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Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: More great Hall of Fame story-tellers, and their stories, here

After a summer hiatus, the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame began its induction season anew this week, honoring five new members before guest speaker, and longtime Major League Baseball umpire, Randy Marsh finished up as guest speaker.

Randy Marsh (Photo by Dan Weber/NKyTribune)

Using his cane to get around, 82-year-old Master of Ceremonies Kenney Shields, the all-time winningest basketball coach in Northern Kentucky at St. Thomas, Highlands and NKU, noted the fact before introducing the inductees.

“As you can see, I’m having more trouble getting around from Point A to B,” Kenney said, “much less C.”

Not to worry. Kenney can bring on the honorees on with the best of them.

• HERB HILGEMAN was up first, although unable to travel from his Memphis, Tenn., home, Herb was represented by a large crowd of family and friends from Fort Thomas, including son David. “A heck of a player, a true gentleman,” Shields said of Hilgeman, who was starring at crosstown Highlands when Shields coached at St. Thomas.

His junior and senior basketball stats could not have been more impressive (16.8 points and 16.3 rebounds a game as a junior, 18.8 points and 18.4 rebounds as a senior to lead the state of Kentucky in rebounding). The 6-foot-5 athlete also displayed his athleticism as a baseball player and on the track as a competitor in the 100, 200, 400, relays, long jump and triple jump. No wonder Miami of Ohio offered him a basketball scholarship.

After college, with a brief stopover back at Highlands as a coach, Hilgeman moved on to Rhodes College in Memphis where in 34 years as the head basketball coach, he won 473 games against 360 , was named to the school’s athletic hall of fame as the all-time winningest coach there from 1976 through 2010 and had the Mallory Gymnasium basketball court named after him in a $250,000 updating of the gym this spring.

“If you ask anyone affiliated with Rhodes basketball from the mid-1970s to 2011, they immediately talk about Coach Herb Hilgeman and the impact he had on their life,” said David Norton, Class of 1997 who led the fundraising. “From his constant, upbeat attitude, to his intensity on the court, Coach poured his heart and soul into Rhodes College. As competitive as he was, he also knew that our pursuits off the court were more important to our future as productive members of our communities. In short, he understood and truly embraced the spirit of Division III athletics.”

Emily Kaiser

• EMMY KAISER, St. Henry and Thomas More alum, was up next. And her story is about as good as it gets about the love of athletic competition. A tennis player who competes in a wheelchair, against able-bodied players, Kaiser once wasn’t permitted to play doubles because someone thought her wheelchair might injure her partner. Things have changed a great deal for the better, she says, as she competed to show people how her wheelchair would not keep her from playing against able-bodied players or anybody else. Or from showing people how it can be done.

Indeed. But school wasn’t the end of her competitive days. Kaiser has competed for the U.S. at the Paralympic Games in 2012, 2016 and 2022. And at the Para-Pan American Games in 2011, where she won gold in doubles and silver in singles. And in 2015, with a bronze in singles and doubles. And in 2019 when she won gold in doubles. As a World Team Cup member, she’s had career high rankings of No. 1 in the U.S., No. 11 in the world, and No. 1 in doubles, No. 15 in the world.

At the 2022 Paralympic Games in London, Emmy says she got the sense of what it means to be a pro athlete, facing a British player in front of a packed crowd that booed her.

Kaiser, who has coached and directed wheelchair and adaptive tennis for a nonprofit, talked of the great support she received at Thomas More and finished up with: “I’m just a tennis player, I appreciate you guys.”

Flip that around for how it should go. No, we appreciate you, Emmy, from Northern Kentucky to the world.

Duane Haag (Photo by Dan Weber/NKyTribune)

• DUANE HAAG played four years of basketball at Thomas More, scoring 879 points. And now he’s been an umpire and basketball referee for 15 years. But his greatest distinction, he says, is “playing for the legendary Jim Connor at Thomas More.”

He remembers Connor as “very blunt, very honest, a man you would want to emulate.” And he remembers Connor recruiting with this pitch: “We don’t have a gym, we practice at St. Ben’s Grade School, we play our games at CovCath and other places.” To which Duane noted, “All my life, I’ve never played at a home gym.”

