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Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: Lots of history in May inductees’ stories for the N. Ky. Sports Hall of Fame

The final monthly induction before the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame’s annual summer hiatus gave attendees a good sendoff this week.

That’s despite the fact that two of the inductees were deceased and a third unable to travel. All of which seemed to make it even more special as the stories – and accomplishments – of all five new members were more than deserving of celebration. Great history here.

Jeff Kordenbrock accept his father’s award from NKSHOF Pres. Joe Brennan and VP/MC Kenney Shields.

• WALTER “WHITEY” KORDENBROCK could have signed with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 16 while still at Holmes High School. But the former Covington Catholic basketball player from the Colonels’ original 1935-36 team who transferred to Holmes because they had baseball was told not yet, by his father. Wait until after you graduate, which he did, in a moving story well told by his son Jeff, a former CovCath and NKU athlete who wore a Cleveland Indians’ cap as a tribute to his dad.

But after four years progress in the minors for the Indians, starting out in Fargo, N.D., instead of getting called up the majors, Whitey – as so many of his contemporaries did – headed into WWII service for three years — 1943 through 1945. Even so, he still managed to come back after not playing baseball for three years to hit .317 with Class A Wilkes-Barre. But a knee injury ended his comeback. His numbers in the minors? A total of 2,284 plate appearances and just eight – you read that right – eight strikeouts and a career batting average of .265 for the three-position infielder.

What kind of player was Whitey, who sadly died of a heart attack at the age of 52? In going over his team pictures of his days in the minors, Jeff’s mom would tell him: “You can always pick Dad out, he has the dirtiest uniform.” That hard work and scrappy nature continued as Whitey worked long hours as a driver for Tastee Bread and Husman’s Potato Chips to support his family.

“But he did get to see my first game at NKU,” Jeff said. “He was a great dad. I miss him a lot.”

Brennan with Willie Schlarman, brother of inductee John Schlarman, and Lee Anne Schlarman, John’s wife.

• JOHN SCHLARMAN came from the Fort Thomas athletic family that will soon need its own wing in the NKSHOF. We lost John way too early, as well. Just 45 when a rare form of cancer that the UK assistant coach had battled bravely for years finally took him, Schlarman was represented by his widow, Lee Anne, and many in his family. “We miss him terribly,” she said, speaking for so many of his players, fellow coaches and UK’s “Big Blue Family,” who responded to both his fight and his passing because they realized how much his life and his example meant to his alma mater.

“The Northern Kentucky and Highlands community meant so much to him,” Lee Anne said of the former Highlands standout football player who went to UK as a defensive star before switching over to offense.
Brother Willie, already a Hall of Fame member, said “It’s such a thrill to be here on a day when my brother and sister are going in.”

Then he talked of how competitive and tough his younger brother, who missed just three games in his UK career as a top offensive lineman despite five injuries and three knee surgeries, was. And how proud he was of a UK team without a passing quarterback in a game against Louisville still managed to gain more than 500 yards on the ground. “They knew it was coming and still couldn’t stop it,” UK O-line coach John told Willie.

“But the happiest I ever heard his voice,” Willie said, was when John called the night UK beat Florida at Florida ending a 31-year losing streak. “I know (UK head football coach) Coach (Mark) Stoops revered him,” MC Kenney Shields said.

• CINDY SCHLARMAN GRAVES: The second member of the Schlarman family honored Wednesday described herself as “a happily retired elementary school teacher” from Fort Thomas’ Ruth Moyer School. And even more happy going into the Hall of Fame with my brother Willie, sister Tammy and brother John today . . . It’s a family thing.”

When multi-sport star Cindy moved her athletic career to NKU from Highlands, where she talked of how “the games were fun, it was a positive atmosphere,” she was at a place where her brother “Willie was on the men’s team.”

At NKU, “Coach (Nancy) Winstel took it to the next level. I learned to love the game but also love my team.” That’s a lesson for life that helped her career as a teacher, she said.

Hank Hudepohl (for father Dave), Joe Schlarman (for father John), Cindy Schlarman Graves, Pres. Joe Brennan, Jeff Kordenbrock (for father Whitey, VP/MC Kenny Shields, Dennis Deal, and NKU AD/VP Christina Roybal

• DAVE HUDEPOHL wrote that he “is 82 and living in Columbia, South Carolina, with two special needs sons to care for” with his wife of 60 years, Jackie, so travel isn’t easy for him. Accepting his honor was son, Hank, who talked about how the induction into the NKSHOF will add to his dad’s “highlight reel when people visit.” And a heck of a highlight reel it is for the 1959 Highlands grad who took his multiple sports talents on to Harvard. He was 14-2 as a towering senior lefthanded pitcher and .529 hitter after four years as a starting pitcher, basketball co-captain and leader of an unbeaten Bluebird football team his junior year. An All-Ivy player as a defensive end, he helped the Crimson to an Ivy League championship while, in his letter read by his son, thanking Highlands as the place where “I learned a lot about leadership . . . that helped a lot at Harvard.”

• After graduation from Harvard, Hudepohl passed on any pro sports opportunities to “come back to Fort Thomas and start a family” with his wife, also a Class of ’59 member, while also working in youth sports in his hometown.

“He was a heck of an athlete and a better person,” MC Shields said.

• DENNIS DEAL from Bellevue downplayed his credentials as a tennis/football athlete and coach. “I’m a one-star compared to a lot of five-stars in this group,” he said. But he went on to win the Northern Kentucky regional in tennis as an unseeded junior. “I was a person who could not accept losing.”

Guest speaker NKU AD/VP Christina Roybal

Thanks to his Bellevue High tennis coach, the legendary Roger Klein, he landed a job teaching tennis at the posh West Hampton Tennis Club on Long Island where he kidded about “going to New York where they couldn’t believe we (Kentuckians) had shoes.” Later in life, he took up golf and kept competing: “Just another fat guy doing good,” he described it.

Doing good however, describes his work as co-coordinator of District 22 Knothole Baseball, succeeding the legendary Red Bartlett. He also coached Bellevue High baseball and earned a spot in the Bellevue Hall of Fame after also playing football there.

*** GUEST SPEAKER CHRISTINA ROYBAL talked a bit of her first 10 months in Northern Kentucky as NKU’s vice-president and director of athletics. The Fresno, Calif., native has settled in, she said, with a daughter who is finishing her freshman year at Beechwood. Coming to NKU from stops at Fresno State and Northern Iowa, she described the Norse program as “a special and very strong mid-major” with four NCAA Division I basketball appearances for the men in the last seven years and an upcoming first-ever softball appearance this weekend in the first round of the NCAA’s playing against Tennessee in Knoxville.

“Every time we go national, the region goes national,” she said of NKU athletics. “We’re the front porch for the college . . . and boy did we put a scare into Houston,” she said of the NCAA first-round game in March. But Roybal says she’s challenging the NKU program to do more. “We aspire to be a premier mid-major program.”

A big part of Roybal’s praise for NKU athletics is the way the athletes have performed in the classroom – and the community. For 24 straight semesters, student-athletes as a group have had a GPA above 3.00 with a 3.52 this past semester. She also noted that some 250 student-athletes put in more than 2,100 community service hours this past year.

*Email Dan Weber at dweber3440@aol.com or follow him on twitter @dweber3440.

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