SPORTING LEGENDS

 

Jeff Montgomery


There has possibly been no Jackson Countian who has enjoyed the athletic success achieved by Jeff Montgomery. His achievements are those that future generations can all strive for. Montgomery's real claim to fame came as a relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals professional baseball team of the American League. It was Montgomery's job for more than a decade to come in the ninth inning, when the Royals were ahead, and gain the three outs necessary to preserve the victory, a role known as the "closer" in baseball.
His first professional organization was the Cincinnati Reds, which drafted him out of Marshall University as their top pick in the June, 1983 free agent draft. He rose through the ranks of the Cincinnati Reds organization, in one minor league game setting a league record by striking out 11 consecutive hitters.


He reached the major league level in 1987 with the Reds, appearing in 14 games, one of them as a starter, and had a 2-2 won-loss record with a 6.52 earned run average. After that season on February 13, 1988, Montgomery was traded from the team he grew up following to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Van Snider. It was there he spent 12 years as one of their primary pitchers and established himself as one of major league baseball's best relief pitchers. His best year could have been 1993, when he appeared in 69 games with 45 saves, had a 7-5 won-loss record and an excellent 2.27 earned run average. He also had a standout year in 1990, when he had a 6-5 won-loss record and a 2.39 earned run average with 24 saves.


He was a member of the American League All-Star team on three different occasions, 1992, 1993 and 1996. When he completed his 13-year major league career in 1999, including his year with the Reds, he had pitched in 700 games with a 46-52 won-loss record and a most respectable 3.27 earned run average. He had 733 strike outs and only 296 bases on balls. He finished his career with 304 saves, all with the Royals, and is the all-time saves leaders for the Royals. At the time, it placed him 14th on the all-time major league saves total list. On August 2, 2003, he was named to the Kansas City Royals Hall Of Fame.


He is also a member of the Marshall University Hall Of Fame, gaining that distinction in 1989. He pitched for the Thundering Herd for three years, and was the Southeastern Conference Freshman Of The Year in 1981. Montgomery also had a stellar interscholastic career at Wellston High School, where he graduated in 1980. He was a four-year starter in football and baseball, a three-year starter in basketball and was named the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League's (SEOAL) Top All-Around Male Athlete for 1980. In baseball, he was a pitcher and a shortstop, all-SEOAL his junior and senior year and played in the All-Ohio Baseball Series in Columbus. He established or shared 18 school records in baseball.


He was a first-team all-league, all-district and all-state pick in football and set all the school's place-kicking records. He connected on 55 of 67 extra point kicks, including 26 in a row, and six of eight field goal tries. He saw action at quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back and led the league in punting his senior year. On the basketball floor, he averaged 12.3 points per game and was considered the team's best defensive player his senior year.


Montgomery and his wife, Tina, live in Kansas City with their four children. Jeff Montgomery certainly made Jackson County proud.

 

 

 

Pat Duncan

 

The national pastime in the early 20th century was certainly baseball, and Jackson County, Coalton in particular, could lay claim to a major league star. Louis Baird (Pat) Duncan was a member of the 1919 Cincinnati Reds world championship team and was a key mainstay with the team for the next five years, ending his major league playing career in 1924. He joined the Reds on August 12, 1919, when his contract was purchased from the Southern League.

 

Duncan had enjoyed a successful minor league career, hitting over .300 for a season seven different times, and when he left the Southern League, was second in hitting with a .320 average. Although playing in three games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1915, Duncan's playing career took off when he appeared in 31 games with the Reds in 1919, which included 22 hits in 90 trips to the plate for a .244 average. After a solid 1920 season when the outfielder appeared in all 154 games with the Reds and batted .295 with 170 hits, it was the next three years where he would make his mark as an offensive threat with the Reds.


From 1921 through 1923 combined, Duncan was first on the Reds in games played, at bats, total hits, doubles, runs batted in and total bases. He was second on the club over the three-year period in runs scored and total bases, third in batting average and fourth in both stolen bases and triples. For his entire career, he played in 727 games with 2,695 at bats, 361 runs scored, 827 total hits, 137 doubles, 50 triples, 23 home runs, 374 runs batted in and 55 stolen bases. Pat Duncan had an outstanding career batting average in the major leagues of .307, hitting a personal high of .328 in 1922 and following that up with an average of .327 in 1923. He also was the first player to ever hit a ball over the distant left field fence at Redland Field on June 2, 1921, a field later known as Crosley Field. Duncan returned to the minor leagues in 1925, and never again got the call back to the major leagues.


