Tomcat scoring king Marty Thomas to be honored at AIT

ASHLAND, Ky. – Marty Thomas almost apologetically admitted he wasn’t aware of the Distinguished Tomcat Award given annual at the Ashland Invitational Tournament.

When a committee member told him of the prestigious honor and that he was the recipient of the award, he was stunned and humbled.

“Complete surprise,” he said. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness. Are you sure? Me?’ Because I don’t think of myself as that person. It’s an incredible recognition. I’m grateful and honored.”

It’s not that much of a surprise to anyone who watched Thomas player for the Tomcats from 1992-94 when he put up more points than any player in Ashland history. His 1,873 points still ranks as No. 1 although current Tomcat Cole Villers isn’t far behind.

It also won’t be the first time Thomas has received an award during the AIT. He was chosen as one of the top 50 players in AIT history during a recognition several years ago.

Marty Thomas and his family will be at the AIT when he is recognized with the Distinguished Tomcat Award on Tuesday. From left: Chasity Thomas, Kiyara Thomas, Marty, wife Wendy Thomas, Tyler Evans, Hudson Evans, Lucy Evans, Kylie Evans, Whittney Evans, Matt Lawson, Gabby Lawson. A daughter-in-law and son-in-law will also be there but aren’t shown here.

“The swimming pool was there at that time, and we were stretched out in this single file line going through,” he remembered. “I was waiting for my name to be called and walk out to halfcourt. I know Jeff Hall, my coach, was just behind me. Him and Ervin Stepp from Phelps were jawing at each other, and I was caught in the middle (between them). It was like these guys were about to suit up for a high school game. Jeff silenced the crowed by showing his (NCAA) championship ring. I was thinking these guys are going to get wet.”

Thomas said that honor of being one of the best to ever play in the AIT was a great honor in itself. “That tournament gives you goose bumps,” he said.

Thomas will have the spotlight to himself this time. He will be honored before Ashland plays its opener in the AIT on Dec. 28.

Thomas helped the Tomcats to a 16th Region championship his junior season under coach Wayne Breeden when he averaged 27.7 points per game – the highest single-season scoring average in Ashland history. He also holds the record for a single game, scoring 54 points against Jellico, Tennessee, in a tournament in southeastern Kentucky.

Ashland won 121-33, which is the most points scored in a game in Tomcat history.

“I remember everybody telling me to shoot it,” he said. “Everybody was passing me the ball and saying, ‘keep shooting it.’ I remember their coach was very upset because this guy keeps making these shots. I don’t know how players describe being in a zone but that’s probably the best description.”

Thomas was in the zone a lot. He had 14 games of 30 or more points in his career, scored 38 in a pulsating 16th Region championship win over Russell in 1993 and followed that up with a 31-point performance in a loss to Shelby County in the Sweet Sixteen.

He was All-State as a junior and senior and a member of the Kentucky All-Stars in 1994. He was a two-time All-AIT performance and the All-Area Player of the Year as a senior. Thomas went on to play at Eastern Kentucky University before a back injury ended his career.

Being the scoring king for going on 27 years is something Thomas holds onto with pride. People still mention it to him, he said.

“I’ve heard it a lot in the workplace, or at Kroger or I’ll run into someone at the gas station,” he said. “I’ve been introduced that ay to friends. I’m not the type of person that I ever led with that in a conversation. People are like, ‘You didn’t tell me you’re the all-time leading scorer at your school?’ Not that I’m not proud of it, I’m just not somebody who talks about himself much.”

His humble beginnings started with Thomas and his brother dribbling on a gravel driveway with only a homemade hoop. They would shoot at the sundeck which had an X put on it or a box nailed to it. “If the ball rolled off the driveway, it went down the hill quite a bit,” he said. “We still got out there and dribbled.”

Marty said his father, the late Maynard Thomas, would be moved by the honor. “I know he’d give me a big warm hug and say he’s proud of me. My father’s words were there is always somebody out there better. You need to work harder. He would add to that you need to work harder so when you meet that person, you’re able to compete.”

Thomas has dabbled in coaching and currently is the middle school and junior varsity girls coach at Raceland. He hopes all 26 members of the team will go out to midcourt with him when he’s recognized.

Thomas is married to Wendy Thomas and five children – Kiyara Thomas, Chasity Thomas, Gabby Lawson, Tyler Evans and Whitney Evans. He also has two grandchildren, Hudson and Lucy. The family will join him at midcourt when Tomcat PA announcer introduces him as the recipient of an award that Thomas is quickly learning about.

