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Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: Listen to March inductees into the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame

Former Highlands head football coach Dale Mueller had the last word on the five March inductees into the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame. As anyone who knows the 11-time state champion coach knew he would.

Dale Mueller

But first, from Wednesday’s induction ceremonies at The Arbors in Park Hills, how about the words of the Hall of Famers themselves.

*** For Phil Uhlman, two-sport star out of the early Conner High in the 1970s, was in the hospital so accepting for him was his baseball coach, Tim Shields, a 50-year coaching veteran. “Phil was a great athlete and he was always there for me,” Shields said as he stepped in for Phil. He did note that the team Phil helped throw a co-no-hitter in the regional championship game was – as he glanced at the head table where a pair of former Highlands coaches in Master of Ceremonies Ken Shields and Mueller sat – was “Highlands.”

“Phil helped get things started at Conner,” Mueller said about those early sports days at the Hebron school.

Michele Doughterty

*** Dayton High alum and former track star Michelle Dougherty is still competing as an obstacle course specialist as well as fitness director, trainer, and publisher of her own fitness magazine – and most importantly, she said, single mother of three children. “This is a privilege . . . being from a small town and a poor family, this is not my comfort zone,” Dougherty said of speaking to the crowd. Her favorite memory was her dad calling her “runs like deer,” for the way she paced herself in races.

“Great job, Michelle,” Shields told her, “Do your best, nothing more, nothing less.”

“So impressed with what Michelle is doing in her ministry as a trainer and coach,” said Mueller.

Joe Brennan and Ken Shields with inductee Suzy Wera (Photos by Dan Weber)

*** Beechwood’s Suzy Wera broke many barriers as an athlete – she played all four women’s sports offered at Michigan’s Olivet College – and was one of the groundbreaking women coaches of male teams at Beechwood as the golf and tennis coach. “Lifetime sports,” she called them. “I was treated as an equal,” she said after leading her golf and tennis teams to more than 400 match victories in 22 years coaching. And then as an AD who added eight sports to the Beechwood offerings during her tenure. “I want to thank my husband, Jack, and three sons. They allowed me to do what I love – teach, coach and officiate volleyball.”

“How many people can play four sports in college?” Mueller wondered. “And a coach and AD. If there was an award for athletics, Suzy should get it.” And she was drafted by the New Jersey Gems in the Women’s Professional Basketball League.

Ken Rump

*** Holy Cross’ Ken Rump came in from Memphis for the induction. Little brother of former UK player Jerry and big brother of NKU three-sport star Teresa, Ken honored his coaching trio of George Schneider, Tony Bezold and Gene Gerding, all of whom were present, for “instilling a winning tradition at Holy Cross,” with his 1965 basketball team advancing all the way to the state championship game before losing to Butch Beard’s Breckenridge County team. “My wife Joan and I were not together 58 years ago when I played basketball,” said Rump, who went on to play for then Villa Madonna College, “but I’ve told her all the stories.” He also thanked his college coaches, the late Dan Tieman and Jim Weyer, for all they did for him.

“Ken looks like he could still put it in,” Mueller said of a player from the first Northern Kentucky team he followed in the state tournament.

Tommy New

*** Tom or as MC Shields calls him, “Tommy” New of Highlands was the final inductee and his wife, the former Gina Shields, Ken’s daughter, arrived just in time for his award. “Our five kids aren’t here but that’s the good news,” New said, “four of them are employed and the fifth is on spring break.” And then there was this, from the 40-year director of the Ft. Thomas pee wee football league and two-time state champ for a Highlands football team that was 45-3 when he was there and whose family can claim 11 state titles at Highlands. “Thirty-five years ago, I fell in love with one of his daughters,” as New nodded to and grinned at a man he still calls “Coach.” “So why has it taken so long to get me inducted into the Hall of Fame?”

“If you played under Tom, you wanted to come back and play the next year,” said Mueller, who credited much of the success Highlands has had in football with New’s leadership of youth football in town.

And finally, Mueller, a star catcher and guard at Highlands before heading to the Ivy League and playing at Cornell, then coaching at Newport and a number of Cincinnati schools before returning for his great success at Highlands, talked of his own time at Fort Thomas. Said he told parents that “Football was always No. 2, academics was No. 1.”

Talked of the one parent he had trouble with who was the mother of his 140-pound running back son – his wife — who didn’t want him to give him the ball so much because he was a little guy and he got piled on by the defense. Said the good thing about having a wife who wasn’t all that much into football was that “after losing a game, you didn’t have to come home and lose twice.”

Told a story about the great inspirational talk his Bluebirds got on a trip to play Elder at The Pit and their best plans of having quarterback Patrick Towles run the ball went awry when he got a concussion on one of his first carries. Luckily for Highlands, that was a year when Cris Collinsworth was helping coach and he asked if he could speak to the team, which he did, saying that while Patrick was the best quarterback anywhere, his backup was the second best and darned if Highlands didn’t rally for the upset. “You should have invited Cris to come here and give that talk,” Mueller said.

Calling himself “a whiner,” Dale said he’s learning to look at life differently as he, now retired at 68, baby-sits his 10 grandkids – seven of whom are four or under – “thirty hours a day,” he joked. And how grateful he is to see those sweet faces every day. “Gratitude is good medicine,” is the quote he cited, “if it were a pill, we’d all take it.”

Or we could just come to these inductions and listen to all the great stories.

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