Editor’s Note – The is the first in a series of four stories featuring the 2018 inductees into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame. The inductees will be honored, along with more than 35 high school senior scholar-athletes, at a banquet scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 21 at the Ponderosa Banquet Center in Hillsboro. The public can reserve tickets for the event by calling 937-402-2522.
She set and held the Fairfield High School girls basketball scoring record for 32 years and was a key cog in Highland County’s only state tournament softball team. But for Kay Cummings, it was never about scoring points or tracking her softball stats.
“I liked playing defense better than anything else in basketball and softball,” said Cummings, who once had eight steals in a basketball game for Wilmington College. “I loved running after balls in the outfield and backing up bases, and stealing the ball and zinging passes right past people’s faces. I didn’t really care about scoring or keeping track of that stuff. I just wanted to win.”
She did plenty of that.
A 1982 FHS graduate, Cummings was a center fielder and leadoff hitter on a Lady Lions softball team her junior year that won sectional and district tournament championships, and in her senior year went undefeated in the Southern Hills League, then won sectional, district and regional tourney titles before losing to eventual state champion Archbold, 7-2, in the state semifinals.
In basketball at Fairfield, she started varsity as a freshmen despite never having played organized basketball before (it was not offered to girls at any lower level at the time). When she graduated she held the Fairfield girls scoring record with 1,054 points. That record was broke by Heather Cox in 2015, then broke again this year by Grace Shope.
“Kay Cummings is arguably the best all-around female athlete to graduate from Fairfield High School,” the program read when she was among the first class inducted into the FHS Athletic Hall of Fame. … Kay had a way of making her team and her teammates better with her aggressive play and athletic competitiveness. She did not like to lose and would do everything in her power to win. This was highlighted in her last basketball game at Fairfield where she had a career-high 31 points with seven rebounds and seven steals in a 67-53 loss in the sectional finals to Peebles.”
Cummings led the Lady Lions in free-throw percentage three years, was named All-SHL as a junior and senior, and was an Associated Press All-Ohio selection.
She played four years of varsity basketball and softball and three years of volleyball at Fairfield.
At Wilmington College, she was a four-year starting point guard in basketball and won another free-throw percentage title her sophomore year. In softball, her 1983 WC team won the Western Buckeye Collegiate Conference and NAIA District 22 titles. In 1986, Cummings was named to the Western Buckeye Collegiate All-Conference team and won the team MVP award.
It all started with her dad and what she refers to as her neighborhood family, the daughter of Betty and the late Jim Cummings said.
“It was dad first. He always made sure we had a basketball hoop and he was always shooting and playing pitch and catch with me. And then it goes back to my neighborhood family,” Cummings said, mentioning Cooks, Millers, Greers, Barretts, Tom Purtell and Louis Pausch Jr. “Just growing up at that time, we were always outside doing something.
“I remember Kevin Greer teaching me how to dribble. He’d let me dribble through his legs – that’s how little I was. That was big stuff, and I remember going to watch him play.”
After her school days she continued to play softball until she was 45. She said she coached seventh grade, eighth grade and one-year of freshmen basketball for a total of about 18 years at Greenfield and Leesburg, coached seventh grade volleyball several years and jayvee volleyball a few years, coached numerous Little League teams, and was also a volunteer with the Special Olympics.
“It was just the love of the game and wanting to teach the kids,” Cummings said of her time coaching.
She said some of her favorite memories are going to the state tournament her senior year, winning the district her junior year at Fairfield, the challenge of playing at the collegiate level, but maybe best of all was the camaraderie with her teammates.
“I had a boom box and we’d ride the bus and listen to music and sing all the time,” Cummings said. “Thinking back now, we just had a lot of fun playing pranks and doing stuff like that, and I think it helped the camaraderie, too.”
Another special memory is seeing Jim Cook, her Fairfield softball coach, and Delbert Bobbitt, a teammate’s father, keep a promise after the Lady Lions beat Portsmouth Clay, the team that had knocked them out of the tournament the previous year, to advance to the state tournament.
“They said that if we beat Portsmouth Clay they were going to take their toupees off and throw them on home plate,” Cummings said. “We all just had a ball with that, and I’ll never forget the look on the other team’s face when they did that.”
The adrenaline of competition was something else Cummings thrived on. She described herself as a bit of a “spaz,” and said that during her basketball days at WC, she and teammate Linda (Fittro) Hatten, a Lynchburg-Clay graduate, coach and fellow Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, would beat on things to get their teammates revved up before games.
“I just liked the fast pace, the thrill of it, and part of what I liked was getting people fire up,” Cummings said. “Even when I coached, I tried to get their energy level up for it.”
While she no longer plays or coaches, Cummings keeps plenty active. She said she likes mountain biking, snow skiing, tubing behind a boat, has a Jet Ski and plays some golf.
Today, Cummings works at Leesburg Hardware and Lumber, a family business since 1955, and also is a custodian at the Fairfield Local Schools.
But when she thinks back to her playing days, it is the camaraderie she remembers most.
“We’re nothing without our teammates,” she said. “We always had each others’ back, supported each other, picked each other up when we were down, and kept each other pumped up. You wish they could all go in (the hall of fame) with you. We had a lot of fun.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.