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Honoring the champs
By Kevin Wiseman Messenger sports editor
May 28, 2017
One by one, members and fans of the 1967 Nelsonville Greyhounds stepped to the microphone and shared accounts of a legendary run. Their memories were still fresh in their mind, painting vivid pictures for those in attendance who were too young to experience a championship run in person.
The ‘67 Greyhounds’ baseball team is perhaps a forgotten one in terms of Athens County legend and lore. They took home a Class A state baseball championship 50 years ago, and received their proper recognition on Thursday in a reunion at Stuart’s Opera House.
The Greyhounds closed out Nelsonville High School by winning a state championship. The school closed its doors after that school year, as Nelsonville-York High School opened up the following fall.
“The magic that was the 1967 Nelsonville Greyhounds, the last official act of the 89-year old high school,” event emcee Steve Cox said. “Is there any other school that has ever gone out like that?”
The program for the event has a picture of the Greyhounds, smiling and posing with a championship trophy after their 3-1 win over Edon.
Whatever happened to the trophy is a mystery that perhaps will never be solved. Nelsonville High School closed, and apparently the trophy never made its way to the new N-Y High School.
“It was a great trophy. We did enjoy it,” third baseman Courtney Hanning, a senior in ‘67, said. “We had many pictures taken with the trophy, but somewhere along the line the trophy disappeared.”
Nelsonville-York School Board President Micah Covert heard of the trophy-less team and wanted to do something about it. He called the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and have another Class A State Championship trophy made.
The players, who weren’t expecting another trophy ceremony, were presented with the hardware afterwards. Fifty years later, the Greyhounds were back and posing for more pictures.
“We’ll keep it at Nelsonville-York High School in our trophy case,” Covert said.
Eight members of the Greyhounds’ team were present on Thursday, as two were unable to make it. Unfortunately, six members of the team have passed, including starting catcher Paul Conrad.
Conrad’s tag out at home during a state tournament game was a moment that was captured in a photograph that was captured in the Citizen-Journal on May 27, 1967. It was a play that was discussed multiple times on Thursday.
“We didn’t really have a captain, but if we had one he would have been it,” said Larry Corrigan, a senior second baseman at the time, of Conrad. “He was our leader both offensively and defensively.”
Corrigan credited the youth baseball program in Nelsonville for helping to make the run possible. The group knew the ins and outs of baseball once it got to high school.
“We were a team of players that grew up playing sandlot ball on baseball fields, little league, American Legion, then high school,” said John Coker, a junior first baseman on the team. “Great pitching, excellent fielders and very, very timely hitting and we’re here today.”
Coker and Steve Levering each had a banner that was hung either on the school building or the school bus 50 years ago. While the original trophy was lost, seeing the banners brought back memories for the players on Thursday.
Coker read off 50-year old hand-written messages that were on his banner, one that he somehow ended up with even though it was hung on the school building.
The landscape of high school baseball was certainly different 50 years ago than today. In 2017, four divisions will crown state champions next week in Columbus.
In 1967, the entire state was divided into two divisions — Class A and Class AA. The Greyhounds were one of two teams in Ohio to finish the year with a win.
“Cincinnati Western Hills won the AA,” Coker said. “Pete Rose’s brother was on that team. We were so excited, we wanted to play them but we weren’t allowed to do that.”
The Greyhounds’ run started against local teams in the tournament. They defeated Ames-Burn, then Chauncey-Dover before taking on York.
In a few months, Nelsonville and York would combine to form one school, but in May of ‘67 it was Nelsonville who got the upper-hand against a York squad that had starting pitcher, and current Nelsonville resident Mike Wilson on the mound.
The Greyhounds were getting hot at the right time.
“We didn’t start the year off thinking about a state championship,” Haning said. “We started the year off thinking about the last athletic team in Nelsonville High School. We were going to have fun.”
The fun continued as they beat Portsmouth Clay, 1-0 in nine innings, in a district final. They beat River Valley from the Central District 4-2 in a regional semifinal, and advanced to the state tournament with a 5-4 win over Zane Trace, thanks to Phil Evans’ bases-loaded single in the eighth inning.
