Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: From Reds’ ball boy stepping up, to top Mr. Football candidate, to pickleball

Dan Weber
Dan Weber
Dan Weber is LINK nky's sports editor-at-large. Contact him at [email protected]

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If you didn’t catch the Reds game the other day, and to be snarky about this, why would you? But maybe you should have. Recent Highlands grad and top pitcher for the Bluebirds, Abe Hils, was finishing up his first year as a Reds ball boy and took over the telecast. After making a nice play on a ball hit down the right field line, Abe was interviewed by Reds broadcaster Jim Day and was able to thank Joey Votto for something that happened exactly six years to the day. That’s when Hils, then a Ft. Thomas grade schooler, tracked down a Votto home run in the right-center field upper deck.

Here’s how the Reds tweeted it out:

“Six years ago today, Reds ball boy Abe Hils snagged a Joey Votto home run . . . tonight he got to talk to Joey on the broadcast.”

When Day came down to interview him, it gave Abe a chance to salute Votto and thank him for all Reds’ fans for his career here and then Votto responded from the press box, saying Day should take off his Reds’ broadcaster’s shirt and give it to Abe and let him finish the game since he’d done so well with the interview. Just as you’d expect of someone with Abe’s sports genes, he’d pulled it off perfectly.

Abe Hils makes a pitch for the Highlands Bluebirds in a 2021 win over the Beechwood Tigers. Photo provided | Allen Ramsey, Ft. Thomas Independent Schools

You see, Abe is the grandson of the legendary Mote Hils, who started sports and basketball at NKU as the school’s first basketball coach and athletic director after winning five straight regional championships at Covington Catholic.

Abe, who is on a full academic scholarship to NKU after a career as an all-district and al-region pitcher for Highlands and was a member of Highlands’ state champion basketball team in 2021, is also the grandson of Kenney Shields, the winningest basketball coach in Northern Kentucky history after his stints at St. Thomas and Highlands and the third coach at NKU who took the Norse twice to the NCAA Division II championship game.

And as luck would have it, Abe’s parents, Mike and Dawn, were both there to enjoy and be part of the moment.


Just got the word from Andy Furman that the First Annual Point-Pickle-Pickleball Tournament this Sunday will feature 16 teams at The Five Seasons Family Sports Club in Crestview Hills at 1 p.m. “We have a full contingent of teams, with top competition,” said Paul Gerwe, event chairman, with competition for “players of all ages.”

Judi Gerding, founder and president of The Point, says pickleball is a perfect vehicle for spreading the word in this, the 50th anniversary celebration for the Covington non-profit. “We thought a pickleball tournament would not only create great interest, with the popularity of the sport,” said Gerding, “but we think we’ll attract an entirely new audience for our mission.”

The 1 p.m. start will allow Bengals fans plenty of time to be home for the 4:25 kickoff at the Cowboys, Gerding said. Admission is free with refreshments available and a trophy presentation for the winners.

The Point/Arc’s half-century mission has been “to help people with disabilities achieve their highest potential educationally, socially, residentially and vocationally” while it “identifies gaps in services and provides care and support to fill those gaps – even when government funding sources are not available.”


We’re just four games into the high school football season but it’s not too early to say that if your list of Kentucky Mr. Football candidates does not include Beechwood’s Mitchell Berger, you’re just not paying attention.

Mitchell Berger in a game for the Beechwood Tigers. Photo by Dan Weber | LINK nky

The 6-foot, 205-pound senior running back/linebacker/punter/place-kicker not only leads the state in scoring, he’s shown he can pretty much do everything except for one surprise failing. One of the top pitchers in the state who has committed to Eastern Kentucky for baseball, Mitchell admits “I have a hard time throwing a spiral,” he says with a little grin.

But he can hit a rugby style punt 64 yards, or a field goal the way he did at Louisville Fairdale, or convert every one of his eight PAT attempts, or make the big tackle on defense or power through or run away from tacklers for the tough yards whenever the Tigers need him to.

At 22.8 points a game, not bad if he were a basketball guy, Berger’s state-leading scoring total of 91 points has them coming in almost every way you can score them — by running (11 TD), pass receiving (two TD), PATs (eight of eight), plus a field goal and a safety. If only he could work on that spiral thing for a halfback pass, he could pretty much score it every way you can on offense. And don’t put a Pick-Six or a scoop-and-score out of reach for a guy who seems to be in the middle of the action on defense.

Beechwood Coach Noel Rash talking to his Tiger team. Photo by Dan Weber | LINK nky

*** Berger is No. 3 in Northern Kentucky in rushing with 621 yards in 66 carries (9.4 average, 155 yards a game) but that’s behind Dayton’s Landyn Hopper with 722 yards in 73 carries (a 9.9 average for 180 yards a game, which is good for No. 5 overall in the state. Holmes Curtez Hill, 470 yards in 31 carries in three games (15.2 average) is next in line locally with 157 yards a game.

