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Dan Weber's Just Sayin': NKADA Honorees Show Best of Service to High School Athletes

Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

What makes the St. Elizabeth Sports Medicine NKADA Hall of Fame Dinner – this was the 38th annual affair – special has always been the invocation of the memories of the exceptional people whose lives and work represent the very best of what it means to serve high school athletes . . . JUST SAYIN’.  

We’re talking about the Tom Potter Distinguished Service Award that was presented to Suzy Wera of Beechwood for her long career in coaching volleyball, basketball, tennis, and as the first female athletic director at the Ft. Mitchell school. No greater honor here than to win an award named for Tom, who put in untold hours volunteering his time and efforts and insights for Newport Central Catholic athletes and then athletes from all of Northern Kentucky in postseason all-star games.

Brand new was the first-ever Stan Steidel Hall of Fame Administrator Award named for the former Dayton and Holmes High AD whose work creating the All “A” Classic tourneys made it possible for small schools to compete for state titles in a way that changed the face of Kentucky high school athletics. Covington Catholic Principal Bob Rowe is this year’s honoree for the work he’s done at CovCath where he raised $13 million in four years to transform the Park Hills school with a spirit transfusion after his previous work as a coach, player, and principal at Bishop Brossart. Bob said what he’s always looking for at CovCath are people with a “PHD” – “passion, hunger, and driven,” Rowe said. 

Here are the rest of this year’s honorees from Thursday’s dinner at Receptions in Erlanger orchestrated flawlessly as always by Mel Webster: 

*** Conner’s Wayne Badida not only started the Hebron school’s wrestling program, he coached it for 45 years, producing a 1983 state team titlist and 19 individual champions. But he shouldn’t have been up there by himself, Wayne said, but the “400 or 500” athletes who played for him and who got him there. 

*** Notre Dame’s Amy Frisch-Benge helped her Pandas tennis teams to state titles in 1997 and 1998, won the regional singles title in 1997 and after being named KHSAA Athlete of the Year in 1998, continued in college at the University of Nebraska and is now a pediatrician.

*** Walton-Verona’s Mike Code had 305 wins in his 16 years at Bishop Brossart, a number exceeding all but 15 coaches in Northern Kentucky history with one All “A” Classic state championship (2007) to his credit and a dozen 10th Region All “A” Classic titles. One of a number of this year’s inductees who continue a family tradition with his father and fellow Hall of Famer Bill Code.

*** Ryle’s Justin Doellman led the 2002 Raiders to the Ninth Region title as he completed a career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,503 points before playing in a Xavier-record 132 games and then professionally for a dozen years in Europe. His father, Dan, was a super shooter who helped put NKU on the basketball map in the school’s early years.

*** Boone County’s Katie Madden Haitz, after playing for the Rebels 2004 Ninth Region girls basketball champs and later coaching there, went on to become a head coach at Ryle in 2015 where she has led the Raiders to three consecutive Ninth Region titles and the 2019 state championship in building a girls basketball dynasty in Union.

*** Campbell County’s Jeff McCarthy was a three-sport letter-winner (football, basketball, and baseball) for the Camels before moving on to Eastern Kentucky where he was named an NCAA Division 1A All-America quarterback before coaching high school football here for 40 years at almost too many schools to list as well as some time as an athletic director. “I’m still in shock,” he said of his induction.

*** Highlands Heather Kruger-Parsons recorded more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her basketball career as a post player leading the Bluebirds to back-to-back Ninth Region championships in 1995 and 1996 before a two-point loss in the 1997 region final. She played basketball at Northeastern in Boston and is the grand-daughter of Ralph Mussman, a HOF honoree back in 1985.

*** Newport’s Roger Riedinger became the first Newport track athlete to win a state title when he won in the discus in 1965, a year before track teams were split into classes. As an administrator, he would also coach track for 15 years before going into business with his own nutritional supplement company, Beverly International. Also 20 years after his state title in the discus, Roger won the Master’s Mr. USA title. 

*** Scott’s Lauren O’Conner was an all-state honors and record-setting volleyball player for the Eagles who went on to an all-SEC career at the University of Kentucky as a four-year starter with all-conference honors every year. She continues a family tradition. Father Brian is a HOF inductee for his basketball play at Covington Latin followed by his college career at Thomas More. “It’s extremely special to be a part of the same Hall of Fame as my father.”  

*** Boone County’s Kevin Robb compiled a 119-14-1 record during his wrestling career at Boone County, winning a state title in the 138-pound class as a senior in 1982, before continuing his career at the University of Kentucky. He offered a heartfelt thank you to his high school coach, Bob Warwick, and his best friend, teammate, and practice opponent, Andy Mulcahy. “They had a huge impact on my life.”

