By DAVE SCHABELL
Highlands' 84 Year Old Assistant Football Coach Jim Mountain's Induction Into The Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame Brings To The Surface A Walking-Talking History Book
One of the regulars at River Downs is an old guy who has lived in Northern Kentucky all of his life, was born in Dayton in 1921, vividly remembers the 1937 flood, played football at Dayton in 1938 where he was All Northern Kentucky at fullback and kicked Highlands’ booty 35-6 when he was a senior in an era when the players wore leather helmets with no face-guards. He played basketball under John Wooden during the legendary coach’s stint at Dayton High School and remembers Coach Wooden scrimmaging with the players at practice. His dad died when he was six and his mother opened a candy store in Dayton to support the family. It closed when the building was taken to build the floodwall. His mother passed away in 1955 and his only sister died ten years ago. After high school he joined the Navy and served for five years during World War II. He was a torpedo man on the U.S.S. Leary in the Northern Atlantic that was sunk by a German torpedo on Christmas Eve of 1943 at 11pm. 130 of 189 men on board were killed. He survived by clinging to a piece of cork in the frigid water, while his friends were dying all around him, and was picked up eleven hours later the next morning by a friendly destroyer at 10am. After the war when he returned to the United States, he attended Xavier University and earned a degree in Physical Education. He then returned to his alma mater where he taught Physical Education and coached football at Dayton beginning in 1947 and was part of the 1949 team which was crowned mythical state champions before the the days of playoffs. It was then that he met his wife Louise, married and chose to find a more lucrative occupation, which turned out to be barbering which he still does in his one chair shop in Highland Heights off of Renshaw Drive. He has a tradition of giving the Highlands football players and coaches free clips.
This man is Jim “Smokey” Mountain who was seated on the hill overlooking Highlands’ Football Practice Field “Death Valley” back in 1999 watching the team practice and was recruited by Jim “Red Dog” Daugherty to help coach the Bluebird kickers. He has been there ever since, earning four or five state championship rings in the process. Jim has never hesitated to show me each new ring as he receives one, but I never had a clue as to the man’s background. I simply thought that he was just one of us who became associated with team/program and didn’t have the good sense to get out and enjoy his retirement. Jim was inducted into the Northern Kentucky Hall of Fame last week and was written up in the September edition of “Inside Fort Thomas,” a community newspaper which Jim brought to the track one day this week to show me. It was through an interview with an IFT reporter that I was made aware of the man’s “walking-talking legend” status.
Jim lost his wife sixteen years ago, still runs Jim’s Barber Shop when he’s not at practice or a game, plays the ponies in his spare time, and enjoys being accepted by the Highlands players and coaching staff.
In addition to all of the above, he vividly remembers swimming across the Ohio River and back, socializing at old Tacoma Beach, and drafting behind the Island Queen in a canoe up to Coney Island and back as a kid.
If you get the chance drop in to his barber shop where business is slow because all of his old customers are dying off, and he will be happy to relive the memories with you.
The complete interview is available in the September edition of Inside Ft. Thomas and a lesser article in the Campbell County Recorder.
Dave Schabell – October 30, 2005