*** Highlands’ Brody Benke leads Northern Kentucky passers with 67 of 110 for 787 yards, four TD and a 60.9 completion percentage for 197 yards a game. Next in line comes Cooper’s Cam O’Hara (51 of 90, 56.7 percent, 4 TD, 749 yards, 187 average). Ryle’s Logan Verax (55 of 93, 59.1 percent, 661 total yards, 4 TD, 165 yards a game) is No. 3 here.

The Highlands football team on the sideline. Photo by Dan Weber | LINK nky

*** Top receiver is Ryle’s Kaden Gardner (26 for 375 yards, 14.4 average, 4 TD, 94 yards a game, 1 TD per game). Highlands’ Charlie Noon (24 for 275, 11.5 average, 2 TD, 69 yards per game, 0.5 TD per game. Just behind him is Boone County’s Tyler Whipple (10 for 205, 20.5 average, 2 TD, 68 yards and 0.7 TD per game).

*** Dayton’s Hopper, at 17 points a game, is next in line behind Berger in Northern Kentucky scoring and ahead of Ludlow’s Jaxson Rice, who scores 14.0 points a game.

*** Highlands’ Davis Burleigh’s 14 of 14 PAT performance and six of seven on field goals with a long of 46 yards has him Northern Kentucky’s top kicker.

*** Cooper’s Jack Lonaker is the state’s top tackler with 68, an average of 17.0 a game. Right behind him is Dixie Heights’ Brach Rice at 16.3 a game. The next two are from Ludlow – Andrew Kendall with 11.3 a game and Dameyn Anness with 11.0.

*** With 6.5 sacks, Beechwood’s Xavier Campbell leads the way here with the Ryle pair of Luke Zimmerman (4.5 sacks) and Dillon Smith (4) next in line.

*** Holy Cross’ Javier Ward and Campbell are tops in forcing fumbles with two each while Ward recovered one of those.

*** NewCath’s Matt Landrum, Campbell County’s Jakob Fahlbush, Holy Cross’ Donovan Ambrocio, and Dayton’s Caleb Crutchfield are all tied with two interceptions officially although we recall Newport’s Quincy Barber with two in the Brossart game alone although the Newport season and game stats have yet to be updated.

*** As far as team stats, Beechwood leads Northern Kentucky in both the most points scored per game (39.8) and least points allowed (3.5), not a bad combo. No other local team is in the state’s top 50 in scoring while Bishop Brossart (8.2 points), Ryle (12.8), and NewCath (16.0) all make it on defense against scoring. And with its 36.2 scoring margin, Beechwood is the lone team here in the top 50 in that stat.

*** Look to Class A here for the top rushing teams with Ludlow (284 yards a game), Lloyd (277), Dayton (256), Simon Kenton (245), Holmes (239), and Beechwood (238) all top 50 in the state. Beechwood, no surprise, leads defenses against the run, No. 1 here and No. 3 in the state, allowing just 10 yards a game.

*** At 206 yards a game, Highlands leads the passing stats here. Cooper (187 yards a game) and Ryle (165) are also in the state’s top 50. As for defending the pass, Beechwood is tops as well, holding opponents to 18 yards a game. Do the math: The Tigers have allowed a total of 71 yards passing and 41 yards rushing – IN FOUR GAMES. Boone County and Bishop Brossart are both top 20 allowing just 48 yards a game passing.

*** For team sacks, it’s no surprise Beechwood is top 20 with 12 in all, a 3.0 average. But the top team in Northern Kentucky is not the team you’d guess. It’s 0-4 Bellevue, whose scrappy young Tigers have recorded 14 sacks, a 3.5 average, led by the four each from Ethan Noonchester and James Long. Ryle has a dozen.

*** Covington Catholic shows up in the stats with four fumbles recovered, best in Northern Kentucky, while Bishop Brossart is the top interceptor with seven. Dayton is next with six while Holy Cross has five.

The Bishop Brossart Mustangs make their entrance to the football field ahead of a game. Photo by Dan Weber | LINK nky


One athlete we’d have liked to see play football in Northern Kentucky is Beechwood all-state catcher Brice Estep, like Berger, also committed to Eastern Kentucky for baseball. But now, we won’t get to see him in baseball either, his senior year. Estep has moved on, much the way Holy Cross’ Jacob Meyer did in basketball when the state’s leading scorer moved to Atlanta for his senior year. Estep, as he notes on his twitter account, will be attending P27 Baseball Academy, a Lexington, S.C. prep school specializing in improving baseball performance. Estep hit .472 last spring with 17 doubles, sixth best in the state, five home runs, and 56 RBI, fourth best in the state.

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