If I may take a brief respite from my journey through 70 or more years of South Central League action, I would like to comment on a couple of related topics, which some sports-oriented people may find interesting.
    A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting three sports icons in the local area when they were inducted into the Highland County Athletics Hall of Fame. They were Bill Uhl, an All-American from McClain High School and University of Dayton fame; Raymond “Dutch” Purdin, one of the all-time great athletes in McClain’s storied history (and one of Highland County’s all-time greats); and Kip Young of Whiteoak High School, Bowling Green State University and the Detroit Tigers. Joe Crawford of Hillsboro High School, Kent State University and the New York Mets was also inducted, but was unable to be in attendance because of his job as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Twins.
    I have known Kip Young since the 1970s, and Joyce and I once went to Detroit to see a game, when he was with the Tigers. I had met Bill Uhl a couple of times. I saw Dutch Purdin play two or three times when he was in high school, but had not really met him.
    It was a great privilege for me to spend a few minutes talking with these standout athletes. I was impressed with their humility. They were not arrogant or haughty, they were just common, ordinary people. They talked about the great influences that their coaches and teachers had been on their lives.
    Speaking to young high school athletes in attendance, Dutch Purdin said, “I am proud of many of my athletic achievements. But the thing I am most proud of is that there were 70 players on my Northwestern University football team, and 68 of us graduated.”
    Purdin starred in football, basketball and track at McClain, and was recruited by Ara Parseghian who was head football coach at Northwestern University.  A running back, he played four years in the Big Ten and was drafted by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. He said he didn’t know how to spell Saskatchewan, or where it was located, when he was drafted. He played four years for the Roughriders and still holds several records. He left football because of a shoulder injury. His injury could be easily corrected surgically now, but not in the 1960s. He broadcast Roughrider games for a while, then got into various recreation and sports management jobs. He is retired and lives in Kalamazoo, Mich.
    I asked Bill Uhl about his college coach, Tom Blackburn. Blackburn grew up in and around Rarden, near Peebles. His brother ran a little general store in Rarden for many years. “He was a good guy, who had a great understanding of the game, but he was very demanding,” Uhl said. Blackburn died of cancer in 1964, and is in the University of Dayton’s Athletic Hall of Fame (as is Uhl).
    Some of these athletes were really not much more talented than many of their teammates. But they were totally committed to reaching the highest level of athletic achievement that they could possibly reach. They worked hours and hours before, during and after practice.  They would not quit until they reached the goals that they had set for themselves. They achieved academically, as well. And, of course, they were fortunate enough to have coaches who cared, and would not rest until these young men achieved everything that they were capable of achieving. It was an honor to visit with them for a few minutes.
    • On Sunday, June 27, I was invited to attend a get-together in Sabina to honor one of the all-time great high school basketball officials in this area, Bruce Taylor. I first got to know Bruce when I was junior high basketball coach at Belfast back in the 1950s. Our school was small and so was our athletic fund.  Taylor would drive from Sabina all the way to Belfast to referee a junior high game. Often, he would refuse to accept any money. “Put it in your athletic fund,” he would say. “Buy something for the kids with it.”
    He didn’t need to officiate junior high games, anyway. He was in great demand to do varsity games all over southeast Ohio, and a good part of southwest Ohio, as well. But it was his way of helping the kids. Bruce was good to the young people, and he was a very positive influence on them for 30 years. Later, as I moved up through the coaching ranks, Bruce Taylor officiated many of our games, both at home and on the road. He was highly respected by all of the coaches, because he was very, very competent and extremely professional.
    If there was one word that accurately described Taylor’s long officiating career, it was “FAIRNESS.” He was a teacher as well as a game official. I well remember how he would talk to the kids and explain what they were doing wrong, so they could correct the problem and avoid traveling calls, etc.
    He was a wonderful influence on youngsters. Sometimes we won when he was wearing the striped shirt, sometimes we lost. Win or lose, we always felt that we were treated fairly. I have talked with many other former coaches in the area, and they all say the same thing. Everybody loved and respected Bruce Taylor. If you disagreed with one of his calls, he would talk to you. You had to treat him with respect, he demanded that. But he talked to you respectfully, too.
    More than 100 people showed up at the Sabina Masonic Lodge building on the 27th, to honor Bruce for his great service to the young people all over southern Ohio. About 30 former coaches were there, including Buck Carter, who coached at Sabina High School for more than 30 years. Phil Snow was there. Phil was the greatest high school shooter I ever saw in this area. He played for Sabina and for Miami University. Bill Anders was there. Bill played on one of Coach Carter’s great Sabina teams. Anders never played a game of high school football, but he walked on at Ohio State, made the team and went on to star as a pass receiver for the Buckeyes. Allen Collett was there. Collett was a great basketball player for Kingman, of Clinton County back in the 1960s before the formation of the Clinton Massie school district.  He was there to help honor a great official. I saw Jim Luck, John Lawhorn,  Dean “Oakie” Waddell, Kenny Briggs, Tony Lamke, Bill Newland and so many others that I can’t remember all of them. It was a terrific day, and I am happy that I had the opportunity to be there to honor a great official and a great man.
    Bruce is experiencing some health issues at this time. But he is a tough competitor, and I know that he will come out on top as he always has. If you know Bruce, or you knew him back in the “good ole days,” drop him a line. Let him know you’re thinking of him. He will appreciate it. So will I.
    • Recently, I learned of the death of Dennis Thompson. I more or less grew up with Dennis Thompson. He was (along with his older brother, John) a foster child, living in the home of Lyman and Vesta Wisecup, almost next door to me.
    “Denny” and I fished together, played a lot of basketball and baseball together and just enjoyed living in a rural area, without a lot of pressure. He was a great guy. I will never forget the time Wayne Martin and Denny got the bright idea of riding a bicycle down the big hill past the Marshall Cemetery. The bicycle didn’t have a chain. There was no way to stop it or control the speed. They just got on it at the top of the hill and coasted down. The bicycle must have reached 40 miles per hour. Then, it started wobbling. Both of them were thrown off in the gravel. It’s a miracle they weren’t killed. As it was, they both had numerous cuts and bruises. Dennis bore a scar on his upper lip the rest of his life. I think both of them learned a costly lesson.
    Denny was a natural-born basketball player. He played four years of varsity basketball at Marshall, and played on two Highland County championship teams. In his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, the team compiled an overall record of 57-9, including tournament games.
Until Phil Snow, of Sabina, came along, Denny was the finest high school shooter I had ever seen in this section of the state. I once saw him score 29 points in one half of a district tournament game. He could simply get “unconscious” and when he did, he could throw it behind his back and it would go in the basket. Other teams had to cover him like a blanket, or he would burn them. When they did that, opportunities were opened up for other players to get easy shots.
    He was more than just a basketball star. Coming from an unbelievably poor background, he worked his way through college, holding two or three different jobs and getting only 4 or 5 hours of sleep every night. Then, he worked his way through graduate school, where he earned a master’s degree. He taught school and coached basketball. He finally retired with 35 years of service in the Belfast and Whiteoak schools. At the same time, he completed over 20 years’ service with the Department of Natural Resources, working at Rocky Fork Lake and Paint Creek Lake State Park. My understanding is that he was the first employee at Paint Creek Lake, having transferred from Rocky Fork. He loved his family above all else. He was able to give his children opportunities that he never had, growing up. He was proud of that.  He was a good husband and father. His family and his many friends will miss Dennis Thompson. Highland County has lost a good man.
    Bob Patton is a Highland County sports historian and a contributing writer to The Highland County Press.