When famous evangelist Billy Sunday came to Ashland

A friend recently found some old newspaper clippings from the Ashland Daily Independent that were tucked away in one of her grandmother’s old catalogs. Some of them dated back to 1917 but were in incredibly good shape. She posted many of the clipped-out articles and shared them on Facebook. Flipping through her Facebook post was fascinating and educational, like having a time capsule in front of you.

I don’t claim to know everything about Ashland – especially outside the sports arena – but I’ve long been a fan of reading old newspapers via microfilm machines. The writing is creative yet in a far different way from today. Most of the sports reports never included any comments from coaches or players but often lists the entire starting lineup in football and basketball and practically every play that happened.

Included in this treasure trove of newspaper clippings was one about world-famous evangelist Billy Sunday preaching in Ashland. He was here in January of 1922 at the First M.E. Church on 18th Street and Carter Avenue.

Sunday was met in Huntington and a caravan of cars brought him to Ashland. He left after also speaking at the Rotary Club.

Sunday, known for his dramatic flair while speaking, preached for an hour “to the largest audience Ashland has ever sent to hear a preacher,” the newspaper reported. He was introduced by the Rev. H.V. Carson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church and president of the Ashland Ministerial Association, which remains in operation today.

Sunday’s fiery sermon was entitled “Is it well with thee?” and the evangelist didn’t hold back. He spoke on the welfare of the wife, husband and child and especially the child. The newspaper quoted the famed evangelist extensively in the story about his visit, which I also found interesting since quotes were seldom found in most stories.

“My friends, little can you realize how the child looks to you for guidance, looks to you for an example. Will you come through? Will the only times that he hears the name of God from you be when in profanity or derision when you take the name of the Lord in vain?”

He talked about the importance of getting children into Sunday School so they could learn about Jesus to help them through life’s difficulties.

“The Sunday schools lost 500,000 children because their parents did not take them to the Sunday School, setting them an example and teaching them the right way to live.” He said it was up to the parents to get their children in church “to show him that he cannot fight the battles of life without the assistance of Jesus Christ.”

Sunday spoke of what can happen if parents don’t have control of their children and haven’t taught them about Jesus including a girl “giving up her virtue” and the boy “entering a bootlegging joint with no one to say that is not right.” He was a huge proponent of Prohibition with his preaching likely playing a role in the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919.

Sunday also talked to the wife and asked if her husband was “merely the man whose name she bears” or do you realize that “without Christ he is lost and that you will never see him again? Are you working to save his soul?”

What Sunday preached 100 years ago largely rings true today.

Sunday was a famous baseball player, too, who played as a speedy outfielder in the National League for eight years with the Cubs, Pirates and Phillies before leaving the game for the Christian ministry. He once stole 84 bases in a single season in 1890 and had a career .248 batting average with 246 steals.

But it was in the pulpit where he was most effective in life, becoming the nation’s most famous evangelist partly because of his frenetic delivery where his movement in the pulpit was active and unique, almost as if he was winding up to pitch. His audiences were smaller in the 1920s as he grew older and other sources of entertainment began to appear which may explain why he was in Ashland. But he was a strong defender of conservative Christianity until he died in 1935.

Sunday was 59 when he preached in Ashland, but at least the famous evangelist was here, if only for one hard-hitting sermon.

Former Ashland Tomcat great Ivan Curnutte dies at 85

GREENSBURG, Ky. – Ivan Curnutte, an Ashland Tomcat football great from the 1950s who went on to play at the University of Kentucky with coach Bear Bryant, died on Feb. 3, 2021 at the Northwest Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. He was 85.

Curnutte, who starred for the Tomcats in 1951 and 1952, was a hard-charging halfback who rushed for 1,824 yards and 15 touchdowns as the feature back for coach Charlie Eblen.  

He went on to UK to play with his brother Delmas “Duke” Curnutte, a former Tomcat lineman who was recruited by Bryant to play at UK. Bryant went to Texas A&M after the 1953 season at UK and was replaced by Blanton Collier.

Ivan Curnutte started the Green County High School football program in Greensburg, Ky., in 1962 and was the school athletic director and assistant principal from 1975 until 1988 when he retired as an educator. He also coached two seasons at Louisa High School in 1958 and 1959 when his teams finished 6-4 and 4-6.

As a Tomcat, he was the leading rusher in 13 of 21 games. Two of his best performances came against Ironton. He ran for a career-high 208 yards in a 37-12 victory over the Tigers as a senior and had 103 yards in a 20-19 win over Ironton at home as a junior.

Curnutte also had outstanding games against Portsmouth with 124 yards in a 34-13 win over the Trojans as a junior and gained 106 yards in a 28-25 loss to the Trojans in Putnam Stadium to close out his Tomcat career.