Undefeated Clinton-Massie was the next opponent in the state semifinals in Columbus.
An Athens Messenger article from May 25, 1967 captured the current situation the Greyhounds faced.
“The Greyhounds are the final athletic team of Nelsonville High School to carry their scarlet and grey colors into competition before consolidating with York next year and adopting new colors and a new nickname,” Messenger sports editor Rowland Congdon wrote 50 years ago.
The Greyhounds clipped Clinton-Massie, 2-1 to advance to the finals.
“We’re winning games by one run, we were making plays,” Haning said. “Everyone was making a play. It was like, who’s turn is next to turn back the opponent and be the hero for the day?”
Like any championship team, the Greyhounds had pitching, led by Joe Grose and Dick Steenrod.
“They carried us throughout the whole season,” Corrigan said. “They were very instrumental in the whole process.”
Edon entered the Class A final with a 16-1 record, but the Greyhounds weren’t going to be denied.
Nelsonville broke a scoreless tie in the fourth thanks to consecutive doubles by Corrigan, Evans and Steenrod.
Steenrod, a righty, got the start on the mound in the game played at the Ohio State Freshman Diamond. Grose, a lefty, came on in relief in the fifth inning and closed out the win, allowing the Greyhounds to finish 14-4-1 on the season.
“A fitting closing to a school’s history unfolded here Saturday about 12:40 p.m. when the arm of Umpire Bob Ball shot into the air indicating “out,” wrote Congdon in the Sunday Messenger, May 28, 1967.
“It signified that a baseball game which was reaching climactic proportions only faded into history — that of Nelsonville High School. Nelsonville had beaten Edon, 3-1, for the state title,” Congdon continued.
“Championship game was nip and tuck throughout and we pulled out the win,” Coker said. “I remember jumping up and down and going crazy then looking around at all the family, friends, classmates who came to support us.”
Mark Fick, a sophomore right fielder on the team, recalled the post-game celebration went to Stover’s Inn and a police escort took the Greyhounds through the city streets on of Columbus.
“We didn’t stop for nothing,” Fick said. “Never go through Columbus that fast in your life, won’t happen.
“We got treated pretty royal for just a bunch of kids playing ball.”
The team was greeted upon its arrival to Nelsonville, as accounted by Tom Metters in the Athens Messenger on May 28, 1967.
“They proceeded through the downtown area and the Public Square, around past the school, up Route 216 to Buchtel and back into town where a crowd had gathered in front of the school and a “Welcome Champs” sign awaited them,” Metters wrote.
It was a grand final act for the Greyhounds, one that hasn’t been matched by any Athens County baseball team in the years since.
“We took an unexpected trip that became memorable,” Haning said. “Anybody who can do something in your life and always be proud for the next 50 years to say I was part of that, quite an experience.”
The team was coached by Phil Fawcett, who was in attendance on Thursday. A 27-year old coach at the time, Fawcett received a standing ovation on Thursday.
“Thank you to the team,” Fawcett said. “I want to thank you for what you did. I have to say to everybody, you’re one of the best bunch of guys that I ever coached and you’re still the best bunch of guys around.”
The team received more accolades, as a Walk of Fame will be constructed at Crabtree Field in honor of the Old Timers Baseball Association, and the ‘67 Greyhounds. Eighteen new trees will be planted in honor of the each player and coach on the squad. Cox also announced that the team will be part of the first Hall of Fame class at Nelsonville-York.
Nelsonville High School and the Greyhounds are now 50 years removed from existing as a school district, but they certainly still have a place around town and at Nelsonville-York.
“That trophy will always have a special location in our building and maybe we’ll even get a banner for our gym. I want everyone to know about this,” Nelsonville-York Athletic Director Amanda Wiseman said.
The Greyhounds and their head coach stood with the trophy once the ceremony was over, camera phones capturing the moment from every direction. The only state baseball champions in Athens County’s high school history were soaking up the moment.
“These guys have gone through life, they’re not just state champions, they’re champions, period,” Dave Weaver, a freshman outfielder on the team, said.