Wiffle Ballers will be swinging for Amy For Africa on Saturday

ASHLAND, Ky. – When I think back on my summers growing up, wiffleball was a big part of it.

Every neighborhood in Ashland had “stadiums” where you could play 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 wiffleball for hours upon end.

Our favorite stadium was Greg Estep’s side yard. The beauty of our field was that while it was extremely narrow, it had the right trappings surrounding it. It had tall trees, but not so bushy a wiffleball couldn’t pinball its way down through the branches. You never knew for sure where it was going to come out, but it (almost) always did. We had to make some spectacular diving catches when, at the last second, the ball would take a sharp turn.

Our home run line was perfect, too — a line of thick bushes only about 4 feet tall. If you could get back there fast enough, robbing a home run was a possibility.

We played mostly 2-on-2 games of double-or-nothing. You pitch whatever you wanted — curveballs, drops, knucklers or even the high hard one. It was pretty much an anything goes kind of game.

We not only played the games, but we kept standings and statistics as we went along, too. (Is it any wonder I turned out to be a sportswriter?). Most of the time the day would end when either a) the wiffleball got stuck in the aforementioned tree or b) the ball split in half from so many hits.

We weren’t easy on the wiffleballs because we used our wooden bats. How many of you remember Little League coaches threatening you about the evils of wiffleball (not to mention swimming on the day of a game)?

They lectured us on how it was going to mess up our swing using that light, skinny yellow bat. So we heeded the warning and used the wooden bats. Of course, after so many hits with a wooden bat, the plastic wiffleball, which wasn’t made for such a beating, would split in half. That’s when we discovered the real reason why electrical tape was invented in the first place.

Truth is, those games of wiffleball did more to enhance our skills than dull them. We got to see how a curveball would spin and a knuckleball would flutter. It wasn’t so bad when you came across the pitches for the first time in a baseball game.

Those wiffleball games with my neighborhood pals in Estep’s side yard are still a special memory as are the days of basketball at the Henderson’s court and football and baseball at The Neighborhood Palace, aka Stafford’s Field. That’s where I learned to play and appreciate sports the most.

This coming Saturday the fifth annual Amy For Africa Wiffleball Classic takes place on the corner lots of Unity Baptist Church. The tournament has grown to 36 teams and this year includes first responder teams from the Ashland Fire Department, Ashland Police Department and Boyd County Sheriff’s Department.

Defending champion Shepherd’s Fold (now One-Hit Wonders) and former champions L-Train (now L&S Express), Kona Kannon Ballers and the Baseball Bunch (now Benny and the Jets).

Come on out and watch these Wiffle Ballers take a swing for missions in Uganda while taking a good long drink from the Fountain of Youth.

Showing of JAWS a night to remember … again

My wife and I were among the couple of hundred patrons who gathered in the Paramount Arts Center on Friday to watch the special showing of JAWS, the 1975 blockbuster classic that can still make you afraid of getting in the deep end of the water.

We arrived early, about an hour before show time, and had already shared most of a bag of popcorn while waiting for the doors to open. It didn’t exactly fit into my diet, but who can resist that smell as you walk into the place?

Once the doors opened at 7, we had only a 30-minute wait until the movie started. Or so we thought. The screen wasn’t as big as I remembered, but still much bigger than my television.

However, you could sense a bit of panic in the place and it wasn’t because of the giant shark. It was because of technology.

What was showing on the “big screen” was the DVD startup page with Play underscored – and in black and white. OK, we thought, it was a shot of the ocean with a buoy floating so maybe, just maybe, it was a darker shot.

Try as they might, though, the two workers who were frantically and faithfully trying to make the movie happen for us were failing. They were making multiple trips up and down the aisle and then behind the curtain on the stage to try and fix the problem.

It made you wonder about the man behind the curtain. But that’s another movie, isn’t it?

They kept making those trips, faster and faster it seemed and sometimes running with a cellphone to the ear. They were dripping with panic. You could almost smell it.

The audience came to witness the panic of JAWS, like we remembered it some forty-two years ago when the movie literally kept people out of the ocean water. We all knew that ,while it had been a few years since the movie was produced, the film wasn’t in black-and-white or silent.

When they were finally able to get the “play” button pushed, the movie came on not only in black-and-white but also without sound. Oh no! But here’s the best part: In a day when nobody exhibits patience, this friendly crowd did. We laughed a little, recited the lines because we’ve seen the movie so many times, and even tried to “sing” the JAWS theme when the giant shark came after the swimmers in those opening scenes.

My wife correctly observed today how cool it was that everybody in the place (or at least that we could see) was gracious and patient. There was no booing or hate speech toward the Paramount workers who tried so diligently to make this movie happen. The audience clapped and cheered each time they were able to start the movie, in black-and-white and with or without sound.

Eventually, forty-five minutes after the scheduled starting time, we enjoyed JAWS again in beautiful color and booming sound in the theater of our childhood (for a lot of us anyway) and on a screen that wouldn’t fit in your house. We jumped at several parts of the flick even though we knew what was going to happen.

