A love letter to Ashland

Dear Ashland,

We’ve been through a bunch in 64 years – ups and downs, wins and losses, cheers and tears. We’ve stood together through shutdowns and letdowns, had some memorable moments and some disappointing ones.

I know you about as well as anybody. I’ve made it my business to know, as a journalist with a passion for sports, to carrying some well-earned institutional knowledge from being around a long, long time. I’ve raved about your past and crowed about your future.

You don’t have a bigger fan than me.

I’ve written about your people too, those great, great people – and even some of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren on the fields where we play. But, wow, do you ever have incredible people off the field, too.

Tradition has always been important to Ashland, whether it be in sports or business. We like to win whether it’s at Putnam Stadium or the local pickleball court. Sometimes we get hit hard but, you know what, Ashland? You always get back up.

For 42 years, from a wet-behind-the ears sportswriter to the editor’s seat, I worked for the Ashland Daily Independent. Most days didn’t even seem like work. I’ve been part of the Kentucky Baptist Convention for the past five years, helping tell the story of the 2,500 Baptist churches in the state and how their people work together in cooperative effort for the sake of the gospel. It has been an incredible experience. Who works two jobs that they absolutely love? This guy. My “office” has been my home, right here in Ashland, my hometown.

I was born at King’s Daughters, went to school at Charles Russell, Coles and Ashland. My wife (also born at King’s Daughters, attended Oakview, then Putnam and Ashland) and I have lived in Ashland all our 64 years, aside from our stays in college.  We’ve been fortunate to have a church family that is truly family, where friends come to your aid, where we try to live what the Bible teaches. I’ve sat under incredible pastors at Unity Baptist Church. Come and visit if you don’t have a church home. Our new pastor is indescribably good and will be a blessing to Ashland for years to come.

My wife’s parents have impacted my life more than they will ever know and the same goes for the families of my wife’s two sisters, all of whom live in Ashland. They are salt-of-the-earth people who would do anything for you. I’m blessed to have them in my life. They define family.

You’ve watched me be an ambassador for Ashland, which has part of my heart forever. I even made it to the dance floor for the Highlands Museum for goodness sakes! Nobody will forget the Gorilla being so light on his feet (yeah right). That alone should prove how far I’d go for Ashland because dancing is not part of my skill set. Far from it.

I’m honored that Ashland has considered me a favorite son and recognized me more than I deserved. I’ve enjoyed making time for conversation with so many of you in the grocery store aisles over the years, even if it made a 10-minute trip a little longer. My wife just shrugs. She knows how it goes.

But for the past almost five years, my wife and I have only been able to do some highlight visits with our grandson in northern Kentucky. And now our daughter is expecting a second child and our second grandchild in April. My daughter and her husband live in Union, Kentucky, and my son and his wife live in Middletown, Ohio. I’m sure you see what’s coming.

As much as I love Ashland – and anybody who knows me can give a hearty amen to that – my children and soon to be two grandchildren are loved even more. We’re not going to miss any more time with them because, even as much as Ashland offers us that family feeling, my children and grandchildren are my family. And we’re not getting any younger. Blink and your kids are in college, blink again and they’re having babies, blink again and their children are graduating high school. I can’t let another blink get away from me.

So, we’ve sold our home of 30 years and we’re packing our bags for a new adventure in northern Kentucky. It will be one that will include important time with the grandchildren – going to Little League games, tea parties, swimming lessons, cheerleading competitions, and ballet recitals or whatever else their little hands touch. Between my wife’s parents and mine, we are well-versed in what it takes to be all-world grandparents. They taught us well. We watched and learned. Three-week-old milk isn’t the only thing that’s going to be spoiled.

This journey will also include a new church home where we will continue to serve God with all our might because that’s what our Savior deserves. Life wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t. We look forward to what may transpire there as well. God is calling us away from Ashland and that just means something great is around the corner – make that several corners – in northern Kentucky.

You will continue to see me on Facebook with a lot more photos of my grandchildren (if that’s possible). And we’re less than three hours away, so we won’t be strangers. We will be making trips to Ashland and, don’t worry, it will include the August staples of the CP-1 Baseball Hall of Fame and the Amy For Africa Wiffleball Tournament. My role with the Amy For Africa ministry will continue as well. Do yourself a favor and see what God is doing in Uganda through this great organization.

I’ll be watching you too Tomcats (thanks MyTown TV) and writing about you from my new press row seat in northern Kentucky when the mood strikes me (which, as you know, is quite often).

I’ll be watching you too Ashland. My hometown has some great days ahead. Make us proud with decisions that benefit growth for our children’s futures. They matter the most.

I love you Ashland and always will.

So why leave you ask? It’s simple and can be explained in one word: Family.

Tomcats won 56 consecutive games against regional competition from 1959-63

ASHLAND, Ky. – What do Joe DiMaggio and the Ashland Tomcats basketball program have in common?

They both have 56-game streaks.

DiMaggio has the unbreakable 56-game hitting streak for the New York Yankees from 1941 that remains one of the most elusive records in sports. Meanwhile, the 1959-63 Ashland Tomcat teams put together a remarkable 56-game winning streak against regional competition that remains the best mark in region history.

They have a challenger in the current run of Tomcats, who have a 41-game winning streak against 16th Region competition that ranks as the third-best mark in region history. Ashland has the potential of 10 region games remaining, including district and regional tournaments.

The 1962 Tomcats were state runners-up and part of a 56-game 16th Region winning streak from 1959-1963 that still ranks No. 1.

Should they win all those games, including if the Russell game is rescheduled, the Tomcats’ streak that started in February 2019 would reach 51 and be tied for second in region history. Ashland started a streak in the 1975-76 season that lasted until the district tournament in 1980 when Holy Family defeated the Tomcats, 69-64, to snap it at 51.

The 1959-60 Tomcats started the 56-game streak with the first game of that season. Ashland didn’t lose again until Jan. 29, 1963, when Russell downed the Tomcats 55-52 in the Red Devils’ gym.

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

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).

Ashland has been undefeated against region competition in the 2019-20 and 1920-21 seasons, going 19-0 and 15-0 respectively, under coach Jason Mays. The Tomcats are 4-0 so far this season. The current streak includes three wins from the regional tournament in March 2019.

Kudos to area sports historian Curtis Crye who tabulated these statistics.

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 MarkMyWords2.com 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 mainrod@windstream.net or visit PayPal and include payment ($24 with shipping) and address. Mark’s Paypal address is mainrod@windstream.net

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