He was born in Coalton on October 6, 1893 and in 1912, he signed his first professional contract with Ironton in the old Mountain State League as a left fielder for a salary of $70 a month. In 1930, he returned to the Mountain State League as a player-manager for the Beckley, West Virginia team and then retired in 1931. For his 20-year career combining both his major league and minor league totals, he hit for an amazing .327 average. For over 20 years after that, Duncan worked for the Ohio Department Of Transportation, but still held onto his close ties to baseball, managing many local baseball teams. He also would play on all-star teams and at fund-raising events. In 1935, he joined a group of former World Series players in forming a touring team that was managed by 69-year-old Denton "Cy" Young of Coshocton. On Sunday, May 19, they met the Jackson County Selects and the Wellston Gray Eagles in an exhibition game in Coalton and Young, considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time, pitched one inning. On Sunday, July 17, 1960, the newspaper headline sadly read, "Third Strike Called For Pat Duncan" at the age of 66, thus ending of the legendary baseball careers in Jackson County history.

 

High School Football by Randy Heath

 

Friday nights in the fall in Jackson County, Ohio are like most Friday nights throughout the United States in the fall, especially the rural communities. It's Friday night football time.

For more than 100 years, and for over 70 years at night, Jackson County's three high schools have been battling it out for gridiron supremacy against schools from throughout southeastern Ohio.

 

While there are no state championships to lay claim to, Jackson County has still have many memorable football teams that have played in many a memorable game, and have their share of championships to show for it. All three of the current high schools in Jackson County sponsor teams, Jackson on a regular basis since 1898, Wellston since 1908 and Oak Hill since 1919. Coalton, which closed in 1964 and was consolidated into Wellston, had football from 1939 through 1953 except for World War II.

The other three high schools in the county, also no longer in existence, Bloomfield, Scioto and Washington, never sponsored the sport.

 

It is Jackson who has had the most illustrious history on the gridiron, with 511 wins, 363 losses and 48 ties entering the 2004-05 season. They are only one of 34 schools entering the 2004-05 campaign with more 500 career high school football wins, and one of only three in southeastern Ohio. The Ironmen, as they are called, have had periods of notable success throughout the years.

 

By the way, the nickname of the Ironmen was adopted in 1937 by the Downtown Coaches Association after they solicited votes for a nickname for the team to replace the unofficial nickname of Red Devils. The first vote received for the nickname of Ironmen was from then Columbus city auditor and Jackson County native James A. Rhodes, who went on to become Ohio's longest serving governor.

 

One of the most notable periods of success the team has enjoyed has been over the last 15 years. From 1990 through 2003, Jackson has compiled a 105-41 record, including six Southeastern Ohio Athletic League titles from 1990 through 1998. Jackson's other notable era on the gridiron came when Coach Gene Slaughter came to Jackson from South Point, Ohio in 1952. After finishing 7-5-0 in 1952, his teams were 36-3-1 over the next four years and started a nine-year span from 1953 through 1961 in which Jackson sported an outstanding 76-11-3 won-lost record.

 

Possibly the most notable game in that time span occurred on Thanksgiving Day, 1954, when Jackson and Wellston met as undefeated teams, both ranked among the Top Ten teams in the State Of Ohio and battling for the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League title. With a young Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes standing on the sidelines watching, Jackson won 21-6 and for the second consecutive year, ruined an undefeated, untied season for the county-rival Wellston Golden Rockets. The game also marked the end of an era as it was the final Thanksgiving Day game ever played between Jackson and Wellston, who had met on that holiday since the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League was formed with both Jackson and Wellston as members on March 7, 1925.

 

Jackson is still a part of the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, that will celebrate its 80th anniversary on March 7, 2005. It is the oldest continuous non-city league high school athletic conference in the state of Ohio. Wellston remained a member of the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League through 1981, before moving to the Tri Valley Conference, feeling they could better compete. But the Golden Rockets also had success in the SEOAL in the early years.

 

After getting off to a slow start, Wellston did win back-to-back titles in 1936 and 1937. In the next 13 years, though, they won but 18 league games before rebounding in 1951. Under new head coach Ben Wilson, the 1951 team completed the school's only 10-0-0 season, although winning two of their games by just a 7-6 margin. Wilson coached the team for four years (31-6-1 record) over that time, including the two losses to Jackson to end the 1953 and 1954 seasons which were the only blemishes on otherwise undefeated, untied seasons. Wilson went on to the college level and was head coach at Wichita State University in 1971 when a tragic plane crash killed Wilson and many of the team's members.