One couple that got up to leave went back to their seats after the movie came back on in color. The crowd gave them a nice round of applause, too, and I’m sure they enjoyed the movie as much as anyone.

There were some good lines before the sound started: “How will the people know when the shark is coming without the music?” The JAWS theme song is epic. Even though the mechnical shark they named Bruce had few screen shots the use of constant, pulsing notes made the ocean monster even more mysterious and menacing.

Instead of a crowd turning ugly because of impatience, they were forgiving and determined to have a good time no matter what the circumstances. They applauded when the movie was over and have a good memory to share beyond watching the classic again.

To the two Paramount workers who never gave up, thank you for your diligence in making JAWS a night to remember again.


They will always be my Heroes of the Faith

It was nearly four months ago that my brother found out his sweet wife had a brain tumor. She passed away early this morning around 2:45 in their Jacksonville, Fla., home. Their journey brought sadness, but also spiritual strength to all those who were touched by the courage Pam showed throughout the ordeal.

She is certainly at peace now with her Heavenly Father while also enjoying time with her earthly father, Leonard Sloas, who went on before her several weeks ago. That had to be some kind of special reunion today.

Watching from the outside, we have stood amazed at the grace that fell all over my brother and our family, their church at Fruit Cove and their many other friends throughout the country and even world. What a joy to know and believe that God never leaves us nor forsakes us, even in the darkest of hours. As Tim has repeatedly said throughout this journey, our God is a good, good father.

Beth and I were blessed to spend a long weekend with them back in late June. It was some of the best spiritual refreshing that either of us could ever remember. God was in that place as we shared together. Nightly devotions became prayer meetings full of praise and tears. We prayed for complete healing and she has that now in heaven where there is no suffering. Tim and Pam showed remarkable faith that belied the situation. They had a way of making you feel better even when Pam’s outlook turned bleak.

I wrote a column for the newspaper back in April when they were at the beginning of this journey and, while a lot has changed, much has not. The sentiment expressed in the column remains the same and my brother and his wife are still at the top of my Heroes of the Faith list, maybe now more than ever before.

Here is the column from April 19:


JAWS sure to bring back some memories

My wife and I have a date with a shark on Friday night.

We’re going to see “JAWS” on the big screen at the Paramount Arts Center. The last time I saw it up close and personal like that may have been the summer it hit theaters for the first time in 1975, the summer after Beth and I graduated high school.

My good buddy Bill Hornbuckle was an assistant manager at the Midtown Cinemas which, if rumor is correct, will soon be a Planet Fitness gym. Bill worked the weekend shifts and I was working the same at the newspaper. When a new feature came to the theater, it often came on the bus and it was dropped off late Saturday nights. I’m not sure Bill was supposed to be showing the movies to anybody, but he did anyway.

I worked until about midnight and Bill called and invited me over to watch this new movie about sharks. It was practically a private showing with a handful of us there to catch the first glimpse. We were all terrified, especially with that initial scene, when the swimmer gets taken down in the dark ocean. That gets me every time! (I’ll let you know if it does this time as well).

All movies are better on the big screen and this one particularly belongs there. I’ve watched JAWS on television screens many times over the past 42 years. It’s never been quite as startling as that first time, sitting in the dark movie theater, practically alone, when the swimmer goes down for the last time. Too bad she couldn’t hear the music like the rest of us. We knew that shark was coming!

The late Bill Tom Ross saw the movie in Myrtle Beach while vacationing with Herb Conley that summer. The coaches were plotting summer camp for the Ashland Tomcats football team and the 1975 season looked to be particularly promising. Ross was so engrossed with the movie he thought it’d be a good idea to name the Tomcats’ defense JAWS. Coach Conley didn’t exactly jump at the idea. He wanted to make sure the Tomcats could live up to the nickname because it could be a big embarrassment if they couldn’t. He was imagining headlines like “JAWS defense toothless in loss” or something similar.

WATCH CHUCK ANDERSON’S BAT CAT HIT: www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1RNpJaIeY4

He need not have worried. Coach Conley got his answer in the first week of the season in a thrashing of Johnson Central and officially began calling the defense of Ashland’s 1975 team “JAWS” after the high-grossing movie. The Tomcats showed some sharp teeth in a 14-1 season that featured some terrifying hits from the likes of Terry Bell, Jay Shippey, Chuck Anderson, Casey Jones, Rick Sang, Greg Jackson and others.

When the band played the JAWS shark approaching song became a fan favorite. Everybody caught on to the JAWS theme, especially the players who knew they had a lot to live up to that season. Forty-two years later, people in Ashland still talk about the JAWS team. One of its key members, Casey Jones, recently passed away.

JAWS is a classic movie too and one of several the PAC is showing for a $7 admission. The next one is “Gone with the Wind” and we’ll probably be there for that one, too.

I’m sure none of our area football teams want to use that one as a motto for the season.