*** Bellevue’s Cliff Swauger earned 11 varsity letters in four sports, playing on the school’s undefeated 1951 football team that won two bowl games and being named mythical state champs before going on to become a mathematics professor at the University of Kentucky where he was department chair and assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. From starting his sports career at the age of 7 for the Newport Merchants Knothole team to his 47-year career at UK, sports has been a big part of Cliff’s life, he said. But not contact sports, his wife convinced him after UK football player Wilbur Hackett knocked him out breaking up a double play in a campus softball game. “Time to hang it up,” he said was her decision with three young children and another on the way. And as he talked, he noted that his wife was giving him the “hang it up” signal again. 

*** Bellevue’s Janine Thoeny Walz won singles championships in the first five girls regional tennis tournaments played in Northern Kentucky from 1960-64. She also earned three varsity letters playing on the boys tennis team and on graduation was named the school’s best athlete. Also a cheerleader. And a pioneer for girls playing sports. And a family inspiration with more HOF connections than you can count on one hand. Her HOF husband, Roger Walz, was a player, coach and administrator at Highlands and UC. One son, Jeff Walz, is one of the top women’s college basketball coaches in the nation at Louisville. Her daughter, HOF’er Jaime Walz Richey, scored 4,948 points at Highlands in a record-breaking high school career. And her father, Bob, was a member of Kentucky’s first-ever state baseball champions at Newport High School. One other HOF connection. It was an original member of the NKADA HOF, the legendary Roger Klein, who asked Janine to be a member of the boys team at Bellevue. Which led to, on more than one occasion, a thrown racket and this comment: “How could you lose to a girl?” according to son Scott, who accepted for Janine who is on a cross-country vacation.   

WACKY PLAYOFF WORLD WEEK 2? . . . 

We wondered a week ago whether the one-sided first-round playoff possibilities might be a negative indicator for the way the KHSAA football playoffs are structured. And with an average score of 34-12, we weren’t all that far off. But it’s the reverse nature of the blowouts that made last week so crazy. . . JUST SAYIN’.

In Class A, Dayton reversed a 49-6 loss to Ludlow two weeks earlier with a 20-7 playoff win, a 56-point reverse swing. Then in 2A, Holy Cross reversed a regular season 40-7 loss to Lloyd with a 35-29 upset win – a 39-point reverse swing. Then in 4A, a Holmes team that beat Scott 40-0 just two weeks earlier lost in the rematch, 35-8. That’s a 67-point reverse swing. In 5A, Covington Catholic upped its previous one-point win over Highlands to 30, from 8-7 to 38-8 – a mere 29-point difference and not even a reversal. But Conner, after losing 43-7 to Cooper, came back four weeks later for a 14-3 upset – a mere 47-point reversal of the first game. 

Going the other direction were both Class 6A games that somehow stayed true to form with Ryle and Dixie Heights winning by even bigger margins than they did in the regular season – from a combined regular season margin of 44 points to 61 in the playoffs -- over Campbell County and Simon Kenton respectively. Now we get back to a replay this week of Ryle’s 13-12 regular season win over Dixie for the district title.

*** NORSE MEN BACK IN ACTION FRIDAY . . . After a high-flying (five dunks, 15 three-pointers) 82-54 win over Wheeling in its opener Tuesday, NKU is back for Game 2 Friday night at 7 (ESPN Plus) hosting defending Southern Conference champ UNC Greensboro (1-0) at BB&T Arena. Hubertas Pivorius, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard from Lithuania by way of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Fla. led the way with 19 points including five of 10 from three-point range. Not a bad start for the young man from Vilnius . . . JUST SAYIN’.

***WHEN THE SAINTS GET HOT . . . The Thomas More men set a school record for the longest scoring run in men’s basketball history with a 28-0 start to open the second half Thursday in a 105-37 home-court win over Simmons College of Kentucky improving TMU to 2-1. Sophomore Noah Pack of Georgetown, Ohio, led the Saints with 25 points on 11-of-12 shooting as TMU hit 57.5 percent from the field with 18 three-pointers. There’s hot and there’s 28-0 hot . . . JUST SAYIN’.

*** TOP 2 REGION GOLF COACHES NAMED . . . The top coach for boys golf in Region 7 is Ryle’s Austin Zapp, an alum and former golfer at the Union school that won this year’s regional. The top girls coach is Cooper’s Joe Deters, whose team won the region by 33 strokes. Good work guys . . . JUST SAYIN’.

*** ONE LAST LOOK AT NKADA HOF . . . With the addition of Cliff Swauger and Janine Thoeny Walz to the Northern Kentucky Athletic Directors Hall of Fame Thursday, that brings small school Bellevue’s total to 59 Hall of Famers, more than any other school in Northern Kentucky. Pretty amazing stuff . . . JUST SAYIN’.

--Dan Weber

Photo: NKADA Hall of Fame Dinner honorees