He ran for 807 yards at 6.2 per carry as a junior on a team that finished 6-5 under Eblen. In the season opener, Curnutte returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Catlettsburg. Eph Woods had taken the kick and when he saw a defender coming at him, lateraled to Curnutte, who went the rest of the way to the end zone. Woods couldn’t avoid the collision and suffered a broken leg on the play.

The 1951 team include All-State guard Jerry Clark and standouts Tom Gates, John Johnson, Charlie Webb and Don Clere. Bill Carter, Rex Miller and Bob Sang joined Eblen on the coaching staff.

The Tomcats were 6-2-2 in Curnutte’s senior season in 1952, tying the first two games of the season by identical 7-7 scores against Catlettsburg and Stonewall Jackson.

Curnutte rushed for 1,017 yards and averaged 8.3 per carry with 10 touchdowns as a senior. Eblen and the same coaching staff returned.

Earl “Brother” Adkins was his backfield running mate during his senior season. Better known for his basketball prowess, Adkins was nifty on the football field too, rushing for 601 yards.

Curnutte was a first-team All-State running back as named by the Paducah Sun. Guard Bob Stambough also made the first team by the Paducah Sun. Lineman Clyde Cordle, quarterback Mickey Hemlepp and running back Clere were other standouts.

Curnutte’s funeral is Thursday in Greensburg with visitation on Wednesday. He is survived by Della Curnutte, his wife of 64 years, a son Michael Dean “Alfie” Curnutte of Greensburg, three grandchildren, a great-grandson and a sister, Camilla Jo Tussey (wife of Mike Tussey). Another son, Anthony Ellis “Tony” Curnutte, preceded him in death in 2007 along with his brother Duke Curnutte in 2018.

Duke Curnutte’s son, Steve Curnutte, led the 1971 Tomcats to an 11-2 season. Steve was a quarterback and hard-hitting defensive back who went on to play at Vanderbilt and was drafted in the 17th round of the 1976 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.

Ashland Tomcat 1,000-point club adds 30th member

Cole Villers joined the Ashland Tomcat 1,000-point club on Feb. 5, 2021 against Russell. He joins his brothers, Christian and Chase, among the 30 players in Tomcat history to achieve the milestone. The trio are at 3,814 points and counting.

Cole is a junior guard who still has what remains of the 2021 season and his senior season remaining. He is currently at No. 25 with 1,017 points. He moved in front of the great Harold Sargent from the 1961 Tomcats after scoring 26 against the Red Devils. His career-high of 32 points came in this season’s opener against Highlands.

Three members of the Lynch family – Michael, Bob, and Dale – are among the 1,000-point scorers. Brothers Larry and Joe Conley are also in the club.

Cole Villers drops a pass to a teammate against Rowan County in the 2020 16th Region Tournament.

Most Points, Varsity Career

Player                          Years      G        Pts      Avg                  High Point Game

Thomas, Marty          1991-94    108      1873     17.3                              54-Jellico

Thomas, Matt            2004-08    154      1833     11.9                          29-Boyd Co.

McDavid, Drew          2003-07    154      1795     11.7                    43-Knott Central

Gregg, Corey             2010-12     91      1636     18.0                       35-in 3 games

Umberger, Kyle         1995-98    100      1518     15.2                         33-Highlands

Cantrell, Chuck          1982-84     87      1501     17.3                           33-Fairview

Delaney, Dylan          2008-11    104      1499     14.4                     34-Ironton, Ohio

Young, Austin            1992-95    106      1480     14.0                      33-Morgan Co.

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

Villers, Christian         2013-16     95      1452     15.3                             47-Russell

Robinson, Devaunte  2016-19    112      1406     12.6                       25-East Carter

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

Lynch, Michael          1993-95     99      1348     13.6                       37-Portsmouth

Villers, Chase            2014-18    119      1345     11.3                        41-Mason Co.

Surgalski, Mark          1999-02     92      1308     14.2                       30-in 3 games

Wheeler, Clint            1964-66     89      1297     14.6                                 33-Inez

Lynch, Bob                1966-68     86      1278     14.9                35-Huntington High

Whetsel, Ryan           2009-12    126      1237       9.8                       24-in 2 games

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

Bonner, Ryan            2005-09    125      1204       9.6                            21-Iroquois

Withrow, Cody           2009-12    100      1192     11.9                       27-Rowan Co.

Arbaugh, Darrell        1997-99     91      1190     13.1                          31-Boyd Co.

McCauley, Greg        1978-80     91      1046     11.5                      29-Franklin Co.

Lynch, Dale               1970-72     90      1025     11.4                          25-Boyd Co.

*Villers, Cole               2017-21     82      1017     12.4                          32-Highlands

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

Miller, Nick                2012-15     81      1010     12.5                           28-Clay Co.

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

Conley, Joe               1966-68     75      1008     13.4                32-Huntington East

Kleykamp, Ray          1968-69     65      1007     15.5               37-Montgomery Co.

*-Still active.

