Tomcats to honor CP-1 HOF class at halftime of football opener

ASHLAND, Ky. – Inductees for the fourth annual Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame are in for an extra treat.

The Ashland Tomcats are inviting the 2018 class to be their guests when the Tomcats open the high school football season against Harlan County on Saturday night in Putnam Stadium.

The 2018 CP-1 HOF class will be introduced to the crowd at halftime of the game, according to Ashland Athletic Director Mark Swift.

The CP-1 Hall of Fame ceremony takes place at 1 p.m. in Central Park and the Ashland-Harlan County game kicks off at 7:30.

All 14 of the inductees either played baseball for the Tomcats or attended school there.

Six members of the class were part of Ashland’s three-peat state championship baseball reign from 1966 to 1968.

The 14-member class includes:

David Patton, Larry Castle and H.F. Dixon from the 1950s era.

Ernie Daniels, Don Lentz, David Staten, Fred Leibee, Mike Tackett, Larry Stevens and John Sieweke from the 1960s era.

Greg Swift, Donnie Allen, Rick Reeves and the late Frank Wagner from the 1970s era.

This year’s class brings the total inducted to 50 with 50 more still to be selected in the next five years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1950s era Tomcats part of star-studded CP-1 Hall of Fame class

David Patton, left, and Larry Castle are among 14 being inducted into the CP-1 Hall of Fame on Saturday.

ASHLAND, Ky. – Three Ashland Tomcat baseball greats from the 1950s will be enshrined in the Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame on Saturday in Central Park.

Pitcher Larry Castle, catcher David Patton and center fielder H.F. Dixon were all teammates ifor the Tomcats who won the regional tournament in 1958.

Dixon was also on the 1960 regional champions that won its first game in the State Tournament before bowing out.

Castle played from 1957 to 1959 and was the No. 1 starting pitcher all three years, pitching the openers of district and regional tournaments and the region finals in 1957 and 1958.

He also started the state tournament opener in ’58, losing a narrow game with Owensboro.

Castle played either shortstop (if Dick Fillmore was pitching) or third base (if Herb Conley was pitching) when he wasn’t on the mound and batting around .350 while being one of the top run producers.

Castle’s nifty pitching was mostly off speed with an assortment of curveballs and sliders. He threw the fastball only 15 percent of the time, he said.

“I was best known for my curveball and drop curve, so I relied on them heavily,” he said. Castle struck out about 10 players per game.

Castle started his youth league career playing for Charles Russell Elementary that won back to back city championships. He also played for Ballard’s in the Pony League and his coach was T.R. Wright, whose name is on the Central Park press box. Gary Wright is T.R. Wright’s son. He also played in the Midget League where Robert Wright, Gary’s brother, was his coach.

Patton was a three-year starter from 1957 to 1959 and is best known as a catcher and powerful hitter. He hit .375 as a sophomore, .458 as a junior and .500 his senior year in 1958.

Dixon was a center fielder from 1958 to 1960, starting all three years and tracking down fly balls with the best of them. He was also a steady hitter who batted at the top of the order.

Dixon played in the first year of Babe Ruth in Ashland in 1957 and won the batting title with a .491 average.

His sandlot teammates – Gary Wright, David McGuire, Dicky Fillmore and Herb Conley – ended up being some of his high school teammates as well.

“I never took a play off I could ever remember,” he said.

Ernie Daniels, one of the best fielding shortstops in Tomcat history from 1961-63, is another inductee.

Others in the 2018 class are Don Lentz, Fred Leibee, John Sieweke, Dave Staten, Larry Stevens and Mike Tackett, all who were members of state championship teams during the stretch when the Tomcats won three titles in a row from 1966-68; 1970s players Greg Swift and Don Allen and Rick Reeves and the late Frank Wagner, who shared coaching duties from Post 76 American Legion for almost 20 years.

The ceremony begins at 1 p.m. in Central Park. It will move to the Family Life Center at Unity Baptist Church in case of rain.

Swift, other CP-1 inductees have stories to tell Saturday

Greg Swift rounds third base after hitting his second 3-run homer in his last game with the Tomcats.

