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First Hall of Fame class announced

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Tipton County has a rich sports history. 

Major League baseball players, big-time college football players and a even a guy who played with Babe Ruth and won a World Series with the New York Yankees hail from here. 

Back in May, Richard Vandergrift, who is the athletic director for the Covington Parks and Recreation Department and also served as The Leader's sports editor for many years, sat down with some others in the community and decided something needed to be done to honor these people. 

The result of that is the Tipton County Sports Hall of Fame, which today announces its inaugural six-person class. 

“What a great way to recognize folks,” said Vandergrift, who serves on the selection committee with Amy Payne and John Edwards. “Everybody ought to do something similar to this.”

Fourteen people were nominated this year. To be considered, nominees must be at least 40 years old at the time of induction and be inactive in their athletic category for at least three years. 

Members of the committee cannot nominate people, so the community was asked to come up with names. 

“We were really pleased with the nominations that we got,” Vandergrift said. “I've been around for a while and I learned some things I didn't know.”

The six will be recognized at a ceremony at the meeting of the Covington Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Dec. 10. A plaque will be placed in their honor at the Covington Municipal Center on Main Street. 

“We had a great response for this first class,” Payne said. “There are a lot of people who are deserving of this award and we feel like we’ve only scratched the surface with this first class.”

The six inductees are Tucker Ashford, Joseph Earl Billings, Bob Davie, Harvey Hendrick, Johnnie Jones and Adrian Nathaniel. 

Nominations are accepted through Sept. 1 of each year.

“These are people who provided some great memories,” Vandergrift said. “They really deserve this recognition.”

Here's a look at each member of the first Tipton County Sports Hall of Fame:

• Thomas Steven “Tucker” Ashford  had an outstanding career in baseball. A multi-sport standout at Covington High School, Ashford was named to the Tennessee All-State Football team in 1972 as a quarterback. He would sign the next spring to continue playing that sport at the University of Mississippi. 

Later that same year, he was named the U. S. Amateur Baseball Player of the year.

In 1974, he signed to play professional baseball with the San Diego Padres as their number one draft pick. During his professional career, he played for the San Diego Padres (1976-1978), Texas Rangers (1980), New York Yankees (1981), New York Mets (1983) and Kansas City Royals (1984).

In the 1982 baseball season, Ashford was named the Most Valuable Player in the International League.

Upon retirement as a player, Ashford stepped into the coaching ranks. He was named the South Atlantic League Manager of the Year in 1986; the Casey Stengel Award as the New York Mets Minor League Manager of the Year in 1987, and to the Columbus Clipper Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.

• Joseph Earl Billings of Atoka was a 1952 graduate of Munford High School and took his talent as an offensive and defensive tackle to Memphis State University. 

He played the positions of offensive and defensive tackle in college. Back in those days, a player only came out once in a quarter or he had to sit out the remainder of the period, thus players played both offense and defense.

In 1955, Billings was named to the All-American first team and was drafted by the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. He still has a letter from George Halas, the late owner of the Bears.

He was named co-captain of the Tigers his senior year. Instead of playing pro ball, however, Billings entered the U. S. Army. There he played Armed Forces football and served as an assistant coach.

Upon leaving the military, Billings entered the teaching profession. He was a coach at Munford and then at Millington.

He also served the Town of Atoka as an alderman for 40 years and was vice-mayor of the community for several of those years.

• Bobby Davie of Covington was a two-sport star at Byars-Hall High School. He played football and basketball, lettering each year. He was selected as team captain in each sport by his teammates his senior year.

His gutty play in football translated into a scholarship at Memphis State University in 1947. He played end for the Tigers during the 1947-49 seasons. In 1948, he also played competitive basketball for an American Airlines sponsored team.

Upon graduation, Davie became the director of the Covington City Playground at the Covington Grammar School

His love for sports and his dedication to the youth in the county kept him involved well after graduation from Memphis State. He coached softball in Memphis and in Louisville, KY; spent five years coaching in the Covington Dixie Youth Baseball League; coached two years of soccer in the Covington Area Soccer Association; coached 12 years of basketball in Louisville and Covington.

• Harvey Kendrick of Covington is the only known baseball player from Tipton County to have won a World Series. Hendrick was a member of the 1923 New York Yankees that won the title. He played alongside the well-known Babe Ruth.

Born in Mason, Hendrick attended Vanderbilt University. He began his career with the 1923 New York Yankees, a team which won the World Series (Hendrick was purchased by New York from the Boston Red Sox, for whom he never played a game). After one more year with New York, he began a journeyman existence, playing for six more teams. His longest stay with any one team was five years with the Brooklyn Robins. He played for the Robins from 1927-31. Other teams Hendrick played with include Cleveland Indians (1925); Cincinnati Reds (1931-32); St. Louis Cardinals (1932); Chicago Cubs (1933) and Philadelphia Phillies (1934).

He had a career .308 batting average with 896 hits and 431 runs batted in. He died in October, 1941 and is buried in Munford Cemetery in Covington.

• Johnnie Jones of Drummonds put his name forever in the record books at the University of Tennessee when, in 1983, he became the first football player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.

Jones attended Munford High School where he rushed for 4,547 yards and 47 touchdowns during his high school career. During his senior year, he ran for 2,157 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Jones played college football at the University of Tennessee from 1981 to 1984, setting school records for career rushing yards, most rushing yards in a season, and most rushing yards in a game. He was named a 2nd-team All American by the Associated Press in 1984.

Jones entered the 1984 season a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. 

During his four years at Tennessee, Jones rushed for 2,852 yards and 19 touchdowns on 517 attempts, breaking the school’s career rushing record. He also caught 26 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown, giving him over 3,000 total career yards. 

• Adrian Nathaniel of the Wilkinsville Community played professional basketball in Europe’s top league before returning to Tipton County as an educator.

Nathaniel had an outstanding high school career at Munford playing center from 1974-77. During that time, he was named all-district, all-region, All-State, and numerous most valuable player awards.

He signed to continue his collegiate career at Lambuth College in Jackson where he was named all-conference for four years and was selected All-America his senior year. He was named the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Most Valuable Player.

In 1982, he signed to play with Luxembourg in the European Basketball League. There, he helped pace the team to the division title and a spot in the next season’s top European Division. 

After two years of playing overseas, he returned to Tipton County and took a teaching position at Munford High School. There, he also became an assistant basketball coach. That eventually changed to head coach. He was named as the coach of the year in District 13AAA in 1989.

In 1992, he moved into the administrative spot at the school as an assistant principal. He remained in that position through 2005 when he was named as principal of the Teen Learning Center.

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