Port William, a small spot on the map near the Greene County line, is a town with a population of approximately 200 people and 97 families. At one time, several outstanding athletes lived there.
The Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies last week, and Friday’s great article by Jeff Gilliland in the Hillsboro Times-Gazette about Andy Richmond, reminded me of those times and people.
Each year News Journal Sports Editor Mark Huber, the Hall of Fame founder, sifts through volumes of statistics to honor deserving individuals who contributed to the great tradition of Clinton County sports over the years.
As contributing columnist Tony Lamke often reminds us, the teams of that era produced some of the best athletes ever to play within Clinton County. The “big towns” within the county — Wilmington, Blanchester, Sabina and New Vienna — all had some outstanding teams over the years, as did many other county schools.
However, tiny Port William had something very special.
Donnie Fields was one of the purest shooters and scorers to ever play basketball in Clinton County. If Donnie had had the advantage of the three-point shot when he played, contemporary players would still be chasing his scoring records.
As a baseball player, he hit more ground-rule doubles under the high school’s buckeye tree in right field than we can remember. He went on to become an outstanding softball player.
His teammate, Don DeVoe, worked to become a standout at Port, moved on to Ohio State, and eventually became one of the most successful collegiate basketball coaches in the nation.
One of only 29 active coaches in college basketball to lead three different teams to the NCAA Tournament, DeVoe has compiled a career record of 510-383 (.571) in 31 years as a head coach. He claimed his 500th career win at Navy.
I remember the two “Donnies” well. They honed their athletic skills at the Haley residence in Port, shooting basket after basket alongside my brother, Jack Haley, another outstanding basketball and baseball player.
Jack had a dazzling fastball that was almost unhittable in high school, and a bat without peer. When the old timers talk about baseball in Clinton County, Jack’s name is the first one that comes up.
Later on, Jack played professionally in the minor leagues for the Cincinnati and Cleveland organizations.
When a new coach moved to town from Bowersville, he knew on his first trip past the Haley house that his next few years in coaching were going to be good ones indeed.
Coach Vernon Hooper, Sr. coached Haley, Fields, and DeVoe; and reaped the rewards from all of his good fortune. Coach Hooper went on to become one of the most successful coaches in Clinton County history.
As we all know, apples don’t fall far from the tree. In the case of Bobby Hooper, his athletic exploits became legendary in Clinton County basketball lore and later at the University of Dayton.
An all-around talent, Hooper put through 1,026 points during his UD basketball career, but he was also a top-notch rebounder and accurate passer. Bobby played professionally with the Indiana Pacers, and he was Assistant Coach for the 1972 ABA champion Pacers.
Bobby’s brother, Butch Hooper, was elected to the Hall of Fame class of 2004.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Butch became an outstanding coach for both men and women basketball teams within Clinton County. He was a good athlete, too.
Playing a different sport altogether, Harold Reno made Port William proud of him just the same. Reno won the National Horseshoe Pitching Association World Championships in 1961 and 1964. In 1964, Reno was nearly unstoppable with a ringer percentage of 84.1.
During his two World Championship Tournaments, Reno was a combined 66-4 in 70 matches. He won the Ohio State Championship 11 times, and he is a 1974 inductee to the NHPA Hall of Fame.
All of these stories follow the same path – to the Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame, of which these seven native sons of Port William are all members. Thousands of young men and women have participated in Clinton County athletics over the last one-hundred years, but only a handful have been honored by the prestige of membership into this exclusive club.
Interestingly, seven of them have called Port William home.
This is an extraordinary achievement, particularly given the days when schools of all sizes played within the same tournaments, when a David could slay a Goliath. Per capita, Port William has contributed more than its share of outstanding athletes.
Fields, DeVoe, Haley, Reno and the three Hoopers — “The Boys of Port William” — represented the ambiance of a time gone by. These athletes represent all that is good, coming from a wide-place-in-the-road Ohio town, back in the 1950s and 1960s.
There’s nothing quite like small-town sports. The next time you visit Port William, look at the sign on State Route 134, near where the old high school used to stand, and see the other sign near the cemetery on the other side of town that honor Port’s seven native sons.
They make us proud.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.
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