“There are so many great names in Tomcat history on that list,” he said. “It’s humbling to say the least.”

Distinguished Tomcat Award 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 the 2006 Cy Young Award winner for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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?

2017-Mark Maynard, sports historian and former sports editor and editor of The Daily Independent who has written 11 books including eight with Tomcat ties.

2018-Vic Marsh, the all-time winningest coach in Ashland Tomcat football history. He led the Tomcats to the 1990 state championship.

2019-Frank Sloan who coached Ashland teams to regional championships in baseball, girls basketball and soccer.

2020-COVID, no selection.

2021-Marty Thomas, who starred in basketball from 1992-94 when he became all-time scoring king with 1,873 points. He also had the single-game record with 54 points and averaged 27.7, an all-time best, his junior season.

‘Mark My Words 2’ covers little bit of everything

What do Mickey Mantle, Bevo Francis, Joe DiMaggio, Jody Hamilton, Don Gullett, Kevin Bair and a football team called JAWS have in common?

They are just a few of the many stories in “Mark My Words 2,” a collection of stories from Ashland historian Mark Maynard. This is Mark’s 11th book since 2010. The first book was “Mark My Words” published by the Jesse Stuart Foundation. JSF also published his second book, “Teamwork,” and the rest of come through Right Eye Graphics.

The latest is a greatest hits list of stories from Maynard, most of them coming from his popular blog.

He covers the 33-0 Tomcats perfect season in 2019-20 and the 1928 national champion Ashland Tomcats. He writes about the night Bevo Francis lit up Ashland Junior College for an astounding 114 points and Kevin Bair’s home run for the ages that won a state championship for East Carter High School in 1984.

‘Mark My Words 2″ is available by mail or at several locations in Ashland. Cost is $20 ($4 more with shipping).

His stories deal mostly with the Ashland area and include some reflections on some of her greatest people and athletes.

Ginny Carter, who was a mother to so many in Ashland American Little League in the 1960s, is featured in the book and the day his father-in-law, Fred Boggs, scored his one and only ace at the age of 87.

There are also one-on-one interviews with Putnam Stadium (you read that right), and obits on the press at the Ashland Daily Independent and Armco Steel.

The stories will make you laugh and some will make you cry.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy email Mark at or visit PayPal and include payment ($24 with shipping) and address. Mark’s Paypal address is

Locally, books are available at Pollock’s Jewelry and the Trophy House (formerly Ashland Sporting Goods). Call (606) 571-1031 for more information.

Could vocational school be in Ashland’s future?

ASHLAND, Ky. – The Ashland school board voted unanimously last Monday night to begin studying more deeply the possibility of building a vocational school.

Superintendent Sean Howard said the time is now to expand opportunities for students in the Ashland system. A citizen’s group called “Ashland’s Generation Next” led the charge to begin considering it as a possibility since Ashland is the only school in the state without a vocational school.

The citizens group spent countless hours in research and emails to state officials including Sen. Robin Webb and Rep. Scott Sharp, both who were supportive. Howard has interacted with Rocky Adkins, a special advisor to Gov. Andy Beshear, for additional support.

The motive of the citizen’s group is to give all students a better career path and to have a workforce developing for future growth in Ashland. And, hopefully, to work on ending the “Brain Drain,” where the best and brightest leave Ashland for other areas because of few opportunities here.

Three “Ashland’s Generation Next” members shared the good news to the Ashland City Commission on Thursday. Mayor Matt Perkins, City Manager Mike Graese and the four commissioners were all in agreement that the potential of a vocational school would be a benefit to the city and promised to work with Howard in helping with the project.

At the school board meeting on Monday, Howard asked to assemble the 20-member Local Planning Commission, which decides projects that the school system most needs, and hopefully move vocational school to the top of the priority list. A group of school officials and one of the citizen’s group toured Johnson Central and Lawrence County facilities on Wednesday to learn more about what was ahead.

Students in every other school system throughout the area have access to vocational schools on their own campus or in a nearby one in the case of Fairview Independent and Raceland Independent, which can attend Russell’s vocational school. However, an Ashland student would have to transfer to attend Boyd County, Greenup County or Russell’s vocational schools.

Beshear was traveling the state last week to present checks to Kentucky school districts to renovate local Vocational Education Centers. The grant funding was approved through the Kentucky School Facilities Construction Commission Board and approved in the last legislative session.

Beshear on Friday presented $10 million to the Johnson County Board of Education to fund the construction of a new Local Area Vocational Education Center, which will be connected to the new Johnson Central High School, a news release said.

