Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: Time to put more Northern Kentuckians into the KHSAA Hall of Fame

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

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This spring I was encouraged when the KHSAA announced its Hall of Fame class with two Northern Kentuckians – Nell Fookes of Boone County and Highlands Dale Mueller among the 17 named – and with three others with some local or nearby connections.

But then I did some digging. Having been gone for three decades to Chicago/Northwest Indiana, Philadelphia/New Jersey and L.A./Southern California starting in 1988 when the KHSAA HOF was introduced, those looked like good numbers for Northern Kentucky.

As it turns out, the numbers are not all that good. With just a bit over 400,000 population, the three counties in Northern Kentucky – Boone, Campbell, and Kenton – make up more than nine percent of Kentucky’s 4.5 million people.

And yet, just 29 of the 505 KHSAA Hall of Famers are Northern Kentuckians – that’s 5.6 percent. And if truth be told, with the likes of Highlands and Beechwood alone, who have 39 state football championships between them – No. 2 and No. 3 all-time (Highlands 23, Beechwood 16) – that’s way, way under the number we should have here.

In checking out every single induction class, I can’t find a single Beechwood alum, for example, and just three from Highlands’ football – Homer Rice, Owen Hauck, and Mueller. How many great Highlands players have there been with only Mueller, as a coach, representing them.

Looking at the entire HOF roster, I can guarantee you that if Beechwood or Highlands were in Lexington or Louisville, or from eastern or western Kentucky, you’d have to take your shoes off to count the number of Hall of Famers from the two schools. But they’re from Northern Kentucky.

Which gets me to an impression of the distance between Northern Kentucky and the rest of the state to a person returning home after three decades away. Contrary to the improved interstates and shortened travel time, Louisville and Lexington seem farther away. Or to put that another way, Northern Kentucky seems more of an island – athletically speaking – than it was when I left.

There used to be an entire Northern Kentucky community every year at the Sweet 16, whether it was at Rupp Arena in Lexington or Louisville’s Freedom Hall. Not so today. It’s just not as much a part of our lives.

Some of the disconnect might be in the two athletic programs at the two biggest cities. From early years on, U of L and UK featured football and basketball players from Northern Kentucky. Not so today. Only CJ Fredrick, out of Covington Catholic where he was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball but a Cincinnatian, will be in uniform at UK after sitting out an injury/transfer season from Iowa. No one in football.

But it seems more than that. And to make it clear, this isn’t necessarily one of those deals where we want to be included and the rest of the state says “Nahh, baby, nah . . . Go away.” There are other things going on that we’ll explain.

And yet, I still remember the words of Ed Kennedy, one of Northern Kentucky’s great sports personalities. A Ludlow native, the first basketball coach at Covington Catholic went on to become an erudite radio pioneer in Cincinnati calling Reds baseball, and Royals and Xavier basketball for decades in the 1950s and 1960s before becoming president of the Bank of Ludlow.

Ed once told the story of getting a chance to meet the most famous Kentucky woman – maybe ever – University of Chicago educational pioneer Sophonisba Breckinridge from the Kentucky family that produced a presidential candidate, a vice-president, a senator, a congressman, at least two Civil War generals – one on each side – and a Kentucky county in their name. Not only had Ms. Breckinridge been the first woman to pass the bar (law) in Kentucky and earn a Ph. D at the U. of Chicago while becoming a leading progressive author, thinker, and dean there, she was the first woman to represent the U.S. at an international conference.

Ed recalls lining up to meet her at a reception in her honor in Chicago and then excitedly telling her that he, too, was from Kentucky – Ludlow in Northern Kentucky. “That’s not Kentucky,” she replied coolly, moving on to the next person in line.

So yeah, it’s easy to think that a Northern Kentucky, whose only native son elected governor, William Goebel, was shot after his election and died after inauguration – has been shunted off to the side in this state. But be careful about jumping to that conclusion.

It’s something I learned when I was about to complain how it took until 1968 for Northern Kentucky to get a state college when they’d established them decades before in much-less-populated places like Murray (1922) and Morehead (1923), Richmond (EKU in 1906) and Bowling Green (WKU also 1906). And then I did the research, checking on the cities that were up for each of those schools the years they were established.

