Heritage Game at Alumni gym pays homage to Tomcats and Comets

It’s more than fitting that Ashland chose to play West Carter in Tuesday’s Heritage Game at the old Alumni Gymnasium when the home of the Tomcats for 37 years will be recognized as a “Glory Road” site by the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame.

West Carter is a consolidation of Carter City and Olive Hill High Schools.

Jack Fultz coached the Comets of Olive Hill from 1951-1968 and dueled with some of the best basketball teams in Ashland history with many of those games in the Alumni gym.

If current Comets coach Jeremy Webb wanted to add more theatrics to the festivities, he could wear some flat shoes that pop when they are stomped on a gym floor. That’s how the intimidating Jack Fultz got the attention of his players – and sometimes the referees – by stomping so hard it sounded like firecrackers going off.

Fultz had a 7-20 record against the Tomcats while other Comet coaches wee a combined 2-29. He was a thorn in their side in the 1950s when Olive Hill won the 16th Region championship three times – 1955, 1956 and 1959. His ’59 Comets went to the state semifinals before injuries to both guards sent them to a disappointing defeat, one that stuck with Fultz to the end of his days.

Steve Gilmore, who was a star at Holy Family, remembered going to Irish games when they played the Comets. “He was an intimidating factor from the bench,” Gilmore said in a 2014 interview. “I can remember a couple of games, he had one of the loudest stomps I ever heard.

“To me, Jack was a purist as a coach. There are so many things you can do now. Jack’s strong suit was he knew kids. He demanded much, at least that’s what some of the old-timers who played for him say. They were intimidated by him. He was just trying to get the very best out of them.”

Fultz worked in the Carter County school system for 60 years and was highly respected in Ashland circles. They named him an honoree at the Elks Sports Day in 2014.

“I remember what a relentless coach he was,” said Holy Family great Fred Simpson. “His teams were always so well-prepared defensively. He had them playing defense.”

Talking to him years later, Fultz told me how much he respected Ashland’s basketball tradition and how going against coaches like George Conley and Bob Wright challenged him like nobody else. He loved how the Tomcat fans followed their teams and always expected to walk out of the gym happy with a victory.

In many ways, he said, they were a model for others to follow. And there was nobody he’d rather beat than the Tomcats. Fultz savored every win against them and could recall them in exact detail. Nobody told a better story than Fultz, who took a shine to me in his last years. We’d go to lunch once a week – he always paid and I always learned. I found you learn better from listening than talking.

Olive Hill defeated the Tomcats 58-56 in double overtime to win the 1955 regional title in Winchester.

In 1963, Olive Hill stunned Ashland 59-57 in the opening round of the regional tournament. The Tomcats had won the state title in ’61 and were runners-up in ’62. They also hadn’t lost to a region opponent in the 1959-60 season.

But perhaps the most memorable game he coached against Ashland was a loss in February 1954 in Alumni gym when the Comets held the ball. The final score was 25-19, a game that infuriated Tomcat fans who were used to getting it up and down the floor with a team that averaged 72.5 points per game behind the great Bill Gray and Jerry Henderson. But the Comets had a chance in the fourth quarter because of the unorthodox strategy that nobody had tried against them.

Fultz remembered H.V. Ellis, Ashland’s principal at the time, coming up to him after the game.

“He said ‘Jack, they won’t come out and watch that kind of ball,’’’ Fultz said. “I told him ‘I’m coaching to win.’ The next year, when we played them in December, you couldn’t get in that gym there were so many people there.”

Olive Hill won that one too, but they didn’t hold the ball. The Comets rolled to a 73-54 victory.

In the slowdown game, Fultz reasoned that was the only way he could possibly upset the Tomcats who went on to win the regional tournament. Ashland’s opponent in the championship game in 1954 was Carter City, the other part of the West Carter consolidation in 1971, with a 75-58 victory. The Tomcats went on to take third place in the Sweet Sixteen.

The homage to the past for the Tomcats on Tuesday will also serve to do the same for the Comets, making it the perfect matchup for the Heritage Game where the teams will be playing in throwback uniforms.

It should be a fun night but don’t look for anybody to hold the basketball.

Tomcats’ 43-game region win streak should be appreciated

Ashland’s 64-60 overtime loss to Russell on Monday night snapped one of the most dominating streaks in 16th Region history. The Tomcats had won an incredible 43 consecutive games against regional competition.

The streak started when the Tomcats shocked everyone with three consecutive wins to capture the region tournament in 2019. That ended a 17-year drought between regional championships for the team that has won 35 of them, more than anybody else in Kentucky.

Two more regional titles followed as Ashland began building what would be the third-longest region winning streak in Tomcats’ and region history.