ASHLAND, Ky. – You might say Greg Swift had the ultimate baseball experience in Ashland.

Swift, one of 14 inductees into the Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame on Saturday, started his  Little League career on 17th Street and pitched back-to-back no-hitters for the Phillies with 28 strikeouts in his first two starts.

In his last high school game with the Ashland Tomcats he blasted a pair of three-run homers against Paintsville in the 1978 regional tournament.

And there were more highlights in between.

Pete Wonn, one of several coaches who were instrumental in his development as a baseball player, taught Swift how to pitch by throwing with him every morning in his side yard.

As a 12-year-old, Swift threw a perfect game against Somerset in the Little League State Tournament and then lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to Lexington in the state finals when Steve Burbage belted a two-run homer off him in the bottom of the sixth inning. He called it “a character-builder.”

As a senior for the Tomcats, he was 7-0 with a 1.81 earned run average and batted .492 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI. He struck out only four times in 71 at-bats.

Swift will be making the trip from Jacksonville, Fla., to Ashland this week to celebrate with the other inductees in Central Park.

Donnie Allen, one of Swift’s high school teammates, and two of his American Legion coaches – the late Frank Wagner and Rick Reeves – join him as inductees.

Others in the 2018 class are Don Lentz, Fred Leibee, John Sieweke, Dave Staten, Larry Stevens and Mike Tackett, all who were members of state championship teams during the stretch when the Tomcats won three titles in a row from 1966-68.

Two of the best defensive players in Tomcat history, center fielder H.F. Dixon (1958- 1960) and shortstop Ernie Daniels (1961-63), are among the inductees.

Dixon represents part of a trio of 1950s players including pitcher Larry Castle and catcher David Patton. All three played on Ashland’s 1958 regional championship team and were products of the Pony League and Midget League in the park growing up.

Everybody has a story to tell and they will get the chance with a ceremony that begins at 1 p.m.

 

55 years ago, Ashland American All-Stars were almost Little League World Series darlings

Ashland American batter John Mullins hugs the ground to get a better view of Mike Griffith sliding into home plate against Texas in the 1963 Southern Regional championship game in Norfolk, Virginia. Griffith was tagged out.

ASHLAND, Ky. – Every year at this time, there is a television force that draws me right into it. What is it about the Little League World Series that makes it must-see TV?

Part of it is how the games are covered by ESPN with the backstories of the players and the shots of their mothers and fathers in the stands who are like cats in a room full of rocking chairs.

I’m not sure if any of the mothers really ever watch their sons play. They are usually sitting with their hands covering their faces when their son (or daughter) comes to the plate.

I can understand that. There’s so much pressure on these young boys to perform. You feel it as a parent in a regular season Little League game. Multiply that times about a million.

When the Little League World Series rolls around, it always reminds me of 1963 when Ashland American nearly made it to Williamsport. That’s right, 55  years ago they were knocking on the door of  Williamsport. They fell one game short, losing to Houston, Texas, 6-3 in the Southern Regional championship game in Norfolk, Virginia. I’m sure those players who were on that team have special memories of that time. Mine have come from writing stories and doing research about the ’63 Boys of Summer, including a chapter in my book Tomcat Dynasty ).

Two of those boys will have a mini-reunion next week during the CP-1 Hall of Fame ceremony as part of the class of 2018. David Staten and Mike Tackett were part of those all-stars and will be enshrined Saturday. Several other Hall of Famers are already in – John Mullins, Tim Huff and Bo Carter, who was an alternate all-star in 1963.

Here is the 1963 Ashland American roster with their regular-season team in parenthesis: John Mullins (Indians), David Staten (Twins), Tim Huff (Yankees), John Brislin and Jocko Greening (Angels), David McPeek and Mike Griffith (White Sox), Robert Ison and Mike Johnson (Orioles), Ricky Dixon, Mike Tackett, Charles Jackson, Joe Mantle and Jackie Daniels (Tigers). There was some diversity – Johnson and Jackson are black – during a time when race riots were raging, but not in Ashland.

