Famous Athletes from Belmont County
Updated: Apr 1
Among the notable natives of Belmont County are many athletes. To say sports are popular in the Ohio Valley and that hometown rivalries still exist would be an understatement.
These natives made names for themselves on or coaching college or professional sports teams in the arenas of football, baseball, basketball, and wrestling. *Updated March 18, 2021
1. Phil Neikro
Nicknamed "Knucksie", Neikro was a former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. Niekro's 318 career victories are the most by a knuckleball pitcher and he ranks 16th on the overall all-time wins list. The Blaine native also won the National League Golden Glove Award five times. Niekro pitched for 20 seasons for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. During his tenure in Atlanta, Niekro was selected for five All-Star teams, led the league in victories twice and earned run average once. Niekro was also a key to the only two division titles Atlanta won before 1991. Phil and his brother Joe Neikro amassed 539 wins between them, the most combined wins by brothers in baseball history. Phil Niekro's 121 career victories after the age of 40 is a major league record, and his longevity is attributed to the knuckleball which is a difficult pitch to master but is easy on the arm and often baffles hitters due to its unpredictable trajectory.
2. Bobby Douglas
Robert Edward "Bobby" Douglas (born March 27, 1942 in Bridgeport) is a retired American freestyle wrestler and coach. He competed as a featherweight at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics and placed fourth in 1964. He won a silver and a bronze medal at the 1966 and 1970 world championships, respectively, and retired later in 1970. After that Douglas coached several U.S Olympic teams, is one of only four collegiate coaches to win more than 400 dual meets, and he won an NCAA team national title at Arizona State. His coaching accomplishments include: 13 NCAA champions, 110 All-America performances and 68 conference titles.
Douglas added to his legacy by coaching Cael Sanderson to a gold medal in the 185-pound weight class at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Douglas was named the 2004 USA Wrestling Freestyle Coach of the Year. In January 2005, Douglas was honored with the Edward Clark Gallagher Award, which is presented annually to the Oklahoma State wrestling alumnus who exemplifies the spirit and leadership eminent in the tradition of champions. He also received the 2005 Iowa State Alumni Association Impact Award. Douglas was inducted into the NAIS Hall of Fame in 1985, the Arizona Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999, the Dan Brands Hall of Fame in 2002, and the OVAC Hall of Fame in 2004. In his career, he has coached many Olympians who placed in the top three in the world.
Douglas has written several books on wrestling technique: Takedown I, Takedown II, Pinning and Olympic Technique, Take It To The Mat, Wrestling Skills and Drills, and The Last Takedown. He is one of a handful of gold certified U.S. coaches.
3. John Steven Pramesa
A Barton native, Pramesa (August 28, 1925 – September 9, 1996) was a professional baseball player. He was a catcher in the Major Leagues from 1949-1952 for the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. He threw and batted right-handed, stood 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 210 pounds.
4. John Havlicek
National Basketball Association Hall of Famer John Havlicek, who won a national championship for The Ohio State University, won eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics and was named Finals MVP in 1974. He was born in Martins Ferry in 1940. He died April 25, 2019 at the age of 79.
5. Sol White
King Solomon "Sol" White (June 12, 1868 – August 26, 1955) was a professional baseball infielder, manager, and executive, and one of the pioneers of the Negro leagues. An active sportswriter for many years, he wrote the first definitive history of black baseball in 1907. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Born in Bellaire, White made a name for himself first locally, then regionally for his ability to play many positions. He is perhaps best known for writing History of Colored Base Ball, also known (on the title page) as Sol White's Official Base Ball Guide.
6. Lou "The Toe" Groza
Lou Groza, nicknamed "The Toe", was a football placekicker and offensive tackle who played his entire career for the Cleveland Browns in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) and the NFL Groza grew up in an athletic family in Martins Ferry.
7. Samuel "Sad Sam" Jones
Samuel "Toothpick" Jones (Sad Sam), born in Stewartsville (Belmont County), was a Major League baseball pitcher with the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles between 1951 and 1964.
8. Ralph Vince
Ralph D. Vince (March 18, 1900 – October 29, 1996) was a football player for the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Bulldogs, and the Cleveland Panthers. He later coached at Baldwin-Wallace College and John Carroll University. Outspoken and inventive as a coach, he was the inventor of the face mask. The original he created is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He also originated the practice of putting and armband of plays on his quarterbacks' wrists, now a common sight in the game. He attended Washington and Jefferson College and played in the 1922 Rose Bowl. He is distinguished as being the first Italian to play in the NFL.
9. Thomas Clark "Parson" Nicholson
Nicholson (April 14, 1863 – February 28, 1917) was a baseball player whose career spanned from 1887 to 1899. He played principally as a second baseman and in the minor leagues. He did play three seasons in the majors for the Detroit Wolverines in 1888, the Toledo Maumees in 1890, and the Washington Senators in 1895.
Nicholson was born in Blaine, Ohio in 1863 .He received the nickname "Parson" because he refused to play baseball on Sundays.
