go into the old Parson’s building now that has transformed into an amazing museum. The sports exhibit that is being showcased for the next few weeks will not disappoint. Kudos to progressive thinking Carol Allen and her capable staff that includes Matt Potter and curator Heather Akers. I’ve worked with all three of them in different areas at the museum and they should all be commended.

Carol’s leadership at the museum has given Ashland another bright light for the future as we navigate toward a new beginning. It sure is a lot easier to follow the path with a spotlight in front of you.


Bill Lynch first of ‘Dynasty’ Tomcats in KHSAA Hall of Fame

Bill Lynch first of ‘Dynasty’ Tomcats in KHSAA Hall of Fame

Bill Lynch was 27-2 in three seasons with the Tomcats, including 11-0 with a 0.31 ERA as a senior.

ASHLAND, Ky. – More than 50 years since winning the first of three consecutive state high school baseball championships from 1966 to 1968 – a feat equaled only one other time in Kentucky high school history – the first member of the Ashland Tomcats dynasty era is being inducted into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

Billy Lynch, who as a senior left-handed pitcher in 1966 orchestrated maybe the best individual season in Kentucky baseball history, is one of 13 members in the Class of 2018 that will be inducted Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.

Here are Lynch’s numbers his senior year when Ashland was 25-0 and state champion:

-11-0 record

-0.31 earned run average

-Eight complete games out of 10 starts

-150 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings

-Averaged 15 strikeouts per game

-Allowed only 17 hits

-Allowed only 3 earned runs

Those are Hall of Fame numbers in anybody’s book and that’s just his senior season, which also included a .386 batting average. During his Tomcat career, he carved out a 27-2 record and as a junior was on a team that lost only once, in the state semifinals. That year he was 8-1 with a .679 batting average (you read that correctly; during one stretch he had a hit in 14 consecutive at-bats).

Ashland was 42-1 during his junior and senior seasons combined.

There are 469 members in the KHSAA Hall of Fame, including this year’s class, so saying Billy Lynch’s induction is overdue is obvious.

Hopefully, Billy Lynch isn’t the last member of the Tomcat dynasty era to make the hallowed halls. On deck should be Billy’s little brother Bob, who also went 27-2 in his Tomcat career and started on all three state championship teams and was the winning pitcher in the state finals during two of those seasons.

No question, Bob Lynch belongs, too. Very few players in state baseball history were starters on three state championship teams. Only the Tomcats and Pleasure Ridge Park (1994-96), whose coach Bill Miller is a member of this year’s class, achieved the feat.

The Lynch brothers, who were also both dominant basketball players for the Tomcats, were nominated through a herculean effort from teammate John Mullins, who must have contacted more than 100 people to submit forms. Mullins was relentless, just like he was as a player, to give his Tomcat teammates an opportunity to at least get on the ballot.

Ferrell Wellman, who spoke during the Elks Sports Day when Bill Lynch was honored two years ago, also shook the rafters for his friend to be among those included in the KHSAA Hall of Fame.

Hopefully, next year, Bob Lynch can join his older brother in the KHSAA Hall of Fame. These two great players certainly weren’t the only reasons why the Tomcats dominated the state to the tune of 109-11 from 1965-1969. There were other great pitchers and hitters who simply knew how to play the game of baseball.

I’m not sure northeastern Kentucky, or even the state of Kentucky for that matter, will see a program so dominant in a five-year period. The ’65 team made it to the semifinals before suffering a one-run loss on a throwing error and the ’69 team lost 1-0 in the championship game. That’s how close Ashland was to winning five state titles in a row.

Congratulations to Bill Lynch on being the first of hopefully several from the Tomcat dynasty era to receive some overdue state recognition.







AL EAST (Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays)

AL CENTRAL (Indians, Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Royals)

AL WEST (Astros, Angels, Mariners, Rangers, A’s)

NL EAST (Nationals, Mets, Braves, Phillies, Marlins)

NL CENTRAL (Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Pirates)

NL WEST (Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants, Padres)


Red Sox over Angels


Astros over Red Sox

Yankees over Indians


Astros over Yankees


Diamondbacks over Mets


Nationals over Diamondbacks

Cubs over Dodgers


Cubs over Nationals


Astros over Cubs



NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals

NL CY YOUNG: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

AL CY YOUNG: Chris Sale, Red Sox

AL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees


14 more will be added to Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame this summer

14 more will be added to Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame this summer

ASHLAND  Ky. – The 14-member class of the fourth Ashland CP-1 Baseball Hall of Fame includes six more members from the Ashland Tomcat “Dynasty Era” of 1965-1969 and other players and coaches who spanned four decades in Central Park.