But he does recall one special moment in his college career when “dorm buddies” were calling for Connor to put him in a game. And he saw Connor eyeing him, then walking down the bench as he started taking his warmup off and standing up. But when Connor got there, here was his message: “Duane, you have two options: You can stand up and tell them to shut up or you can go up there with them.” He chose to stand up and shut them up, Haag says as he went on to become team captain his junior and senior seasons and MVP as a senior.

Megan Arnzen Krieg

• MEGAN ARNZEN KRIEG was a four-sport star at Highlands who gives her father, Bob Arnzen, much of the credit for her knowing how to play the game, at least one of them. But there were plenty of them for the four-sport star who played volleyball, basketball, softball and swimming, earning 14 varsity letters for the Bluebirds and a volleyball/academic scholarship to Georgetown College.

“I’m especially excited to be going in with Herb,” she said with her years of active civic association leadership in Fort Thomas. But it was her dad, who played in the NBA and ABA after an All-American career at Notre Dame and an Ohio All-State career at St. Xavier High, who taught her about hoops.

“He taught me everything I know about basketball,” she said, starting with this advice: “You’ve got a big butt,” she remembers her dad telling her, “learn how to use it.” And the first time she did, she leveled a teammate, knocking her tooth out. But it was her mom, she said, who “taught me everything about life . . . she’s the backbone of our family.”

Arnzen Krieg concluded with a paraphrase of the famous Abraham Lincoln quote about how “A man never stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child,” which in her version goes like this: “We never stand so tall as when we help somebody else.”

• EMILY WESSELMAN EHA is the second St. Henry and Thomas More tennis player to be honored. The three-time MVP at St. Henry would go on to earn a TMU tennis scholarship and play in the first-ever Presidents Athletic Conference tennis tournament. She holds the singles career record at TMU with 42 wins. She and doubles partner Lauren Race, with 29 career wins, are 29th in school history.

Accepting for Wesselman Eha, who was unable to attend, was Tom Berns, who said that Emily was “very excited, very honored.”

Randy Marsh would reprise a guest speaking role he began even before his 30 years as an MLB umpire and the nine years overseeing umpires for Joe Torre, talking of how he knew his native “Covington, Ky., would help me get to the major leagues.”

He talked of how his father, Bob, longtime head of Kenton County Knothole, and Bill Cappel and Bob Hebbeler would found the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame more than four decades ago. And how the legendary Cappel, a member of the World’s Champion Nick Carr Boosters in 1939, “would be dragging the field at Covington Ball Park and then umpire the game.”

David Hilgeman, Megan Arnzen Krieg, Kenney Shields, Duane Haag, President Joe Brennan, Emily Kaiser, and Randy Marsh (Photo by Dan Weber/NKyTribune)

He talked about “how we’ve all seen a lot of changes (this year) in baseball, not a change in the game but to pick up the pace.” And much of that falls on the umpires. “They didn’t bargain for that” and if Richie Phillips were still their union counsel, “he would have gotten them something.”

And he’s not completely retired, still evaluating umpires at Cincinnati Reds games. But talk of robotic umpires, as they’ve been using in the minor leagues for the last couple of years, is a bit down the road. He says they can get the robots to call inside and outside pitches fairly well but the high-low, ball-strike calls isn’t so easy.

As for the difficulties that seem apparent with this year’s umpires, Randy says that’s a function of 10 umpires – seven crew chiefs – retiring after last season including seven with 25 or more years in the majors.

As to all the replay situations, Randy said “the umpires hated it,” for the first month although now getting wrong calls overturned at least precludes teams from saying they lost because of a bad call for the most part.

And finally, after Covington Catholic stepped in to offer its banquet facility more than a year ago when the Villa Hills Civic Club burned down, NKSHOF Pres. Joe Brennan presented CovCath AD Tony Bacigalupo a check for $1,000 in appreciation.

“Northern Kentucky sports are special,” Bacigalupo said. “There are great rivalries, great history here.”

Contact Dan Weber at dweber3440@aol.com. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @dweber3440.

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