Jim Stewart was the manager and George Riffe his assistant. Stewart was hard-nosed, a taskmaster who demanded perfection but who loved his players like his own sons. They talk in respectful terms of the late Mr. Stewart to this day.

Back then the tournament was one-and-done. You win or you go home. So you had to be perfect. Early in tournament play, Ashland faced a young left-hander pitcher from Greenup named Don Gullett and escaped with a 2-1 victory.

Mullins and Huff were starters and stars, pitchers and home run hitters. But the best player was Ricky Dixon. They rode their stud in a 3-1 win over Louisville Buechel in the state championship game in Lexington with 15 strikeouts and then in the Southern Division championship game he was the winning pitcher against St. Albans, West Virginia, 4-2 in a game that was played in Central Park.

That victory advanced Ashland to Norfolk where Florida, Mississippi and Texas awaited.

Ashland blanked Sarasota, Florida, 2-0 as Dixon and McPeek crushed back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie. Mullins almost made it three in a row as his long blast curved foul in the same spot in right field where the other homers had gone. Mike Griffith pitched a three-hit shutout.

Houston belted Biloxi, Miss., 11-1 and looked invincible. It would be Texas vs. Kentucky in the championship game.

Ashland gave them a battle, leading 3-2 before a three-run rally put it away for Texas in the fifth inning. Ashland had only one hit, a single by Dixon that scored two runs in the third inning.

Houston was on the way to Williamsport the next day and Ashland was on its way home.

Can you imagine if Ashland had been the team going to Williamsport instead? How much would we have celebrated them over the years? Legendary wouldn’t begin to describe it. Yet they lost, just once, and they’re just another team.

Kind of sad isn’t it?

Houston, by the way, fell to Granada Hills, California, 3-2 in nine innings in the first game of the 1963 Little League World Series. The California team went on to win it all.

2018 CP-1 HOF class has little bit of everything

2018 CP-1 HOF class has little bit of everything

ASHLAND  Ky. – Six more members of the Ashland “Dynasty Era” Tomcats of 1965 to 1969 and eight other players and coaches who spanned four decades of baseball in Central Park will be part of the fourth annual Ashland CP-1 Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony on Aug. 18.

The 14-member class, the biggest in the CP-1 HOF’s short history, will be inducted at 1 p.m. in Central Park. It brings the total to 50 enshrined with a goal of reaching 100 by 2023.

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.

Two of the best defensive players in Tomcat history, center fielder H.F. Dixon (1958- 1960) and shortstop Ernie Daniels (1963-64), are among the inductees.

“It’s very humbling to even be considered, that was satisfaction enough, but to be chosen is more than I ever hoped for,” Dixon said.

Dixon represents part of a trio of 1950s players to be selected this time including pitcher Larry Castle and catcher David Patton. All three played on Ashland’s 1958 regional championship team and were products of the Pony League and Midget League in the park growing up.

Dixon played on Ashland’s first Babe Ruth All-Star team in 1958 and led the league in hitting that year with a .491 average. But defense was his forte.

“I got my greatest joy when somebody tested my arm by trying to go from first to third on a single to center,” he said.

Castle was the ace of a good pitching staff and played at shortstop and third base depending on who was pitching. Patton’s career batting averaged hovered over .450 in three years as a starter.

Daniels was a shortstop, clutch hitter and tremendous leader for the Tomcats during his playing days.

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 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 defensive players and clutch hitters in CP-1 history.”

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

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.

 

Save the date: CP-1 HOF ceremony scheduled Aug. 18

Greg Swift rounds third base and receives congratulations from coach Frank Sloan after hitting his second 3-run homer in his last game with the Tomcats.

ASHLAND, Ky. – The fourth annual CP-1 Ashland Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony is less than two months away.

Twelve players and two coaches will bring the total to 50 inducted. Six more members of the Ashland Tomcat “Dynasty Era” from 1965-69 make up nearly half of the new class. Three players from the late 1950s Tomcats are also part of a class that includes some of the greatest names to have ever played in Central Park.

They will be enshrined Aug. 18 in Central Park starting at 1 p.m.

