By Rick Duncan, Publisher
Whether it’s the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida, Cooperstown in New York, any college Hall of Fame or the Sherman Hill Field House at the Licking High School, sports memorabilia, pictures and trophies line the walls representing individual and team achievements over decades of the past. Within these walls exist the dreams, the cheering, the passion for the game and the victories and defeats of many generations of kids and coaches who reached for the limits in competition.
Throughout those decades of competition, the children and coaches that are represented by these molded metal basketballs and other formed metal displayed along the walls have taken various paths in life. Some played college sports, some never played the game competitively again, some have passed away, some have moved far away from Licking and some are still in the community, but one thing they all have in common is that they all, for a moment in time, gave it their all for the Licking Wildcats, whether it be on the court, the track or the field.
All of us have walked by the baseball, volleyball and basketball molded figures on the left and the golden basketballs and trophies on the right when we enter the building, but the next time you have the pleasure to attend a game or just visit the facility, slow down your pace and take your time. Voices will speak to you within these walls. Peruse the walls slowly and notice the team pictures of the individuals who competed for your community, all while seeking to be the best they could be. These walls are not in St. Louis, where there are nearly 20 high schools or a metropolis like the Dallas, Texas area where there are in excess of 200 high schools, they are located in a small quaint town in middle America with only one school that combines the Junior High with the High School. Although the Licking Wildcats may not have the resources of a larger venue, that has no effect on the competitive nature that exists within these young athletes’ hearts and their drive to be their best.
Over the years Licking has had many athletes move on to higher levels of play. Tony Floyd who progressed to Southern Oregon, then to the Oakland A’s. Others like Lane Duncan moved on to the Drury Panthers where he was named to the All-Academic Team in the GLVC for two straight years. Brady Smith went on to Hannibal LaGrange College then to Southwest Baptist where he was awarded and honored with the GLVC All-Second Team in 2020 and the GLVC All-First Team in 2021. Golfer Ian Barnes moved on to University of Central Missouri and was named to CoSIDA Academic All-America At Large Team and was awarded the NCAA Elite 90 award in 2021.
In essence, they are the same in many ways and have much in common with larger institutions. Joe Montana was born in New Eagle, Pennsylvania, with a similar population to Licking and he attended a small local high school, where he played quarterback. We all now know what his sports destiny was. And there’s Sheryl Swoops, who was the first player to be signed by the WNBA. She is a three-time WNBA MVP, and was named one of the league’s Top 15 Players of All Time at the 2011 WNBA All-Star Game. Swoops was born in Brownfield, Texas, in the middle of the Texas high plains. Brownfield’s population was a little over 7000. Swoopes led her Brownfield High School team to a state championship and was an All-State and All-America athlete. Then there was Gina Michelle McKinney from Licking. The first time I entered the Sherman Hill Field House and viewed all the sports artifacts within the walls, I ventured towards the door and saw the framed memorial to Gina. Whether you’re a past athlete, current athlete or fan, it never prepares you for something like this where a beautiful life was taken during their Golden years. Lately, I have been fighting the dichotomy of not ever being able to play competitive golf again. I qualified for the Houston, Texas Amateur Tour several years ago and was blessed to have won many tournaments and to have qualified for national competition three times, but after a broken ankle and a major heat stroke, my days of competition ended around 15 years ago. It was immediately after the moment I read Gina’s plaque that I realized I was feeling sorry for myself. Gina Michelle McKinney’s life was cut short, but she shined until the end with achieving greatness to live the essence of sports during the game and away from the game. Where would that drive and determination have led her? We’ll never know, but it sure put things in perspective for me, So the next time you enter this building slow your pace and let the voices speak to you in this facility; there are lessons to be learned by any age group from within these walls.
Now is the time for the 2023/24 dreams to come alive in Licking. A new coach, local coaches who have learned from previous years, players who have matured in their game, new players and differing dreams, but where will it all lead? Will there be similarities to the 1983-1989 baseball era? What will the players and coaches of this upcoming season contribute to the next generation of memorabilia within these walls?