Baseball Hall of Fame hosts first awards banquet

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Inducts Inaugural Class

By Mike Aldridge

What was the dream of a few men became reality Saturday night as the Cynthiana /Harrison County Alumni Association held its first Hall of Fame Banquet.  
The banquet, which was held at the Harrison County High School cafeteria, feted 15 of the county’s best baseball players in a ceremony that lasted for better than three hours.  
This was reminiscence of Cynthiana High School and Harrison County High School from before 1919 to the present, with a crowd of more than 100 family, friends and supporters in attendance.  
The Cynthiana/Harrison County Baseball Alumni Board of Directors which is made up of Larry Gossett, Ron England, Jim Fuller, Buddy Renaker and Jim Swinford along with membership chairman Terry Jones were responsible for the program.  
England welcomed the crowd and then introduced Gossett as the visionary behind the Alumni Association and the Hall of Fame.  
The Germantown, Tenn., resident and Cynthiana native spoke of the work of the Alumni Association and of the 10 scholarships that they have given in the two years of existence.  
Gossett, who played for Harrison County and went on to pitch for the University of Kentucky, then introduced the alumni board and Terry Jones before turning the program over to “The Voice of the Thorobreds,” Jim Swinford, who was the emcee for the night.
The program began with Assistant Coach Eddie Feeback stepping in for Head Coach Mac Whitaker to give the audience a run down of the Thorobreds’ 25-8, 10th Region Championship and Final Eight 2013 season.
After Feeback completed his assignment, the Hall of Fame introductions began with Dwayne Browning introducing one of the men largely responsible for the state of the Harrison County High School baseball program, Don Snopek.  
Snopek who began coaching at Harrison County in 1969 and finished with a 162-51 record, was quick to recognize the people who made it possible for him to be successful.  
His wife, Barbara (Whitaker) Snopek and her brother Jimmy Ross Whitaker were two of the key people along with Dr. Martin Carr.  
“Please don’t take offense to this, but I was worried if Dr. Carr would hire a Yankee and how I would be received,” said Snopek. “I don’t know who was more nervous at the first team meeting; me or the players.”  
After his 10-year tenure, Snopek decided to retire and recommended his brother-in-law who was fresh out of Morehead State, for the job.  
Carr agreed to hire Mac Whitaker with the condition that Snopek would stay “for a year or two” to help him with the job.  
After saying this, Snopek asked that Mac Whitaker be introduced and for two of them, after Mac’s remarks, be inducted at the same time into the Hall of Fame.  
“The two of us are mentioned together as the ones who started and put the program where it is today,” said Snopek. “We should be inducted at the same time.”
The 36-year veteran coach, Whitaker, talked about how lucky he had been and mentioned some decisions such as playing middle school player Kiley Vaughn in the state tournament and pitching freshman Jordan Martin in the state championship game that had they not worked out would have left people questioning his sanity or ability.  
“I was just lucky,” Whitaker repeated tongue in cheek.  One of Whitaker’s luckier moves was to marry Connie (Crum) Whitaker 39 years ago Saturday night.  
“Few people know how many meals I’ve missed, places we were two hours late to because I was late coming home and how my family had to do things without me or with me arriving late.  I am so lucky to have them.”   
Mac Whitaker gave a lot of credit for his success to his brother Jimmy Ross Whitaker and to his long-time assistants, the late Ron Herrington and current assistant Eddie Feeback.  
Jim Whitaker was next to be inducted and he was the most brief recipient of the night. He summed up his 37 years of Little League coaching and his 36 years of coaching with his brother by thanking Don and Mac and his wife Donna Sue and that was it.
Swinford then introduced John Daniel Herrington who spoke on behalf of his late father.  
“My father would be thrilled to receive this award but would think that it was unnecessary.”  
Herrington’s contribution to the baseball program and the respect that everyone had for him was the underlying theme of the evening. From his work on the field on the Hilltop “Just give me an hour of sunshine” to his good cop to Mac’s bad cop, Ron Herrington was the glue that held the program together.  
Each person who was inducted on Saturday night that was there to speak spoke of their love and appreciation for the only assistant coach in the KHSAA Hall of Fame.  
The players who were inducted began with former Chicago White Sox Hervey McClellan, who played for the south side Chicago nine from 1919-1924.  
McClellan’s career was cut short by gall bladder problems that eventually took his life.
A 1960 Cynthiana High School graduate, William “Bill” Nichols, was the next to be honored.  
Nichols went on from Cynthiana to play at Central State and was asked later on to try out for the Dodgers.  Nichols batting average in high school was better than .420.
Mark Clifford was the next inductee. Clifford went through school with a 21-2 record and held 26 records when he left Harrison County.  
His coach, Snopek, said, “Mark got his wins against Lafayette, Madison Central and Bryan Station. He didn’t pitch against MMI.”  Clifford went on to sign with the University of Kentucky.
The next honoree was also a player for the University of Kentucky.  Macy Herrington introduced her long-time friend John Wilson Hampton as a member of the first class of the Cynthiana/Harrison County Baseball Hall of Fame.  
Hampton was a two-time region champion playing from 1983 through 1986.  He is the only member of both the football and baseball halls of fame.  
Coach Mac Whitaker next introduced perhaps the most famous of the inductees, his nephew, Chris Snopek.  
Snopek who had a five-year major league career with the White Sox and the Red Sox played for the Thorobreds from 1986 through 1989.  
He was an All American at Ole Miss where he played for three seasons before being drafted by the White Sox.  
Snopek hit .458 for his career at Harrison County High School and hit 43 home runs.  
Coach Whitaker said that former University of Kentucky baseball coach Keith Madison told him that not recruiting Snopek was his biggest mistake in his long tenure in Lexington.
Jody Crump was the next person to be inducted.  Introduced as what a hard throwing left hander should pitch like, Crump was a dominant pitcher at Harrison County.  He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1994.
The first of two Mr. Baseballs from Harrison County, Shon Walker, was the next to the podium.  
Walker could hit a ball farther and harder than his peers while on the Hilltop.  The Hilltop was full of scouts during the time of Walker’s play, which according to Whitaker, gave other players a chance to be seen. His 29 home runs for a season was the best in the state.  He was drafted in 1992 by the Pirates and is helping today in Cynthiana coaching the youth.
Dion Newby followed his cousin, Shon, to the podium and also followed him in 1992 as Mr. Baseball.  
Newby was the MVP of the state tournament in 1993 when the Thorobreds won their first state tournament.  
He was also Gator Aid Player of the Year that year.  He went on to play at Wallace Junior College and the University of North Alabama.
Buddy Renaker introduced his son, Will, as the next Hall of Fame inductee.  
Will was a leading hitter and pitcher for the back-to-back state champs in 1997 and 1998.  He went on to a great career at Morehead State and The University of Charleston.
The final inductee for the evening was Kiley Vaughn, who was introduced by his brother Bradley.  
Vaughn, who has the distinction of being the only player in Harrison County with three state championship rings, was a fielder of great skill.  
He played on the 1993, 1997 and 1998 championship teams before going on to play three years at Eastern Kentucky and one year at UNC, Wilmington.  
He was injured in a game at Wilmington which short circuited a draft notice from a major league team.
The final member of the first Hall of Fame class is Brad Allison, who could not be there on Saturday.  He will be inducted next year.
Board member Jimmy Fuller closed the evening by thanking everyone and asking that people consider joining the alumni association.