Fifty years after moving away from Ironton, my former hometown’s women’s basketball team is undefeated and playing in today’s Division III semi-final.
Columbus – I had to make a phone call to my cousin this week…to find out more about the Lady Ironton Tigers, the only undefeated team (in any division) in this weekend’s girls state tournament championship being played at Value City Arena.
“They’re athletic, and they must be pretty good. They’ve got a Division I recruit,” cousin Dan Fulks told me. He owns an insurance agency in Jackson, Ohio, and keeps up to date on the local sports scene along the river.
“I don’t think they play the kind of competition they’re going to see at the state tournament, but it’s not easy to go undefeated. Doesn’t matter who you play.”
I’m interested, you see, because I once lived outside of Ironton, and spent many a satisfying afternoon with my grandfather sitting beneath the shade of the giant sycamore trees that graced the grounds of the county courthouse. He’d drive his old Ford pickup to town to sell ginseng roots and swap stories about farming and fox hunting with old men like Clark Corn, George Hannon, and John Clifford Murdock.
That was 55 years ago, and I can still see the people, and remember the familiar names of the Lawrence County culture…Murnahan, Corn, Brammer, Simpson, and others. You think times and communities change? I took a look yesterday at the Ironton roster for today’s Division III semi-final game with Columbus Afrocentric…and I struggled for a moment with the lack of familiarity, sad not to see the name Roach, or Callicoat, or Freeman.
Their top player is a girl named Lexie Barrier, a prospect to play Division I basketball next year at James Madison University in the Atlantic 10 Conference. According to most, she can play with anyone in this tournament, averaging 18.2 points per game through 27 games.
There’s another Lexie on the Ironton team, Lexie Wise, who along with a girl named Webb, a girl named Scott, and one named Hannon, form a formidable starting five. Times may change, but I don’t. It made me feel good to see a Webb and a Hannon on the roster, at least a couple familiar names from growing up there.
If you’ve never been to Ironton it’s hardly a tourist destination. In the triangle along the Ohio River with Huntington, West Virginia and Ashland, Kentucky, it’s an old steel town that saw most of the jobs pack and go a generation ago. There’s not a lot of people in Lawrence County to begin with, and most that live there now farm, or work in technology of some kind. Armco Steel, the Malleable, and the old concrete plant are long gone.
But they do love their sports there. The Tigers have been to the state finals in football many times, and have won a couple of titles. They’ve won in baseball, finished second in boys basketball, and this will be the fourth time their girls have come to the ultimate round of the tournament. They’ve never won!
And believe it or not, Wilson Sporting Goods used to have a baseball glove manufacturing plant in Ironton. No kidding, they made the classic A2000 there and my neighbor lady, Berthie Cart, had a job as a “lacer” and “finisher”. Back then you could buy a “second” for $11 dollars. Now they’re made offshore, they cost about $300, and there are no seconds.
I won’t recognize many Ironton faces this afternoon, and I won’t even go looking for people that I know. They’re gone. 55 years is simply too long. But I do wish the Lady Tigers well, just for old time’s sake.
You can take the boy out of the country…but you really can’t take ALL of the country out of the boy!