Think about that for a minute, and the dominance and good fortune it takes to accomplish that incredible feat.

Ashland has been a force with 3-point shooting and ball sharing skills the likes of which nobody has seen around here in years. Granted, the Tomcats had some miracle finishes – just ask West Carter (2020 season) and Rowan County (2021 regional championship game) – but they’ve also been very good and downright dominant most of the time. The Tomcat jersey that once drew shutters was doing it again.

Larry Conley actually had a lot of help but he never lost to a 16th Region opponent in his three seasons with the Tomcats.

Ashland fans haven’t enjoyed this kind of success in more than four decades to put it in more perspective. That’s when the Tomcats of the late coach Paul Patterson went undefeated against region competition in four consecutive seasons from 1975-79. Patterson left for Taylor University and Ernie Simpson inherited the unbeaten streak and Ashland didn’t skip a beat until the first round of the district tournament against talented Holy Family in 1980 when the Irish snapped the 51-game region winning streak. The Tomcats avenged the loss a week later in the regional finals.

And that’s not even the best streak in Ashland history. It belongs to the 1959-63 Tomcats who had a 56-game winning streak against regional foes snapped, ironically enough, against Russell 55-52 in the Red Devils’ gym in January 1963.

Larry Conley, Ashland’s own Larry Legend, was part of three of those teams, ending his career undefeated against region foes.

Ashland has eight streaks of 20 or more, including 39 (1927-30) that ties for fourth-best all-time.

Boyd County had streaks of 26 (1994-96) and 24 (1980-82) and Clark County owned streaks of 39 (1947-50) and 28 (1956-58). Elliott County had a 30-game streak (2008-09), Olive Hill recorded 24 (1958-59) and Fleming County 21 (2013-14).

That puts these Tomcats in good company. Ashland was undefeated against region competition in the 2019-20 and 1920-21 seasons, going 19-0 and 15-0 respectively, under coach Jason Mays, and were 6-0 before Monday night’s loss.  Of course, the 33-0 season in 2020 – followed by COVID and the cancelling of the Sweet Sixteen – already had them in rare air.

Russell’s fans spilled onto the floor in celebration of knocking off the Tomcats on Monday and that shows its own level of respect because it had been so long since anybody had done it. The Red Devils played well, and Brady Bell was fabulous. The Tomcats were without injured point guard Colin Porter, whose value cannot be understated. He’s the best point guard in the state and that’s not an understatement.

Nevertheless, injuries are part of the game, and the Red Devils did what they needed to do for a well-earned win that makes the regional tournament next month that much more interesting. It should also give Russell a huge boost of confidence for the homestretch. After all, they slayed the giant.

Beware though. Just because Ashland suffered a region loss doesn’t mean it is finished. It just means they’re a little more human – and maybe a little more motivated.

While it knocks off some of the mystique that has followed the Tomcats in the last nearly four years, where beating them seemed darn near impossible, it may well serve as fuel for a team that needs good health more than added motivation.

However, it does put a chink in the Ashland armor that has the rest of the region saying, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance … “

Ashland’s Alumni Gymnasium worthy of ‘Glory Road’ honor

Ashland’s rich basketball heritage was born in Alumni Gymnasium, the home to all four Tomcats’ state championship teams.

The 1928 Tomcats were one of only two undefeated state champions in Kentucky high school history and the 1961 Tomcats were 36-1 and regarded as one of the state’s greatest champions of all time after winning the Sweet Sixteen by an average margin of 18 points per game.

The Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame has named Alumni one of its “Glory Road” sites with a ceremony to take place Feb. 15 with a heritage game between Ashland and West Carter, which was formerly known as Olive Hill, and the honoring at halftime of several players from the Alumni Gym era who will be in attendance.

Alumni Gym became a house of horrors for anyone who entered the doors not wearing a Tomcat jersey. Ashland compiled a 730-265-1 overall record from 1927 to 1962 for a 72.7 winning percentage during the Alumni gym era. Ashland won 13 regional championships during the Alumni Gym era (four prior to Alumni and 17 from Anderson gym). Alumni gym was the host for the regional tournament seven times with the Tomcats winning four of those.

In the last three years the Tomcats used the gym before moving to the Paul G. Blazer campus in the fall of 1962, they compiled a 50-1 home record.

This is the 60th season for the campus gym, which now carries the name of James A. Anderson, the wildly successful basketball and football coach for the Tomcats in the 1920s. It was Anderson who guided the 1928 team to a 37-0 record and the national championship in the first full season at Alumni Gym.

Ashland fell in love with the Tomcats in 1928 with more than 10,000 greeting the team at the train station after they defeated Canton, Ohio, 15-10 to win the national title in Chicago.