Greg Swift, a shortstop and pitcher during the late 1970s, brings some eye-popping numbers with him from his senior season in 1978. Swift was 7-0 with a 1.81 earned run average, hit a robust .492 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI and struck out only four times in 71 at-bats. He finished his Tomcat career with a pair of three-run homers in a 9-6 loss to Paintsville in the regional tournament.

Swift’s teammate Donnie Allen, who batted cleanup for the Tomcats, joins him in the class. Co-managers Rick Reeves and the late Frank Wagner of Ashland Post 76 also coached Swift and Allen for the Sixers. They won more than 600 games in nearly 20 seasons in the park.

The ”Dynasty” Tomcats included pitching stalwarts Larry Stevens and John Sieweke, infielders David Staten, Don Lentz and Fred Leibee and outfielder Mike Tackett, who is famous for driving in the only run with a long sacrifice fly in Ashland’s 1-0 victory over McKell in the 1969 regional semifinals in Morehead when Don Gullett and Tim Huff dueled.

Staten was a part of Ashland American’s back-to-back Little League state championship teams in 1963-64. Tackett was on the ’64 team.

Ernie Daniels, who played shortstop and pitched for the Tomcats in the mid-1960s, joins this year’s class.

The 1950s era Tomcats on the list include David Patton, who hit well over .400 in his three years as a starter from 1956-58, and ace pitcher Larry Castle, who used a dazzling curveball to sink opponent after opponent. Castle was also a .350 hitter in his career from 1957-59 while playing shortstop and third base, depending on who was pitching that day.

Fleet-footed center fielder H.F. Dixon rounds out the class. He played for the Tomcats from 1958-60 and was known for outstanding defense and clutch hitting.

Possible lineup from 2018 class

1.H.F. Dixon, CF

2.Ernie Daniels, 1B

3.Greg Swift, SS

4.David Patton, C

5.Donnie Allen, LF

6.Don Lentz or Fred Leibee, 3B

7.Mike Tackett, RF

8.David Staten, 2B

9.Larry Castle, John Sieweke or Larry Stevens, P

Coaches: Rick Reeves and Frank Wagner

Text of Sports Day speech for those who couldn’t attend

Text of Sports Day speech for those who couldn’t attend

I need a camera. Who knew we could get this many Baptists in the Elks Lodge?

You know, I’ve looked at those pictures on the wall for the past 40 years but not until my own picture went up there did I know what that really meant. I’m going to tell you a story and if your name happens to be mentioned, I want you to stand up and stay standing up until I’m finished. Don’t worry, this literal off-the-wall story isn’t long but it’s worth hearing.

Last night was the first time my photo was in the room. And let me tell you, when everybody had cleared the building, that wall came to life. I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Ernie Chattin and Bo McMillen were the first to pop down off the wall. They said it was time to start playing ball and invited the rest of us to get down off that wall and follow them to Central Park.

One by one, they started coming off the wall. They were all so fit, hardly an ounce of body fat among the bunch of them. I mean, they were in PRIME shape. I was in shape too. Round’s a shape, right Dicky? Ernie and Bo were so excited. They went outside and you’d think it would be pitch black. But it wasn’t. I mean it was the most perfect blue sky I’d ever seen. Once everybody finally shoved their way out the doors, Ernie and Bo announced that we’d be running to Central Park. Uh-oh, I thought to myself. I may hang out with young marathoners now, but that doesn’t mean I run. Thankfully, I was hanging toward the back and behind me I heard a BEEP! BEEP!. It wasn’t the roadrunner, it was Tom Cooksey in a golf cart. I didn’t even know golf carts had horns. He told me to hop in and he’d drive us over. Tom’s a good driver on the golf course but don’t turn him loose on the streets of Ashland. Just sayin, Tom, you made a couple of crazy hairpin turns that nearly toppled me out of the cart.

But he got us to the park. Everybody else was just getting there too. When we got there, a bag of bats and balls were jammed in an old Army duffel bag leaning against the visitor’s dugout on the main diamond. It didn’t matter to Jerry Henderson because he brought a basketball, baseball bat and glove, football and track cleats with him because he wasn’t sure what we were going to play and, as we all know, Jerry was good at all of them. He was Ashland’s version of Bo Jackson.

