November 8th, 2012
The Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame
Billy Reed presents the Heroes of the Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame
I can’t remember exactly when I first asked myself, “Where have all the heroes gone?” I know it was well before the steroids scandal in baseball, the lobbying scandals in Congress, or the savings-and-loan scandal in the business world. I know it was well before we knew the dark side of Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, and Lance Armstrong, I know it was at a time when I couldn’t even imagine the horrors at Penn State.
We need heroes. We need athletes, politicians, business leaders, and entertainers who will show us the importance of succeeding by doing things the right way. We need role models who care about more than wealth because, as the Bible tells us, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” We need examples of integrity and character whom we can discuss with our children.
So when we began the Catholic Sports Network more than two years ago, one of our founding principles was that we would use sports as a vehicle to encourage youngsters and their parents to also embrace academic achievement and character development.
Where have all the heroes gone?
An historic array of Louisville’s best and brightest will be honored at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15, when the Louisville Catholic Sports Network hosts the first induction ceremony of the Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame in the Bomhard Theater at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
It will be an unprecedented opportunity for parents – not just Catholic parents, but all parents – to expose their children to Louisvillians who came up through the Catholic school system and went on to win Olympic gold medals, Super Bowl rings, a Heisman Trophy, and a major golf championship.
Admittedly, I’m prejudiced – not only because of my involvement with the Catholic Sports Network, but because most of the 13 honorees are friends whom I’ve interviewed and written about over the past 50-plus years. Each one is a profile in courage and a study in excellence.
Consider Paul Hornung, for example, Raised by a hard-working single mom in Louisville’s West End, he rose from those modest circumstances to become the 1956 Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame and the charismatic leader of Coach Vince Lombardi’s immortal NFL dynasty at Green Bay in the early 1960s.
And then there’s Bobby Nichols, whose promising golf career was almost ended in a car accident when he was a student at St. Xavier High in the early 1950s. He recovered and went on to win the 1964 PGA Championship, beating Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer for the title.
Louisville was not on the international swimming map until 1979, when Mary T. Meagher of Sacred Heart Academy and the Lakeside Swimming Club set her first world records in the butterfly stroke. By the time she retired after the 1988 Olympics, she had won three Olympic gold medals and become known around the world as “Madame Butterfly.”
I was there in 1984 when Mary T. won her gold medals in Los Angeles. And I was there in 1968 when Mike Silliman was captain of the U.S. basketball team that won a gold medal at the Mexico City Olympics. The star of St. Xavier’s 1962 state champions, Mike had an All-American career at Army. His last coach there, name of Bob Knight, insists to this day that Silliman may be the best player he ever coached.
Will Wolford of St. Xavier High and Bubba Paris of DeSales became two of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history. With the San Francisco 49ers, Paris won three Super Bowl titles while blocking for Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Wolford anchored the line for quarterback Jim Kelly on three Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl runner-up teams in the 1990s.
Speaking of Kelly, he played at the University of Miami for Hall-of-Fame inductee Howard Schnellenberger, who coached the Hurricanes to the 1983 college football championship right after Kelly had graduated. Like Hornung, Schnellenberger played at Flaget High for the late Paulie Miller, an offensive genius who later coached a season at Trinity High.
Although all-sports coach Bunny Daugherty of Sacred Heart and swimming coach Marty O’Toole of St. Xavier never got the national recognition that comes from college and pro coaching, each produced championship teams and countless student-athletes who went on to become community and state leaders.
The late Karl Schmitt Sr. and Father Tom Gentile are being honored under the broad heading of “contributors.” In the early 1950s, Schmitt helped found the Catholic Sports Athletics Association. When he retired in 1982, Schmitt was succeeded by Father Gentile, who continues in that capacity to this day. Schmitt also was a well-known game official who developed countless referees at the high school, college, and pro levels.
Gus Bell was one of mine when I was a kid. A 1947 graduate of Flaget, Bell patrolled centerfield for the Cincinnati Reds from 1953 through ’59. He was an outstanding left-handed power hitter and a Gold Glove outfielder, but he had the misfortune of being a contemporary of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider.
Last year Gus’s grandson David managed the Louisville Bats and I used the Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame as an excuse to introduce myself to David and give him a game program from Gus’s playing days that I had somehow kept for almost 50 years. As I had hoped, David agreed to represent his grandfather at the induction ceremony.
When I called Schnellenberger to give him the good news about his induction, he was ecstatic.
“It’s about time somebody was doing this,” the coach rumbled in his gravelly voice. “This should be on ESPN. I promise you that, on that night, no city in the nation will have a more impressive gathering.”
The heroes are coming home – some in person, some in spirit. If you are a parent, please bring your son or daughter. I promise they will see or hear something that will encourage them to emulate the legends.
For ticket information to this great event call the Kentucky Center for the Arts box office at 502.584.7777.