Great start, tough finish for 1969 Tomcats

ASHLAND, Ky. – Ashland coach Herb Conley and journalist Mark Maynard delve into the 1969 Tomcat football season in the second episode of TOMCAT TALES the podcast.

Ashland opened the 1969 season with one-sided wins over Catlettsburg 75-0 and Middlesboro 42-0, stoking a fan base hungry for more. But it didn’t happen. The Tomcats fell to Stonewall Jackson, 14-8, and were 4-4 heading into a gauntlet of a stretch run: Fort Thomas Highlands, Covington Catholic and Ironton.

Ashland lost all three games to finish 4-7. That fan base, who was giddy after week two, was starting to look wonder if hiring young Herb Conley was the right move after winning the 1967 state title.

Click HERE to listen to the podcast.

Until next summer: A salute to the 2020 CP-1 Hall of Fame class

ASHLAND, Ky. – Today was supposed to be the day the Ashland Baseball CP-1 Hall of Fame opened its doors to the 2020 class.

But COVID-19 forced us to postpone the ceremony until August 2021. Maybe it was fitting that it rained this afternoon. It would have been about the time we were wrapping up the ceremony.

We’ve never had a rainout for a CP-1 ceremony. That record remains intact.

Just because we couldn’t have the ceremony today – and we’ll do our best to make up for it next summer – doesn’t mean we can’t take a second to honor this outstanding group of baseball players and coaches.

This class had some memorable names with it, including one man who has been described as the best athlete ever in Ashland. That would be Wilson Barrow, the flame-throwing black pitcher from the 1960s. His fastball ranked with lefties Bill Lynch and Don Gullett- now that’s fast.

In high school, Barrow bridged Booker T. Washington and Paul G. Blazer High School during the days of integration in 1962.

Barrow is part of a 10-man class that includes a mix of players and coaches and a few who did a little of both. Joining him are: Scott Crank, Mike Delaney, Brian Finkbone, Bill Hammond, French Harmon, Jon Hart, Cabot Keesey, Mark Moore and Mike Tussey.

The 10 inductees will bring the total to 70 on the way to 100 selections.

Here is a closer look at the 2020 inductees:

-Wilson Barrow, who played in Ashland’s inaugural Little League season in 1955, could make the mitt pop like few others who ever played in the park. Barrow’s fastball was compared to how Bill Lynch and Don Gullett threw later in the decade.

-Scott Crank was one of Ashland’s best three-sport athletes. He starred in football (quarterback), basketball (point guard) and baseball (shortstop) for the Tomcats in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was a clutch hitter and slick-fielding shortstop for the Tomcats and Post 76.

-Mike Delaney is going in for his longtime coaching role with Post 76, basically keeping the program alive, but he was an outstanding player in his own rights as a middle infielder in the mid-1970s for the Ashland Tomcats and Post 76.

-Brian Finkbone was the consummate leadoff hitter and the sparkplug for the Tomcats in the mid-1970s. His speed made him a pest for opposing pitchers who had a hard time keeping him off the bases. His all-out style made him a favorite with teammates.

-Bill Hammond has coached at CP-1 for many summers and continues as a co-coach with Delaney for Post 76. He was also a standout pitcher for the Tomcats and Post 76 in the mid-1970s and became an outstanding teacher of the pitching craft.

-French Harmon was a solid contributor as a player for the Tomcats in the late 1970s, but it was his coaching skills that make him a CP-1 Hall of Famer. He led a Connie Mack League resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was instrumental in CP-1 Hall of Famer Juan Thomas’ career, along with many others.

-Jon Hart’s smooth swing made him a feared hitter for the Tomcats, Post 76, Stan Musial and Marshall University. If he didn’t beat you with his bat, he’d do it with the glove. Hart was one of the top all-around players wherever he played in his career.

-Cabot Keesey spanned the late 1970s and early 1980s as well and was a pure hitter who swung the bat as well as anyone and was also a strong defensive player, both in the infield and outfield, throughout his playing career that included the Tomcats, Post 76 and Stan Musial.

-Mark Moore played for the Tomcats and Post 76 and then another 10 years on the Stan Musial level, making him one of the all-time veterans of the park. He hit for power and played flawlessly at shortstop, making every team he played for better.