Ellis Johnson and George Conley brought a special guest with them – none other than Mr. Adolph Rupp, because they both knew him so well – Ellis as his first All-American and George as a referee that Rupp used often in the SEC. Coach Rupp looked like he was drooling over the talent that was assembled.

I looked over to the home side of the baseball field and Bill Lynch and Don Gullett were engaged in a game of burnout. At least that’s what I think they were doing. I couldn’t real see the ball, only hear it. SSSSSSSSS!!! SSSSSSSSS!!! It was either that or we have a major snake problem in Central Park. It was a certain sizzling sound and a blur of white coming out of their hands. Bill Selbee came up flipping a softball, asking if he could play since burnout and unseen pitches used to be his specialty, too. Chigger Adkins said he could vouch for how hard Selbee could throw a softball although he wasn’t certain if he’d really ever seen one of his pitches either. Charlie Reliford said there wasn’t enough umpiring equipment in the world for him to officiate this showdown between Lynch, Gullett and Selbee. Nard Pergrem said he’d do it, and without a mask. His brother Buck called him crazy and said to go ahead and do it. “It wouldn’t matter if a ball hit you in the face anyway,” he said, and they wrestled near home plate, creating a cloud of dust and messing up the batter’s box. What are you going to do with brothers?

Then I looked around and noticed Bobby Lynch manicuring the pitching mound. Everything was just right as he piled the sand around the rubber and worked on the place where his knee always grazed the dirt when he pitched reminding us all of Tom Seaver. And why wouldn’t Bobby take special care of this sacred place? You know he never lost a game there. Really. Not one.

Jim Host is flashing that million dollar Pearly white smile again as he rubs up baseballs in the dugout waiting for his turn to pitch. He hollers for the Pergrem brothers to stop rolling in the dirt and grab a bat. Pearly is also busy getting a patent on naming this Elks reunion The Final Forty-Four.

In the outfield, a football game is about to break out with coaches Herb Conley and Vic Marsh trying to pick teams and arguing over who goes first. Herb finally gives in and lets Vic pick twice. He takes Ralph Felty and J.C. Kennard. Obviously, Vic is going for some toughness. Herb picks himself. Nobody argues with the selection. In right field, Chuck Anderson and Nick Jordan just collided in a blocking drill. There were no survivors. Somebody called Dr. Marvin Keeton and Dr. Leo Dickinson who, if you didn’t know, helped develop penicillin. Leo told the coaches they better make room for him in the game and Dutch Berry and Eck Allen do the same, saying their days of Tomcats were the best. John Caine was there too, waiting to be picked while going over the playbook and ordering the uniforms because that’s what the best ADs do.

Buffalo Hopkins and Paul Reliford found a connection and it’s not surprising. They keep throwing footballs to each other because that’s what they remember about their playing days with the Tomcats. J.D. Ison, whose nickname was The Hand, tries to get a hand on one of their passes as he stands between them. No luck but he never stops trying. And if The Hand ever even gets a finger on one of those tosses, it’ll be his for sure.

I walked over to the park basketball courts and watched Larry Conley go behind his back and over the shoulder to Brother Adkins for another basket. Five people are trying to guard them to no avail. They are like basketball magicians. Freddie Simpson and Steve Gilmore, a couple of Holy Family hotshots, each have their own balls because neither one of them ever saw a shot they didn’t like. They can make them from anywhere, including the old Bayless gym that they’d broken into a few times to fire up some baskets. Darryle Kouns, who knew how to score too from his days with Army, is begging – make that ordering – Freddie to pass it to him just once. Gilmore just laughs and says ‘Why do you think I brought my own ball?’ Then the heavily guarded Simpson, with two players draped on him like a bad sports coat, launches another one from 25 feet out that rattles the chains that are used for nets.

Jimmy Anderson, Jack Fultz, Marvin Meredith, Jeep Clark and Bob Wright are not only putting on a Hall of Fame coaching clinic near midcourt but they’re telling the best stories you’ve ever heard. But they’re like a bunch of fisherman: We’re not sure how many of them we can believe.