In the last two seasons at Alumni Gym, the Tomcats won the state title in 1961 and finished runner-up in 1962. The gym also was home to the school’s other state championship teams in 1928, 1933 and 1934. Ashland was the state runner-up in 1940 and 1926 (the year prior to Alumni opening).

Ashland’s girls’ basketball teams won five state titles in the 1920s but only the 1928 and 1929 teams came after Alumni was christened in 1927. The Kittens were also state champions in 1921, 1922 and 1924 during a dominating run under coach W.B. Jackson.

The first games in Alumni were from the district and regional tournaments in 1927. Ernie Chattin, who later in life left his imprint on Ashland sports through coaching and mentoring as the YMCA director, was captain of that team.

The Tomcats’ first game in the gym was against Catlettsburg on March 4, 1927, a 23-12 win in the district tournament. They followed that with wins over Grayson and Morehead. The regional, which was also played in Ashland, saw the Tomcats defeat Pikeville, Brooksville and Minerva to win the 6th Region and advance to the state tournament in Lexington.

The 95th anniversary of the first game ever played at Alumni will be March 4, 2022.

The Tomcats defeated Owensboro before falling to Covington Holmes 15-13 in the second round of the state tournament, but it set the stage for the undefeated season the following year.

It’s fitting that Ashland is playing West Carter on Tuesday night in the heritage game, complete with throwback uniforms, because the rivalry between the Tomcats and Comets was a good one during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Ashland was 49-9 all-time vs. Olive Hill and 23-2 in the old gym with losses coming in 1957 and 1959. Olive Hill’s legendary coach Jack Fultz loved matching wits with the Tomcats’ great coaches, including George Conley and Bob Wright.

Wilson Barrow, the first black player to wear a Tomcat uniform, scored a career-high 28 points against Olive Hill in Alumni gym in December 1961. It was a short-lived career for Barrow, who as a sophomore was dismissed from the team because of academics in January and never played again. He came to Ashland after being an outstanding player for Booker T. Washington School, Ashland’s black school that closed after the 1962 school year.

One of the most famous Ashland-Olive Hill games in the old gym came in February 1954 when Olive Hill held the ball on the fast-breaking Tomcats. Ashland avoided the freeze out and eventually won 25-19 in a low-scoring game.

CARROLL SINGES THE NETS

The most points a Tomcat ever scored in a game at Alumni came from sharpshooting George Carroll, who scored 40 vs. Ironton on Jan. 24, 1956. He scored 52, 39 and 35 that season as well but those games came in the Ashland Armory. Bill Gray scored 48 in 1954 but it was also on the road in the district tournament against Wurtland.

UNBEATEN AT HOME

Several years the Tomcats were undefeated on their home floor – 1928 (23-0), 1933 (15-0), 1960 (14-0) and 1961 (18-0).

SUSPENDED SEASON

The 1934-35 basketball season was suspended because the football team used an ineligible player in 1934. Even though Ashland couldn’t compete officially the Tomcats fielded a team and played independent teams in the area. Those records, however, aren’t included in the official statistics.

Ashland was coming off of a 30-2 state championship season.

1,000-POINT SCORERS AT ALUMNI

                                          Years        G     Points      Avg.                                 High game

Conley, Larry               1960-62    103       1473      14.3                              34-Olive Hill

Adkins, Earl                 1951-53      88       1386      15.8                                 36-Ironton

Carroll, George           1954-56      76       1225      16.1                            52-Carr Creek

Sargent, Harold          1960-61      71       1015      14.3                                 31-Smyrna

Eggleston, John           1950-52      69       1008      14.6                              31-Olive Hill