An existing career and technical education center in Johnson County currently offers 27 training majors and has almost 1,000 students enrolled, Beshear’s office said.

Beshear also handed out more than $4.3 million to the Magoffin Board of Education to finance a new vocational education center.

Officials say the current vocational education building, built in the 1970s, has inadequate electrical wiring, outdated security systems and various space issues.

The construction board voted to offer grants to nine schools districts which operate Local Area Vocational Education Centers (LAVEC) programs. Funding can be used to cover the cost of renovations which would include updating, expanding, repairing and replacing or rebuilding a structure.

Six districts received $10 million grants including Johnson County. Lawrence County received $9,280,350 and Magoffin County will get $4,369,318 in grant funding.

Here is the breakdown for the school districts that have been approved for LAVEC grants by the commission:

  • Magoffin County will receive $4,369,318

  • Christian County will receive $10 million

  • Bardstown Independent will receive $10 million

  • Johnson County will receive $10 million

  • Lawrence County will receive $9,280,350

  • Fayette County will receive $10 million

  • Knox County will receive $10 million

  • Trigg County will receive $10 million

  • Ballard County will receive $68,896

Twenty-two other school districts that applied did not receive funding but have hopes of being approved during the General Assembly session that starts in January.

Until recently Ashland didn’t qualify for the grant because it wasn’t designated a LAVEC program. Because of what the school was doing already with nursing, engineering and agriculture on the Blazer campus, they were eligible to be a LAVEC and Howard applied with the state to gain that status.

More work needs to be done, including writing a grant, before the General Assembly session starts in January. The governor will be reviewing qualified projects for potential funds in the budget that will be submitted for January.

Gov. Andy Beshear presented the Johnson County School Board a check for $10 million to further develop vocational education.

Jim Matney: Mountain legend, mountain mover

Jim Matney was a mountain lover and a mountain mover.

He turned a stereotype into a strength, making his mountain men believe they could knock down any wall put in front of them. And they did. Johnson Central High School has become a household name in Kentucky high school football circles, a yearly contender that must be handled.

Matney did it by being three-in-one: part-coach, part-philosopher, and part-motivator. He was a father figure to many of his players and a life coach to all of them. He told them life was tough and you make your own way. Nobody is giving you anything, he would say.

They listened and then they played like starving dogs.

Matney won with a brute-like style of punishing play, using the size of these mountain boys to their own advantage. His running backs all ran with an almost angry edge to them. You didn’t tackle them without feeling it. Their defense was equally physical with a similar edge of I’m-better-than-you football.

The 62-year-old Matney, who died Tuesday after a month-long battle with COVID-19 complications, is a mountain legend and a hero to many there. Everybody expected him to beat even this battle with COVID, especially his players. But this pandemic, as we’ve learned, is unforgiving and no respecter of person.

Matney guided the Golden Eagles to five consecutive state championship game appearances from 2015 and 2019, winning in 2016 and 2019, with the last one, a 21-20 victory over Boyle County in a battle of undefeated Class 4A titans, maybe being the highlight of a brilliant coaching career that amassed 310 victories.

Jim Matney celebrates his last championship in 2019 as Johnson Central edged Boyle County, 21-20. (Photo by Kevin Goldy/ADI)

Before Johnson Central played Boyle County at Kroger Field in 2019, he was given a stone from a stream in the valley of Elah, where the Bible says in 1 Samuel 17 that David slew Goliath. That rock sits in a box with the championship trophy from that perfect season in a bulging trophy case at the high school.

Jim Matney gets the cold water treatment after his first state title in 2015, a 48-0 win over Franklin-Simpson. (Kevin Goldy/ADI)

He told his players they could defeat any foe, including ones from northern Kentucky. Don’t listen to what everybody was telling them. Listen to me, he would say. I believe in you, he would tell them. You’re going to win.

Matney was a master motivator who used anything and everything to his advantage. Eventually, winning became a culture and so did winning championships. Anything less wasn’t enough.

It was also important to be the best team on the block or, in Johnson Central’s case, the best one in northeastern and eastern Kentucky. They took on all-comers although the invitations weren’t accepted. Nobody wanted to play this powerhouse that offered no apologies and often showed little mercy.

He was competitiveness personified and it carried over to his teams. For whatever reason, few teams brought out the fire in Matney like the Ashland Tomcats. Maybe it was because of the Tomcats’ tradition or that he was once passed over to be the Ashland coach.

But mention the name Tomcats and Matney would be at another competitive level where his blood was boiling.