Al Atkins is launching golf balls the length of the park and Tom Cooksey has organized another youth golf event by giving kids a Central Park cherry snow-cone if they will bring back some of Atkins’ long blasts, including some that went up and down over the Indian Mounds.

Meanwhile, they’ve put in a diving pool and 10-meter board for Meg Neyer, whose perfect form has everybody cheering. She’s the only girl in the club – and also the only Olympian. She’s good as gold and as close to the perfect athlete as we’ve ever seen around here.

Lus Oxley is challenging anybody in the park, young or old, to a game of one-on-one basketball because he never met an opponent he didn’t want to beat.

Fred Rigsby is sitting back and taking it all in. He’s got the oils out and is painting a group photo of the 44 honorees and George Stout is begging him to let him have it for the next Sports Day program.

The last pick for the games? That’s me, until they realize I’m the guy who puts their name in the newspaper and then everybody wanted me on their team.

For the past 43 years, I’ve not scored any touchdowns, made a game-winning basket or hit a home run, but I’ve been a eyewitness to sports greatness in the Ashland area. Look around this room at those standing. Now you’re a witness to greatness, too. Give these gentlemen a round of applause.

When trying to understand my place on that wall, I’ve figured it’s because they need somebody to tell the stories, to be that eyewitness of unprecedented sports greatness. The amazing feats of these men – and Meg – should never be forgotten. They are part of a tradition of greatness that rivals any in the country. We are the coaching cradle with some of the greatest basketball, football and baseball coaches in Kentucky history, we have All-Americans, Olympians, major league umpires, world champion pitchers and even a Cy Young Award winner.

I was young when I started recording history and never understood its importance until my days of covering sports daily came to an end. That’s when I started writing books and I experienced four Tomcats who still had passion burning inside of them. They taught me and inspired me and motivated me to tell the stories of their teams and the special seasons they encountered right here. Dale Sexton, John Radjunas and Bill and Bob Lynch were the inspirations behind my books on state championship Tomcat seasons in basketball, football and baseball. It was important to them still and it didn’t take much convincing from any of them that it was important to me, too. Those seasons now have a book that chronicles what happened and why. It’s a history lesson of how greatness can be obtained not because of any one person but a group committed to nothing short of excellence and winning every time they competed. They did it the right way and the only way. They did it together. The most successful TEAMS are just that. They are teams. These men understood that.

I’ve had the best seat in the house for some of the greatest events in our area’s history, including watching a future Cy Young award winner make the first major league pitching start of his career in Shea Stadium while sitting next to his nervous father who had coached him all his life on Ashland’s baseball fields. Brandon Webb won that game, striking out 10 Mets in seven scoreless innings. His father Phil sat next to me listening to the Mets broadcast of the game on a portable radio I’d happened to bring. He was in his own special world. I was a witness to that event and it’s the favorite story I ever had the pleasure to tell, including me driving my mini-van down the wrong way of a one-way street in New York City on a Sunday morning when, thankfully the city that never sleeps, was caught napping.

When Brandon won the Cy Young award only three years later, guess who was the first media person he spoke with? What an honor. I was also on the other end of a phone call talking to the umpire from Ashland who was involved in a crucial call of the 2000 Subway Series when he prevented a riot after stepping between Mike Piazza and Roger Clemens, handling it the way professional umpires handle things the right way. I was the first and only media person who spoke to him about the story. How about that?

I was witness to other big events and rubbed shoulders with celebrities. I covered three Final Fours, the Christian Laettner game – we’ll just leave it at that – watched the Reds win the World Series in 1990 and had interviews with Muhammad Ali, Pete Rose, Rick Pitino and even the great Mickey Mantle. But nothing trumps watching a young man hit a two-out, three-run home run to win the state baseball championship or watching a father and his daughter win a state basketball title for their little town, or following some of the greatest football teams in Tomcat history when JAWS was a theme song and when Juan Thomas was running roughshod over everybody, or watching Boyd County win a baseball championship with coach and son making a dream come true. And, you know what, there was always something special about those sticky hot opening nights at Putnam Stadium. When it happened to any one of you, that’s what gave me a special spark. I loved being your eyewitness all these years.