TOP SCORING AVERAGES AT ALUMNI

1956 George Carroll 706 24.3

1959 Larry Castle 700 23.3

1955 Bill Kazee 656 21.2

1954 Bill Gray 715 21.0

1953 Earl Adkins 668 20.9

1962 Larry Conley 766 20.7

1957 Howard Humphreys 543 20.1

1952 John Eggleston 620 20.0

TEAM’S LEADING SCORER YEAR-BY-YEAR

Year   Player                 Points     Avg

1927   Ernest Chattin        221       7.9

1928   Gene Strother        279       7.5

1929   Darrell Darby          312       9.5

1930   Jim Barney              143       5.7

1931   Jack Magann          221       7.1

1932   Rex Caudill              204       7.8

1933   Jim Riffe                  209       7.0

1934   Bob O’Mara            272       8.5

1935   On Suspension       —–       –.-

1936   Clyde Johnson        133       5.8

1937   Charles Pergrem    216       9.8

1938   Edgar Peters           179       7.4

1939   Ray Brumfield        172       6.6

1940   Bob Hilton              247       8.8

1941   Jack Sieweke          185       7.4

1942   Jim Rive                   237     10.3

1943   Bernard Pergrem   112       5.1

1944   Bernard Pergrem   305     11.7

1945   Randall Stevens      285     10.2

1946   George Weggener 309     10.7

1947   Fred Anson             335     15.2

1948   Eugene Clark          349     12.9

1949   Eugene Clark          386     12.5

1950   Bob Lowe                332     13.8

1951   John Eggleston       388     12.1

1952   John Eggleston       620     20.0

1953   Earl Adkins              668     20.9

1954   Bill Gray                  715     21.0

1955   Bill Kazee                656     21.2

1956   George Carroll        706     24.3

1957   Howard Humphreys 543  20.1

1958   David Patton          282     11.3

1959   Larry Castle             700     23.3

1960   David Sparks           545     16.0

1961   Bob Hilton              592     16.0

1962   Larry Conley           766     20.7

2022 CP-1 Hall of Fame class has ‘a little bit of everything’

ASHLAND, Ky. – Outstanding pitchers, three Little League state champions, a legendary Babe Ruth coach and some of the most versatile and athletic players in Ashland baseball history make up the 10-member class for the 2022 CP-1 Ashland Hall of Fame.

This latest class will bring the CP-1 Hall of Fame total to 80 with 20 more players/coaches to come in the next two years on the way to naming the top 100. The 2022 event will be Saturday, Aug. 27, at 1 p.m. in front of the big diamond – CP-1 – in Central Park.

“This class has a little bit of everything,” said CP-1 Hall of Fame President Mark Maynard. “Great pitchers, Little League champions, a coaching icon and some of the greatest all-around players to ever stop a ground ball on that field. Anybody who has come to one of these events always comes back because of the raw emotion on display. This is a very deserving bunch. You’ll know the names.”

Here is a list of the 2022 induction class:

–David Cox, a valuable outfielder for the state champion Tomcats of 1968 who also played center field for the 1969 Tomcats state runner-up team.

–Scott Crawford, a power hitter from Little League through American Legion during his career. He was a member of the Ashland American Little League state champions and starred for the Tomcats and Post 76.

–Steve Hall, a standout player for the Tomcats who graduated in 1972 and later coached the Ashland baseball team in the 1980s. An outstanding catcher, he played collegiately at Morris Harvey in Charleston, W.Va.

–The late Omar Henry was an outstanding all-around athlete and dominating pitcher in Little League, high school with the Tomcats and he pitcher for UK. He was a member of the 1990 Ashland American Little League state championship team.

–Greg Jackson, an athletic third baseman who used his speed and strong hitting at the top of the Tomcats’ lineup from 1974-76.

–Charlie McDowell, one of the giants in youth coaching in Ashland. His Babe Ruth teams routinely collected championships and the rosters of those who played for him reads like an Ashland who’s who.

–Jason Stein, a second baseman who starred for the Ashland American 1986 Little League state champions and then later with the Tomcats. He went on to be the head coach at Eastern Kentucky University and is currently the hitting coach for Duke University.

–Mark Swift, an all-around athlete who went to college on a basketball scholarship was a slick-fielding shortstop and clutch hitter during his days with the Tomcats from 1975-77.

–Herb Wamsley, a versatile athlete who starred behind the plate and at second base for the Tomcats during his career. He graduated in 1977.

–Rick Wenning, a hard-throwing pitcher for the Tomcats who graduated in 1973. He later pitched collegiately for David Lipscomb and the University of Kentucky. He was one of the best pitchers in the park during the 1970s.

PREVIOUS CP-1 HALL OF FAME SELECTIONS

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.

2016 (11): Bob Lynch, Steve Rolen, “Big” Ed Hughes, Wayne Workman, Bill Workman, Chuck Dickison, Juan Thomas, Ellis Childers, Clyde Chinn, Marvin Hall, Dan Smith.

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.

2018: (14): Don Lentz, Fred Leibee, John Sieweke, Dave Staten, Larry Stevens, Mike Tackett, H.F. Dixon, Ernie Daniels, Larry Castle, David Patton, Greg Swift, Don Allen, Rick Reeves, Frank Wagner. 

2019 (10): T.R. Wright, Robert Wright, Dick Fillmore, Herb Conley, Ed Joseph, Ed Radjunas, Tobey Tolbert, Mike Johnson, Frank Sloan, Darryl Smith

2020: No ceremony because of COVID

2021 (10): Wilson Barrow, Scott Crank, Mike Delaney, Bryan Finkbone, Bill Hammond, French Harmon, Jon Hart, Cabot Keesey, Mark Moore, Mike Tussey.

The historic marker at Central Park in front of the big diamond, affectionally known as CP-1.