 

Joe Malsimur, who later became the head coach of Youngstown State and was responsible for hiring Ohio State University Head Coach Jim Tressel to coach at Youngstown State, replaced Wilson and coached the team for three years, winning Wellston's last outright SEOAL title in 1957. The Golden Rockets tied for the title the following year in 1958, then did not win another football title until winning back-to-back-titles in 2001 and 2002 in the Tri Valley Conference.

 

Jackson and Wellston have always been fierce rivals on the football field, dating back to 1898 and in 2004, met for the 91st time with Jackson having a more than two-to-one advantage in the rivalry. Before the turn of the century, football was probably more a novelty, copying after the college game. There were no coaches, the players coached themselves. Most teams did, though, have a business manager who took care of gate receipts and other expenses the team might incur.

 

It appears the first game ever played by both Jackson and Wellston were against each other in October, 1898 and Jackson won 15-0 as touchdowns then counted five points.

Or at least the Jackson Herald was calling it a victory for the county seaters. The Wellston Sentinel saw it differently. "The Jackson Herald this week has a lengthy account of a so-called game of football between the elevens of Jackson and Wellston High School," the article said. "It is true the Wellston boys accommodated the Jacksonians with a practice game last Saturday afternoon on the gridiron, on the commons near the Wellston furnace, but as to its being a championship game, with all that it implies, this thought never entered the minds of either team," the article went on to say.

 

Although it appears that four games were played between Jackson and Wellston before 1908, Wellston indicated their first team of all high school players was in 1908 and other teams contained not only high school players but some players from the community as well.

 

Transportation was also an issue in the early days as there were no school buses and teams traveled from city to city by train. In a 1905 Saturday afternoon game with Chillicothe at Jackson, the home team was leading 10-0 near the end of the game when Chillicothe scored what they thought to be a touchdown. The officials disagreed and ruled a touchdown had not been scored. The Jackson Herald picks up the story from there. "Arguing over the question caused the Chillicothe boys to miss the afternoon train and they went to Hamden to catch the 11:20 p.m. flier that passes through there," the paper reported. "This, however, refused to stop and the boys did not get out of Hamden until about 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning."

 

It appears that Oak Hill fielded their first ever team in 1919 and quickly found success on the gridiron, going 18-3-1 from 1920 through 1922, including wins over Jackson and Wellston and two of the three losses to the powerful teams from Gallipolis. In matter of fact, after an 0-2 season in 1919, Oak Hill posted six straight winning seasons, something that would not happen again for nearly 70 years. The Oaks, as is their nickname, did not have the advantage of a stable high school league to play in like Jackson and Wellston, although Oak Hill did try to join the SEOAL in 1937. Oak Hill's first league was the Big Six Conference, of which they were a member from 1933 through 1938, the six years the conference existed. They were charter members of the Southeastern Ohio Buckeye League in 1946, and remained there for two years, then in 1953 were charter members of the Ohio Valley Conference, a league made up primarily of Lawrence County teams and were a member of that conference until 1984, when they felt they could not longer be competitive with the bigger Lawrence County schools. Oak Hill shared three conference titles in their 30 years in the league. In 1986, Oak Hill joined the Southern Valley Athletic Conference with predominantly Gallia and Meigs county schools, and also hired Jeff Conroy to be their new head coach. Instant success was found by both. Conroy was 37-3 in his four years at Oak Hill, and won first 21 league games and three league titles. Scott Bartholomew continued the tradition and had no losing seasons in his eight years at Oak Hill and posted an all-time winning record of 52-28 as in 1992 Oak Hill moved into the Southern Ohio Conference. From 1986 through 2001, Oak Hill had but one losing season in 16 years.

 

The fourth school to have football, Coalton, started the sport in 1939. On October 13, they played Beaver, in what was also the first game ever for the Pike County team, and Coalton won 48-0. They finished 2-2 that year, beating Beaver twice and losing to The Plains and Rio Grande. Coalton played for three seasons, then missed from 1942 through 1945 because of World War II. They rekindled the sport in 1946, having their best season ever with a 4-1-1 record, losing to McArthur and tying Blackfork while defeating Blackfork, Rutland and the reserve teams of Jackson and Wellston. The Coalton Vikings played their final game on November 13, 1953, a loss to Russell, Ky. that ended a winless season of seven games.

 

Friday nights under the lights have certainly provided their share of memorable thrills and heart-breaking disappointments over the past century, and hopefully will continue to do the same for many decades to come.