I do wish my father, who died 16 years ago, could be here tonight. He’d have loved this. He came with me to probably 20 of these Sports Day events, if not more. We’d sit back there around George. Dad loved it. My mother passed away just last week. She’d have been the proudest person in the room. My hope is they get to watch this together tonight. And George, I know you can’t officially count them, but my father has probably been passing out tickets for two months. He doesn’t have Facebook. He has Heavenbook so he doesn’t have to worry about fake news. My mother-in-law and father-in-law are here and they consider me not just a son but their son. It wasn’t until their three beautiful daughters were married that the sons came along.

You heard my big brother do the invocation. Of all the great athletes and people in the room, and there are a lot of you, none of you measure up to the hero status of Tim in my eyes and it has nothing to do with sports. The guy is a rock in my life and my spiritual mentor. My faith and my family are my calling cards and if you never knew anything else about me, I hope you knew that.

I’d have never been able to take this ride without my wife Beth and God’s provisions on our lives. When we were dating, I had to teach her a little about sports. She quickly learned who was in every division in major league baseball. Then they went and changed it. She became a fan of all sports – what choice did she have? – and put up with a lot because the life of a sportswriter means night shift, low pay and a lot of ESPN. But she never complained and made plenty of sacrifices because she knew I loved it, and how many people really love their job? I’m one.

My son is a sports lover like me and a student of every game. He was a good athlete and an outstanding baseball player and we loved every single game of catch we ever had. Those are indelible memories for fathers and sons. And remember the dogpile at West Carter, Stephen, when Rose Hill broke a long two-year losing streak? It’s not always about winning championships. Sports will always be a connection for us. It’s that unbreakable bond, that something you say when there’s not really anything to say. We can turn a simple phone call into an hour-long debate on what the Reds, Browns and Wildcats should be doing.

My daughter Sally understood her daddy was involved in sports too. As a little girl, like 5 or 6, she thought when I went to “cover the game” that I was responsible for tarping the field. She later learned what “covering the game” meant. When she was a JFL cheerleader, I quizzed her about what she was cheering in regard to “sack that quarterback.” She had no earthly idea. So I began teaching her the game and today she’s as knowledgeable as anybody and is an avid UK football and basketball fan. We text throughout nearly every UK game.

They both have wonderful spouses, Suzette and Derrick, and my only grandchild, Brooks, came tonight too. You may have seen his picture on Facebook. Well, if you have Facebook and follow me, you definitely have seen him over and over and over again. He’s the next sports eyewitness in the family. His dad was raised on St. Louis Cardinals baseball, but they live near Great American Ball Park, so I’m telling you, there’s a chance…

I know God has a sense of humor. There was one sport that I never loved covering over the years and that was track and field and especially the 1,600 and 3,200 races. So in the last five years, what does God do? He has me work with a pair of marathon runners in a mission organization called Amy For Africa. My wife and I have become marathon groupies. Beth is like a human GPS. When Amy ran in the NYC Marathon, Beth navigated us through the subway maze, even though she had never been to New York, so we could, almost like clockwork, catch glimpses of Amy running through the city. But mostly we’ve watched in wonder and amazement at God’s movement 8,000 miles from here through Amy For Africa. Chris and Amy Compston are like family and, as most of you know, this Amy For Africa mission has become a passion in my life. In fact, if you buy one of my books at that table over there before you leave, every penny of that money will be going to our mission. Amy and Chris will be over there manning the table if you have any questions for them.

I’d like to share one last thing before I hand over the mic to Dicky. George Stout, would you come forward please? This is George Stout’s last Sports Day as chairman and I couldn’t let it go by without honoring him. You guys have some big shoes to fill replacing George, who has kept this event alive with his tireless work. This plaque says: To George Stout, ELKS SPORTS DAY ALL-TIME CHAIRMAN of the BOARD. Thank you, George, for everything and thank you everyone for honoring me with your presence tonight.