What I discovered pretty much absolved the rest of Kentucky of an anti-Northern-Kentucky prejudice. In checking out the cities up for each of those colleges, not once had Northern Kentucky pushed for a state college here. Maybe the access to the University of Cincinnati, Xavier, and Villa Madonna (now Thomas More) seemed enough even if it wasn’t.

But that’s my story. Like so many things in life, it’s not any one thing. As is the lack of Northern Kentucky KHSAA Hall of Famers. We haven’t pushed it. Haven’t cared enough. And the rest of the state probably isn’t all that concerned that we haven’t. They have their own athletes.

Here’s what you’d like to see happen. The KHSAA has to get more involved, or at least aware of, how unrepresentative the KHSAA HOF has become.

And Northern Kentucky schools – thinking especially of CovCath and Beechwood here who seem most under-represented compared to their athletic programs’ success – have to get with the process. And maybe so should the Northern Kentucky High School Athletic Directors Hall of Fame.

There’s not a single member of the initial 28-person 1984 NCADA Hall of Fame here – pre-dating the KHSAA’s by four years – who shouldn’t be in the KHSAA HOF. But only seven – Newport’s Stan Arnzen; Dayton’s Bob “20 Grand” Davis; Bellevue’s Roger Klein; Jim Connor from Newport, Newport Catholic, and Boone County; Covington Holmes’ Tom Ellis; Covington Grant’s Tom Thacker; and Boone County’s Allen Feldhaus – are.

Based on the standards of the KHSAA, the other 21 should be.

And to be honest, that would just be a catch-up play for Holmes’ Millard “Andy” Anderson, Bob Barton, and Bill Schwarberg, Beechwood’s Edgar McNabb, Bellevue’s John “Boots” Wuest, Dayton’s Willard Bass and Bob DeMoss, Ludlow’s Dr. Layton Rouse, Clarence Caple and Dr. Robert Reichert, Walton’s Frenchy Demoisey, Highlands’ John Hosking and Bob Stegeman, Newport’s Al Howe, Ralph Mussman, Fritz Knapp, John Turner, Dick Vories, and Tom Reis, Lloyd Memorial’s “Jiggs” Johnson, and Hebron’s John Crigler.

As we look through the KHSAA list, we agree it was off to an impressive start with the likes of Paul Hornung, Ralph Beard, and Cliff Hagan in that inaugural 1988 class with Rice the lone Northern Kentuckian. Frank Ramsey, Wes Unseld, Butch Beard, and Coach E.A. Diddle made Class 2 impressive as well as it also inducted Newport’s Donna Murphy, Kentucky’s first Miss Basketball, who averaged 35 points and 20 rebounds as a spectacular high-jumping, left-handed shooter her senior season.

But by the time the KHSAA inducted all four members of Corbin’s Bird family – Jerry, Billy, Calvin, and Rodger – in 1993, that was just one fewer than the five Northern Kentuckians inducted previously in all five years of its existence.

In 14 of the years since 1988, not a single Northern Kentuckian was inducted. And with the likes of the above 21 and plenty more since then, someone – or a number of someone’s – isn’t trying hard enough here.

I’m thinking of Boone County footballer Irv Goode (UK/St. Louis Cardinals NFL); CovCath coaches Bob Naber (U of L player), Mote Hils (started NKU basketball), Danny Tieman (Villa Madonna/Cincinnati Royals player), and Dick Maile (LSU player); NewCath footballer Ed Ziegler (Notre Dame) and Basketball Hall of Famer Dave Cowens (Florida State/Boston Celtics); Bellevue tennis star Tom Cundy; and Villa Madonna and Olympic diver as well as multiple NCAA and state champion Becky Ruehl Amann (full disclosure, Becky is my niece) to mention just a very few.

And since media folks have been inducted, who did more for high school sports than The Kentucky Enquirer’s Marty Kehoe and radio’s Dale McMillen?

And that’s just scratching the surface. There are so many more worthy of consideration. No better time than now.

Friday we’ll present a short bio of each of the 29 KHSAA Hall of Famers from Northern Kentucky.

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