-Mike Tussey, who coached youth league baseball for 22 years and won a state championship in 1988 with the Stan Musial adult league where he won more than 200 games in 10 seasons, was also a cable television broadcaster who was in the booth for countless high school and American Legion games in the 1970s and 1980s.

Oldest Tomcat was part of ‘Greatest Generation’ and great football team

ASHLAND, Ky. – An obituary in Friday’s Ashland newspaper may have caught your attention because of the photograph with it.

It was a photo of Paul DeHart Sr. in his fighter pilot uniform from his days in World War II. Mr. DeHart was a member of the Greatest Generation and played on Ashland’s 1942 undefeated football team that claimed itself as state champion.

The Tomcats defeated previously undefeated Louisville Manuel 7-6 in a showdown of unbeatens in the ninth game of the season as J.C. Kennard zigged and zagged his way for a touchdown on a the second-half kickoff return and Jim Stith kicked the winning extra point. Ashland clobbered Russell 70-0 to finish the perfect season since there were no playoffs.

It was seven years ago that I was fortunate enough to speak on the telephone for an hour with Mr. DeHart, who was visiting with Mr. Kennard, a Tomcat and Marine teammate. He joined the Marines the year after Mr. DeHart and they had a special reunion in Columbus with their sons of the same name in May 2013.

Mr. DeHart died at the age of 95 but what a life he led. He was also the oldest living Tomcat. I call him Mr. DeHart out of complete respect for what he did in serving our country. He was in the service for 33 months, including the last battle at Okinawa. Before he was a military hero, he was a Tomcat hero, playing halfback on a “scrawny, scrappy team” that went undefeated.

He played his junior season at Ashland, when the Tomcats went 10-0 in 1942. The following spring, on May 8, 1943, Mr. DeHart joined the Marines after turning 18. Another classmate and teammate, Vernon Dessinger, did the same thing. John McGill, a former sports editor at the Ashland Daily Independent, wrote about the departure of these two great players and put it under a banner headline in the sports section. Both would have been eligible to play in 1943, so the country’s gain would be the Tomcats’ loss.

Tomcat coach Charles Ramey, who also left for the Marines following the 1942 season and had a highly decorated military career, had hoped DeHart and Dessinger could have their deployments delayed and play that fall at Ashland High School.

But the war was already calling their names, as it did so many of that day. Mr. DeHart was stationed at Pearl Harbor for a time after the Japanese attack. Before he went overseas and while in basic training in California, he was involved in two accidents on back-to-back weekends. They were both traumatic, he said, but neither life-threatening. Eventually he saw action in the Pacific Theater as a turret gunner on a Grumman TBF Avenger and served his country with pride. By doing that, he also did his hometown of Ashland proud.

He is listed as a graduate of Ashland Senior High School and graduated from Ashland Junior College in 1948 before embarking on a 38-year career at Ashland Oil, Inc.. He and wife Bettie retired to Port Charlotte, Florida, where he lived for 27 years. He was ordained as a deacon by the First Baptist Church at Punta Gorda, Florida, in 1988 and served the Lord faithfully.

Here is one last salute to Mr. DeHart and other members of “The Greatest Generation.” Thank you for your service. You are not forgotten.


TOMCAT TALES podcast launched

ASHLAND, Ky. – A new podcast that will explore the history of Ashland Tomcat sports launched Thursday afternoon.

Mark Maynard is producing and hosting the podcast which will feature some of the all-time greats in Tomcat football, basketball and baseball.

The first 10 episodes will center around Herb Conley, the legendary football coach. The first nine shows will go through Conley’s nine seasons as head coach from 1968 to 1976.

The first episode rehashes the 1968 Tomcats that finished 7-3-1 with four shutouts but may be best remembered by a 61-0 loss to Fort Thomas Highlands near the end of the season at Putnam Stadium.

Besides that game, though, an Ashland program coming off a senior-dominated state championship team in 1967 played extremely well.

Conley talks about how he became the head coach and what happened during the season, including the infamous game with Highlands.

Click HERE to watch the first episode!