He met Ashland once as a player when he was a junior at Belfry in 1975 and the JAWS Tomcats came to town and sank the Pirates, 47-6. Maybe he remembered that too.

Matney was 3-1 against Ashland as the coach at Sheldon Clark, including a 48-0 shellacking in 2000 that the Tomcats avenged with a 42-0 romp in 2001. Bad blood was brewing, Matney also won games with the Cardinals in 1999 by a score of 14-0 and again in 2002 by a 28-26 count.

Matney was 15-3 against Ashland from 2005 to 2018 as the head coach at Johnson Central including 4-0 in the playoffs. There were some heartbreaking losses for Ashland, including 28-21 in 2006 in the playoffs, 22-21 in 2012 and 8-7 in 2015 in one of the most physical games I’ve ever watched. But a large portion of the series was one-sided for Johnson Central including games where they scored 67, 51, 54, 50, 48 and 47.

Even though he seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder against the Tomcats, he had respect for them and spoke often about the tremendous coaching staff. He told me several times that he’d love to have Tony Love on the Johnson Central coaching staff. Matney loved to compete so maybe that’s why he loved playing Ashland.

Matney’s stronghold over the Tomcats made Johnson Central the toughest kid on the block and he liked that.

The news of his death on Tuesday sent shockwaves around the state although daily reports of his struggle while sedated and on a ventilator were shared on social media. He started becoming ill after Johnson Central defeated Henry Clay on Aug. 20 in Lexington and suffered a stroke while being transported from Paintsville to Cabell Huntington the following week.

Then he fought, just like he fought as a football and wrestling coach and how he did as an athlete playing everything at Belfry. By the way, he was an even better wrestling coach, if you can imagine that, than football. Sheldon Clark won two state titles and he coached 30 individual champions at Sheldon Clark and Johnson Central.

Jim Matney and I were friends. He’d call me at the office just to talk sometimes (and maybe to find out what I knew about the Tomcats). Even though I was no longer covering sports fulltime at the newspaper after moving into the editor’s chair, we stayed in touch. He even invited me to have lunch with him at Texas Roadhouse in Ashland at least three times where, after sharing a meal, he slipped me an envelope with a sizeable donation in it to Amy For Africa, a ministry I’ve been involved with for eight years. He was always helping kids, even ones halfway around the world.

Rick Sang, a friend of mine who operates the Ray Guy school for punters, kickers and long-snappers, worked with some Johnson Central kickers. When he was working with the kickers, somebody had to chase the footballs. That would be Jim Matney. If he could help a kid, he did.

Through Jim’s successes, I was able to meet his wife Debby, a lovely lady whose heart has to be broken. The Matneys have two sons, Dalton and Carson. They came along after many years of trying. Dalton was born on Nov. 10, 2006, the same night the Golden Eagles stunned Ashland 28-21 in the playoffs. Carson was born four years later.

The Johnson Central-Ashland game that year was a thriller, but Matney’s true thrill of that day came in the hospital room. When the game was over, a game that the Golden Eagles won on a double-reverse pass with 11 seconds remaining, Matney’s only thoughts were to call his wife and check on the baby.

He pulled out the cell phone and made the call, but the signal wasn’t strong enough. Debbie, who had been listening to the game in the hospital with nurses, was trying to call him, too.

“When I got to the hospital later that night, nurses were congratulating me about the game,” the coach said. “They knew all about it but I didn’t know how they did.”

Another patient in the hospital in a room near Debby was listening to the game from his room.

It wasn’t love at first sight for Debby and Jim Matney, but only because she was in disguise. She first met her husband-to-be at a Sheldon Clark Cardinals football game when she was “mascot substituting.”

Jim was scouting for Belfry at the time.

“My mother said, ‘There’s a cute guy up there’ and I went up and aggravated him. He didn’t know it was me; he didn’t even know me.”

Three years later Jim Matney moved to Sheldon Clark and became the coach and met her again – this time without the disguise.

“She told me she was the one in the mascot uniform,” he told me.

They eventually married and she followed her husband’s successful career from Sheldon Clark to Johnson Central. Life was good until this vicious pandemic.

Matney was an all-around good athlete at Belfry where he played football, basketball, baseball and wrestled before going to Liberty University on a wrestling scholarship.

Bobby Norman, who calls Belfry games on the radio, shared a tribute of telling his father of Jim’s passing Tuesday. Pastor Bob Norman, his father, was the Belfry team chaplain and led Jim to Christ and baptized him in high school. Bob has Alzheimer’s or dementia now, but when his son told him about Matney’s death, he cried.

It’s understandable. A lot of us did the same.