Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2021 announced
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Former Churchill Downs vice president of racing communications John Asher is among six inductees who will join the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame on September 7.
The Class of 2021 was announced on Thursday afternoon at Freedom Hall.
“It’s important for people to celebrate things and there’s nothing better to celebrate than sports and sports achievement,” said Louisville Sports Commission President and CEO Karl Schmitt.
Asher was a longime member of the organizations selection committee.
“This one would be right up here, it’s near and dear to him,” John’s wife, Dee, said. “I know for a fact that he, several times was reaching out to Karl or whomever was on the nominating committee to campaign for someone he thought was really important to be inducted into this hall of fame, so this one was really near and dear to John.”
Here are the six honorees:
John Asher – A native of Leitchfield, Ky., Asher was a well-known sports journalist and public relations expert who parlayed an award-winning career in radio news into a public relations position at Churchill Downs and recognition as the preeminent expert on the Kentucky Derby. Asher worked in radio news for three decades, earned five Thoroughbred racing Eclipse Awards and the Scripps Howard National Headliner Award while at WAVE and WHAS radio stations in Louisville the 1980s and 90s, while being named the Associated Press Large Market Reporter of the Year in Kentucky seven times. He was an accomplished play-by-play announcer for basketball, baseball and horse racing, including stints with the Louisville Redbirds, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Boy’s Sweet Sixteen and Latonia Racetrack. For 20 years (1997-2018), he was one of the most important public relations professionals in Thoroughbred racing, rising to the level of Vice President of Racing Information at Churchill Downs while earning numerous awards for his work in the industry. Asher passed away at age 62 in August 2018.
Dwane Casey – Currently the head coach for the Detroit Pistons, Casey starred at Union County High School in Morganfield, Ky., and was a member of the 1978 UK basketball team that won the school’s fifth NCAA National Championship. Casey was team captain at UK his senior season, then spent six years total as an assistant coach at UK and WKU and five years coaching in Japan before launching his NBA coaching career with Seattle in 1994. He spent 12 years as an assistant for Seattle, Minnesota and Dallas, winning an NBA title with the Mavericks in 2009. He was head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves for two seasons (2005-2007) and took the helm as head coach for the Toronto Raptors in 2011. In seven seasons, he led the Raptors to three 50-win seasons, four Atlantic Division titles, five consecutive playoff appearances and was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2018 by the National Basketball Coaches Association and the media covering the NBA. He joined the Pistons in 2018 and in his first year led the team to a 41-41 regular season record and a trip to the playoffs after a two-year absence from the postseason.
Romeo Crennel – Currently Senior Advisor for Football Performance for the Houston Texans, Crennel graduated from Ft. Knox High School, then was a four-year starter in football for WKU (1966-69) and team captain as a senior. Following one season as a graduate assistant coach at WKU, he was a fulltime defensive assistant in college for a total of 11 years at WKU, Texas Tech, Mississippi and Georgia Tech. In 1981, Crennel moved on to a career in the NFL that stands at 38 years and counting. His first stop was special teams coordinator with the New York Giants, and he moved through the ranks and was defensive coordinator for five Super Bowl wins – two with the Giants (1986, 1990) and three with New England (2001, 2003, 2004). Crennel was named NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in 2003 by the Pro Football Writers of America. He was head coach at Cleveland four seasons and interim head coach for a season at both Kansas City and Houston.
Rachel Komisarz Baugh – While swimming for UK, Komisarz set school records in five individual events and was a member of four relay school records. She won SEC titles in the 200-yard butterfly, 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle and was SEC Swimmer of the Year and won the SEC Commissioner’s Trophy. She won the 100-meter butterfly at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, and at the ensuing Olympic Games in Athens, she was a member of the U.S. 4x200-meter freestyle relay team that won the gold medal and 4x100-meter medley relay team that won silver. Komisarz won 23 medals during her career while representing the U.S. in international competition. She set American records in the 50- and 100-meter butterfly, was a member of the American record-setting relays in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley, with the medley relay team also setting a world record. Komisarz was an assistant coach at UofL for five years (2009-2014), and helped build the Cardinals into an elite women’s program. Currently, she is the associate director for Aspirnaut in Nashville, a non-profit associated with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center whose mission is to increase STEM achievement and the numbers and diversity of the STEM workforce.
Keith Madison – A Brownsville, Ky., native, Madison was head baseball coach at UK for 25 years (1979-2003), leading the Wildcats to 737 wins, third-most in SEC history when he retired, and second-most wins for any coach in any sport in UK history behind Adolph Rupp. Madison was 26 when he took over at UK, the youngest Division I head baseball coach in history at the time, and coached 17 players who eventually played in the majors, including 2006 Cy Young winner Brandon Webb. He coached nine UK All-Americans, 20 first-team All-SEC selections, 89 SEC academic honors award-winners and led UK to two NCAA appearances. In 1999, he was pitching coach for Team USA; in 2007, he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Hall of Fame; and in 2013 earned the Lefty Gomez Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to amateur baseball. Madison is a former president of the ABCA and currently chairman of the board. He and his wife, Sharon, devote their time to youth baseball instruction and baseball mission work.
Elmore Smith – Known as “The Rejector” for his skill at blocking shots, Smith led KSU to NAIA National Championships in 1970 and 1971, set a national record for rebounds in a season in 1971 with 799 and averaged 22.3 points per game for his KSU career. He was named first team NAIA All-American in his final year and was the no. 3 overall pick in the 1971 NBA draft by the Buffalo Braves. He played eight seasons in the NBA, two each with the Braves, Lakers, Bucks and Cavaliers, averaging 13.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game for his career. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie team in 1971-72, set a season record for blocked shots with 397 in 1973-74, set a single-game record with 17 blocks against Portland in 1973 that still stands today and had the rare distinction of blocking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook. Smith has developed Elmore Smith’s Gourmet BBQ sauces, and restaurants that bear his name can be found at the Cleveland Clinic and Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
The induction ceremony will be September 7, 2021, at the Galt House Hotel.
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