A capacity crowd filled the Ponderosa Banquet Center in Hillsboro Thursday night to honor the three newest inductees of The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as the largest number of scholar-athletes the newspaper has ever honored.
Paul Orr, Jake Spruell and Joe B. Stewart were this year’s inductees, recognized for their athletic accomplishments and professional success. The Times-Gazette also honored 57 local high school seniors who excel in athletics, academics and community service.
Peyton Scott of Lynchburg-Clay High School was named The Times-Gazette Highland County Scholar-Athlete of the Year and awarded a $200 scholarship and plaque.
Stewart, a 1975 graduate of McClain High School, was a point guard on a McClain basketball team that reached the regional tournament finals his senior year. He began helping Sam Snyder coach at McClain the following year. Stewart began his head coaching career in 1982 and has more than 300 victories. A year ago he returned to his alma mater as basketball coach, and after the program struggled through several losing seasons, led the Tigers to a 15-8 record. He has been named Southeast District Coach of the Year at four times and in 1989 was named the Associated Press Ohio Div. II Coach of the Year.
Stewart himself spoke at length, sharing life lessons from his career and charging young athletes to recognize the figures in their lives who contribute to their success.
The longtime coach urged athletes to seek the “deeper issues” in life and “be open” to God’s plan for them.
On a lighter note, Stewart was met with an uproar of laughter when he said Orr himself had paddled him in school when he was failing at math.
“Paul Orr did indeed whip my behind,” Stewart said. “Didn’t hurt a thing, did it?”
Orr, 96, shrugged and replied, “Didn’t bother me at all.”
Orr, a 1941 graduate of McClain High School, was a three-sport standout. After serving in World War II he started his coaching career at Hamilton Township High School (1947-54) and is a member of the Hamilton Township Athletic Hall of Fame. He returned to McClain as football coach in 1954 and his teams won South Central Ohio League titles in 1954, 1957, 1958 and 1959, when he resigned as coach. He was also head football coach at McClain from 1966-70 and was an assistant on the McClain football staff in 1984.
Howard Zody spoke on behalf of Orr. Zody said Orr was “humbled” to receive the honor, and that throughout his career Orr took pride in instilling strong values in his athletes.
“He also didn’t mind winning,” Zody added.
Through athletes who still frequently call and visit, Zody said Orr’s “remarkable legacy lives on.” His grandson, Jacob Orr-Zody, is now the McClain football coach.
Spruell, a 1997 graduate of Hillsboro High School, was a standout football player and wrestler, placing sixth in the state wrestling meet as a senior. He was an all-conference and all-district selection in football. After high school he played football at Fairmont State in West Virginia and became an all-conference middle linebacker there. Following college he came back to Hillsboro and was an assistant football and wrestling coach at Hillsboro and Western Brown.
Spruell, who lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was unable to attend the event, and his sister Callie Reed read a statement from him.
Spruell said he was “very humbled” to be inducted into the hall of fame and thanked important coaches in his life, as well as Galen and Lynn Neal, two Hillsboro people heavily involved in local athletics. Spruell recommended young athletes “work hard every day,” and “be humble.”
Harping on a story Times-Gazette Editor Jeff Gilliland shared about Spruell dislocating his own finger during a game and hurriedly patching it up, Spruell said, “If you almost lose a finger, tape it back up and get back in the game. It might just get you into the athletic hall of fame.”
Gilliland thanked local athletic directors and coaches for making nominations, as well as Andrea Holt of Ponderosa for the banquet dinner and facilities.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.