Induction day will be Aug. 18 at 1 p.m. in the Central Park.

Don Lentz, Fred Leibee, John Sieweke, Dave Staten, Larry Stevens and Mike Tackett were members of state championship teams during the stretch when the Tomcats won three titles in a row from 1966-68.

Players from the 1950s and early 1960s era include Larry Castle, David Patton, H.F. Dixon and Ernie Daniels.

Players from the late 1970s era are Greg Swift and Donnie Allen while Ashland Post 76 American Legion co-managers Rick Reeves and the late Frank Wagner, who coached together for nearly 20 years, are also among the 2018 class.

“Just like our previous classes, there are some heavyweight players in this one,” said CP-1 Baseball HOF Chairman Mark Maynard. “We’ve got several players who were members of state championship high school teams with the Tomcats and also played on state championship Little League teams in Ashland. It’s a massive amount of talent. I’d take these guys in their primes and take on anybody. We have a little bit of everything, including great coaching and some of the best clutch hitters in CP-1 history.”

The 2018 class is the biggest in the four years and brings the total enshrined to 49.

Previous CP-1 Hall of Fame classes:

2017 (13): J.D. Browne, Bo Carter, Joe Conley, Tim Huff, Mike Smith, Steve Hemlepp, John Mullins, Kevin Gothard, Mike Gothard, Dale Griffith, Nard Pergrem, Jim Speaks, John Thomas.

2016 (10): Lynch, Steve Rolen, “Big” Ed Hughes, Wayne Workman, Bill Workman, Chuck Dickison, Ellis Childers, Clyde Chinn, Marvin Hall.

2015 (12): Brandon Webb, Don Gullett, Bill Lynch, Drew Hall, Charlie Reliford, Jody Hamilton, Dykes Potter, Squire Potter, Bob Simpson, Reecie Banks, Jim Host, Gene Bennett.

Dance Whisperer: Legend takes to floor Saturday

The Dance Whisperer dances to win.

By MARK MAYNARD/ Dancing With Our Stars special edition

NJERU, Uganda – They speak of him in reverent terms in deepest Africa.

But is he man or myth?

Or maybe half of each?

“I’ve seen the Dance Whisperer,” says one native, who refused to be identified, “and he’s real, a human dance machine. His moves, they are like nothing anyone has ever seen here. We were in awe at the first glance, studied him closely, and then the gyrations began …”

His voice trailed off and the native rushed away from the reporter before speaking another word. Images of the Dance Whisperer are ever present in Uganda, where he has put on crowd-drawing dance clinics when the music starts.

The Dance Whisperer carries a certain mystic in Uganda, where he has taught his skills on short trips there in villages where true dancing was born. Nobody knows quite what to think about him (boy is that ever true), but his legend is, well, legendary.

Those who are willing to learn – and more importantly listen to this master teacher of dance – become protégés, but they understand that there is only one Dance Whisperer. His moves cannot be duplicated. He is a unique superstar dancer who doesn’t understand himself the power he holds.

“We are in awe of his dance moves,” said one of those protégés in broken English. “He communicates with his fast feet. We try to follow him but it is not possible.”

How Carol Allen of the Highlands Museum convinced this dancing, daring and darling phenom to be part of the “Dancing With Our Stars” is a wonder in itself. After all, he’s known to, uh, like to be behind the scenes (oh brother). His appearing before a large audience is a feat in itself. It’s like Michael Jordan accepting an invitation to your 3-on-3 tournament.

But know this: The Dance Whisperer’s super powers come from his dance partner (finally, a really true statement).

Even the not-so-humble Dance Whisperer has admitted as much.

“My celebrity dance partner is my world,” he says.

She completes the Dance Whisperer, providing the Middle C to the keyboard of life for this self-made dancing wonder.

Don’t miss their appearance Saturday night. It’s like a Halley’s Comet moment.

He will send over a truck for the Mirror Ball next week.


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


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.