Ivan and Grady had friendship beyond coaching

(This article was written in April 2010 before Coach Ivan McGlone was inducted into the Dawahares/Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. We pray for Ivan’s family on his passing).

In the middle of next month, Russell football coach Ivan McGlone will take his place in the Dawahares/Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

It seems fitting that one of those who will take part in the ceremony is Grady Walter, Ivan’s longtime assistant coach who retired from teaching and coaching in 2003.

Ivan and Grady are more than coaching acquaintances. They are friends. Best friends. Like family kind of friends.

The Hall of Fame inductees are given medallions that are placed around the neck and Ivan asked Grady for an assist. There couldn’t be a better choice.

“I said ‘I don’t have to talk, do I?’” Grady asked Ivan before accepting the request.

Ivan assured him he didn’t; he probably hopes he doesn’t have to say anything either.

That’s the Ivan way.

McGlone deserves the recognition, that’s for sure. He’s an icon in northeastern Kentucky for the amazing job he’s done since coming to Russell in 1976.

Some thought he wasn’t going to be there long, figuring him to be an “interim coach” until somebody more suitable arrived. But he’s the longest interim coach you’ll find anywhere, having coached the Red Devils for the past 36 seasons.

Nobody stays around that long unless they a) know how to win; b) know how to use assistants; c) don’t make enemies.

Walter said he’s not surprised his good buddy is still coaching.

“It’s part of his persona,” he said. “He loves coaching football and being around the kids.”

Ivan and Grady have been around for each other’s triumphs and tragedies, in football and life. They’ve laughed together and they’ve cried together.

And they sure did win a lot of games together.

Grady Walter was the first assistant coach to sign on with McGlone in ‘74.

“He interviewed me for the job and I was in limbo,” Grady remembered. “Sue (his wife) had some surgical problems over the summer and I told him I had to take care of her first.”

Turned out, Sue did fine, so Grady accepted the position. The two became fast friends, as did their families. It was as if they each had two families.

Grady looks back on his time with Ivan fondly. That included the 1978 state championship season. He retired two years prior to the Red Devils winning it again in 2005 and finishing runner-up in 2006.

But it includes every other season, too. The easygoing McGlone is someone you want to be around.

“He’s not changed one bit,” Grady said. “Everybody likes him. He doesn’t make (coaching) enemies because he never runs the score up. He’s an open book if you want to trade films.”

When Grady was coaching, he lived in Ashland so his boys attended school in Ashland. Dwight, his youngest son, was a member of the Tomcats’ 1990 state championship football team.

The friendly family feud was nothing for Grady, who was one of four siblings who went to Catlettsburg while three others went to Ashland schools. Two of his brothers, Dick and Jack, actually played against each other.

Grady Walter said his experience with Dwight was always a good one.

“We always had Thursday night meal together,” he said. “Sue wanted us home. His senior year, when they were playing Greenup County, I remember him saying to me ‘We’ll beat them 40 points.’ I told him you better watch saying things like that.’’

It turned out the Musketeers stunned the Tomcats in Putnam Stadium, handing the ‘90 team their only loss that season.

But overall, it was a season to remember for the Tomcats and Dwight Walter was going to be part of it.

Ivan “fired” Grady as the coach on Fridays that season, telling him “to scout Ashland.” He didn’t want his friend to miss his son’s senior season.

“He told me to coach through the week and scout Ashland on Friday nights,” Grady said.

But a tragic accident took the life of Russell assistant Jim Tardy in September. That sent the Red Devil family reeling and Grady returned to the sideline for the rest of the season. Tardy was like a son to McGlone and close to everybody on the staff. It was a difficult time.

“He was the first real assistant to come in 1977,” Grady recalled. “The three of us hit it off real good. Tardy coached the guards and centers, I coached the backs and Ivan walked around.”

Grady chuckles at himself. “Don’t tell me I said that.”

In the last game of the regular season, Ashland and Russell played on Senior Night in Putnam Stadium. Grady, decked out in Russell coaching attire, went over to be with his son and wife prior to pregame ceremonies for the seniors.

“Somebody from the stands yelled ‘Who’s that SOB in the Russell jacket?’ I was so mad, I couldn’t hardly see straight,” he said.

Ashland won easily, ending a difficult season for the Red Devils.

But Grady was able to watch his son’s senior year of playoff games that eventually resulted in a state championship.

Bittersweet would be how he would best describe 1990.

“Ivan supported Dwight while Sue and Gloria (Ivan’s wife) are great friends,” Grady said. “Our families are real close. We’re real close.”

You get close from coaching together for 29 years. You’re often in the same foxhole, riding the same buses, dealing with the same player or parent issues.

Most relationships, coaching or otherwise, don’t last nearly that long. That’s why it seems fitting to me that Grady Walter play a part in Ivan McGlone’s statewide honor next month.

After all, few have been teammates longer.