A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: Great way to start – or end – the year at the NKSHOF Summer Reunion

It was never easy to say whether the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame’s Summer Reunion and Awards Banquet every August marked the end of one sports year – or the beginning of another.

What has never been up for debate is that it’s a highlight reel of good work by good people.

NKY sports memorabilia from the Behringer-Crawford Museum

How big a deal is it? Dave Guidugli is here, all decked out in his Notre Dame gear in honor of his son Gino’s move to South Bend as a top football assistant for the Irish.

Dr. Jim Claypool is here, in his role as presenter of the award named for him as one of the founding fathers of NKU – and NKU sports – more than a half-century ago.

Thanks to the late Tom Fricke of Covington, for whom another of the awards is named, there’s a terrific display of Northern Kentucky sports memorabilia courtesy of the Behringer-Crawford Museum, an idea that Tom – blinded tragically in an accident when he was 17 – made happen in a lifetime of contributions to our community.

You could catch up on Southgate’s Jim Bunning’s Hall of Fame baseball career, or Covington’s Tom Thacker’s NCAA, NBA and ABA championships, or the World’s Championships in fastpitch softball (Bill Cappel’s 1939 Nick Carr’s Boosters) or slow-pitch starting with Covington’s Lang’s Pet Shop in 1953).

Or see guys you haven’t seen since those Knothole Baseball days way more than a half-century ago.

Just a terrific event at the Gardens of Park Hills.

But Wednesday evening was about more than history. It was about folks like Denny Bowman, two-time mayor of Covington for 14 years among his many political contributions, getting a special award for how well he puts this event together every year. By the time you read this, they may still be calling out winning numbers for the 70 door prizes Denny rounded up.

“I was a politician for 30 years,” Denny said in appreciation. “This is the best organization I’ve ever been a part of.”

Joe Danneman and family

Master of Ceremonies Joe Danneman, sports director at WXIX and Covington Catholic JV MVP as a senior for the cross-country team, he likes to joke, told a gripping personal tale of the dilemma of a TV sports journalist who knows a story – that a young man has died in a college basketball game – but does not tell it on the air because the young man’s family had not been told. Sometimes you have “to choose to be a human being rather than a journalist” is how we’ll paraphrase Joe here.

Before the night was over, Joe would be presented with a surprise induction – as his family showed up after keeping the secret — for all the times he’s answered the bell when the NKSHOF and local high schools have called on him to MC events.

• THE TOM FRICKE SERVICE AWARD to Falmouth native and Florence resident Rodney Hamilton, a longtime softball player and member of both the WUBE All-Stars and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame team that plays in vintage uniforms and without gloves as those original Red Stockings did.

Rodney Hamilton

Rodney, a plumber, has persevered through the loss of his left leg below the knee in 2020 after an accident on the job, but vowed to return to the Red Stockings and walk in the Opening Day Parade, which he did this year. He was also honored to throw out the first pitch before a Reds’ game to Johnny Bench, for whom he’s become a No. 1 fan – and now a friend – along the way. Bench caught the pitch on a bounce, Rodney says, and then he was able to retire in style.

But not from being an inspiration. “If I can do it, you can do it,” is his message for young people as he’s working on his third prosthesis. “This has been an honor. Any help I can be to kids, I’d be honored to do it.”
• THE JAMES “TINY” STEFFEN HUMANITARIAN AWARD to Bill Brauns, who has done so much for so many years providing food and services through his trucking company for those in need in Northern Kentucky after more than 30 years on the Big Steff Foundation while working at the Parish Kitchen, at both St. Bernard in Dayton and Holy Spirt in Newport, and as more than a 50-year member of the Bellevue Vets involved in youth sports.

“Tiny never had to be asked twice,” Bill said as he follows in Tiny’s footsteps. “God bless all of you and God bless America,” Bill said.

Bill Brauns with Randy Marsh Joe Brennan and Joe Danneman

• THE PAT SCOTT LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD to Jane Meier, whose career numbers as a three-sport coach at NKU and then glass-ceiling-breaking AD there for 21 years are almost too good to be true: 20 conference titles for NKU teams during her tenure, 20 NCAA regional titles, 13 Final Four trips, five championship game appearance and two national titles. Jane herself took teams in three sports – basketball, volleyball and softball – to national tournaments, something no other coach can claim.

She’s been named to 10 halls of fame but in her acceptance as a female athlete, coach and administrator whose time straddled Title IX in 1978, Jane had so many to thank for what is a quintessential success story for all of Northern Kentucky. Because, while she was the lone female AD in any public university in Kentucky, it was no big deal here. Jane’s thanks started with the person for whom the award was named, Pat Scott, whose time in the Women’s All-American Girls League helped inspire the movie “A League of Their Own” with Pat as the pitcher for the featured Ft. Wayne Daisies from 1948 to 1953.

Former NKU AD/Coach Jane Meier

“We’re all given opportunities,” Jane said, “I’ve had plenty,” she said as one of eight kids with parents that “made it look easy.” As for Pat Scott to do what she did when she did it, Jane says, well, that could not have been easy. Jane’s husband of 41 years, Steve Meier, a basketball player at CovCath and NKU, and many of her family were here to join in the honors. “I’m here because of others,” Jane said with a nod to Jim Claypool, who at NKU’s founding, made sure female athletes would get scholarships equal to the men, something no other college in Kentucky was doing. “We helped lay the foundation for NKU athletics,” Jane says. Indeed.

• THE BILL CAPPEL VOLUNTEERISM AWARD to the late Dave Epplen, who died May 12 at the age of 79. The former president of Greater Cincinnati Knothole and a lifelong youth coach and umpire and four-year baseball player at Thomas More was saluted by fellow umpire Randy Marsh, a 30-year Major League umpire and vice-president of the NKSHOF who will become president in January succeeding Joe Brennan.

“Kenton County Knothole gave me a chance,” Randy said of the organization his father, Bob, also led. “And because people like Dave gave me an opportunity – everybody can’t be a ballplayer – but they can be a very important person on the field.” As Dave Epplen was.

Thomas More AP/AD Terry Conner

• THE DR. JAMES CLAYPOOL PIONEER AWARD to Terry Connor, VP and director of athletics at Thomas More University, was presented by none other than the man himself. “Innovations and improvements are his trademark,” Claypool said of Connor, son of the legendary Jim Connor, who has now been AD at Thomas More since 2000. “He’s a man of vision, a man of integrity, a man of accomplishment.” He’s also not afraid to make fun of himself. “I fired myself as a coach,” Terry said, “and built on that.”

And build he did. TMU had 14 sports when he came in as AD. It has 31 now, and more than 800 athletes. And has transitioned from no-scholarship NCAA Division III to the NAIA to now the NCAA Division II.

“I really wanted to build on what my dad started,” Terry says. A total of 130 conference championships, five national team championships, one individual championship, 86 national tournament appearances and all sorts of additional facilities from the Griffin Family Stadium and Republic Bank Field to the partnership with the Florence Y’alls for Thomas More Stadium and the 17 new sports, we can say for certain that Terry is doing just that.

Dan Weber writes a sports column for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @dweber3440.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment