On Saturday, June 24, 2023, The Knox County Historical Society hosted the second induction class for the Knox County Sports Hall of Fame. About 80 family members and friends of the inductees attended the afternoon ceremony followed by a social hour, with much discussion of shared experiences and career highlights. An additional program honoring all past and present inductees is being scheduled for the general public later this year. The eight current inductees are:
Howard “Red” Blair, a 1918 Mount Vernon graduate, was a 2-time 1st team All-Ohioan in basketball and he went on to attain All-Big 10 honors in both football and basketball at Ohio State. He spent the next 25 years coaching championship teams in both basketball and football at Akron and football at Missouri State. He has been inducted into both schools’ Halls of Fame.
Dr. Larry Cline, D.D.S., is a 1957 Danville 3-sport standout. He led Knox County in scoring his senior year scoring 540 points and led the Blue Devils to an undefeated season in football. He was a record-setting quarterback at Otterbein before signing with first the Boston Patriots and then the Saskatchewan Roughriders where he was their starting QB for 4 games before a career-ending injury.
Coach J. D. Graham, a 1965 St. Vincent graduate, took the reins of the Newark Catholic Green Wave football team at age 24 and over the next 21 years won 7 OHSAA championships including 4 in a row, ’84, ’85, ’86, and ’87 when they went 63-1. During his tenure as Athletic Director, the school won 18 team state championships. His winning percentage of 87.6% is the highest in Ohio schoolboy history for coaches with over 200 wins.
Cliff Carpenter is a 1974 MVHS graduate who was a 1st team All-Ohio linebacker and who was also a
3-year starter for Bowling Green. His baseball skills eventually evolved into his being voted one of the top slo-pitch players in the nation, no doubt due to the fact that he has hit over 5,000 home runs, including one game where he hit 6. He is still a premier player in the over-65 division.
Don Smith, a 1982 Fredericktown graduate, passed up national signing day his senior year to wait on an appointment to West Point. Once there, he helped revitalize an Army team that had gone 12-28-4 in the preceding 4 years. His last 2 years helped the Black Knights compile a 17-6-1 record and beat Michigan State and Illinois in bowl games. Don became Army’s first 1st team All-American since 1968 and in November of 2022 he was given the ultimate recognition, induction into the West Point Athletic Hall of Fame where post-playing accomplishments are as important as on-field ones.
Tonya Booker, a 1991 MVHS graduate, was 1st team All-Ohio in basketball as well as Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year. She was the starting point guard for Illinois her senior year and received the school’s single Medal of Honor awarded to the female athlete with the highest GPA for all sports.
Matt Buirley, a 1994 Mount Vernon graduate, was a 1st team All-Ohio running back after his 2,221 yards propelled the Jackets to a Regional Final where he had 260 yards in his final game. He was a finalist for “Mr. Football” in Ohio and was Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year in baseball. He chose to play baseball at Ohio State before playing 6 years in the minor leagues for the Expos, Pirates and Reds.
Ami Stevens Crawford, Centerburg, played on the most dominant team in Knox County history. Between 2000 and 2003, the Trojans went 114-5 with 4 Final Four appearances, 2 of which were losses in the final before they won it all her senior year when she had 22 kills in the semi and 24 in the final. She then was a 4-year starter for Ohio State and played on the U.S. Junior National team, which is the pipeline for the U.S. Olympic team.