10. Frederick Wilson Negus
Frederick Wilson Negus (November 7, 1923 – April 18, 2005) played college football for Wisconsin and Michigan and professional football in the All-American Football Conference and the National Football League.
Negus was born in Colerain and began his college football career with the University of Wisconsin. As Wisconsin's starting center in 1942, he was selected as a first-team All- Big Ten Conference player by the Associated Press. He was inducted into the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the V-12 Navy College Training Program at the University of Michigan. While at Michigan, Negus played for Fritz Crisler's 1943 Michigan Wolverines football team; Negus was the starting center on a Michigan team that compiled an 8–1 record, outscored opponents 302 to 73, and won the Big Ten Conference championship (in a tie with Purdue).
11. Johnny Blatnik
John Louis Blatnik was born on March 10, 1921, to Slovenian immigrants in a small community known then as Goosetown, a close-knit neighborhood just outside of Bridgeport, Ohio.
Blatnik started in the minor leagues before and after serving in the South Pacific during WWII. Blatnik finally made the big leagues in 1948, joining the Phillies as a reserve outfielder. Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “Chief,” though Blatnik said he never knew why.
In 1949 Blatnik was relegated to the bench. After limited action, Blatnik was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, where he batted .294 with 15 homers and 80 runs batted in to warrant a late promotion back to Philadelphia. Overall, Blatnik hit just 1-for-8 in six games with the Phillies, but did appear on his first (and only) baseball card that year with the Bowman company. Unfortunately, his name was incorrectly spelled “B-L-A-T-N-I-C-K” on the card front.
Blatnik saw few opportunities in the Phillies’ magical Whiz Kids year of 1950. Appearing in only four games in the first month of the season, he was hitting .250 on April 27 when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. After hitting just .150 in seven games with St. Louis, on May 14 Blatnik played in his final big-league game before being sent to Houston of the Texas League. There, he turned in a .252 batting average with 9 home runs and 42 RBIs. Blatnik spent the next six seasons in the International League for various teams.
He retired from professional baseball after the 1956 season at the age of 35 and settled in Lansing where he helped start Colt and Pony baseball leagues in the Ohio Valley.
12. George "Chappie" Johnson
George "Chappie" Johnson Jr. (May 8, 1877 – August 17, 1949) was an African-American baseball catcher and field manager in the Negro leagues. He played for many of the best teams from 1895 to 1920 and he crossed racial boundaries as a teacher and coach.
Johnson was born and raised in the village of Bellaire. In 1895, he debuted at the age of 17 with the Page Fence Giants, where he played short stop, left field, then first base, then moved to catcher where he stayed for most of his career. Most of the team moved to Chicago and formed the Chicago Columbia Giants in 1899.
Johnson last played for a major team in 1919 (the eve of the organized Negro Leagues), and continued as a manager through 1939, even managing teams using his name, such as the "Dayton Chappies" and the "Chappie Johnson Stars." He died at 72 in Clemson, South Carolina.
13. William "Brickyard" Kennedy
William Park Kennedy, born Oct. 7, 1867 in Bellaire, was a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. From 1892 through 1903, he played for the Brooklyn Grooms/Superbas (1892–1901), New York Giants (1902) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1903). A four-time, 20 game winner, Kennedy batted and threw right-handed. He was nicknamed "Roaring Bill" and "Brickyard". He was more commonly called "Roaring Bill" and earned the nickname due to his loud booming voice and his tendency to become temperamental on the field.
Kennedy posted a 187–159 record with 799 strikeouts and a 3.96 ERA in 3030 innings pitched over a 12-year big-league career. Kennedy was a dominant pitcher in his first four seasons with Brooklyn, winning 25 games in 1893 and 24 in 1894. After averaging 17.5 victories over the next four seasons, he rebounded to win 22 in 1899 and 20 in 1900. However, while pitching in 1901, he was bothered by arm problems and finished 3–5 in eight starts. He signed with the New York Giants at the end of the season.
In 1902, Kennedy made his first start with the Giants and pitched a shutout against his former team, 6–0, on four hits, his only win in a Giants uniform. Kennedy was then purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In 1903, Kennedy went 9–6 in 18 starts for the Pirates team that won the National League pennant. On his 36th birthday, Kennedy pitched in the first World Series. In Game Five, with Pittsburgh up three games to one, Kennedy faced Cy Young and the Boston Americans. Kennedy and Young each pitched five scoreless innings, until Honus Wagner committed two errors and Boston scored six runs. After giving up another four runs in the seventh, Kennedy was replaced. This was to be his final career game in the majors.
Kennedy died from tuberculosis in his hometown at the age of 47.
14. Johnny Niemiec
He died on June 16, 1976, at the age of 75.
15. Bud Bonar
Reyman Edward "Bud" Bonar, a football player and coach, began and ended his career at Bellaire High School. As a senior at BHS in 1926, Bonar was the football team captain and quarterback. His team posted an undefeated record of 9-0-1 and was the champion of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference. After graduation, he enrolled at West Virginia University but later would transfer to Notre Dame.
He was quarterback for Notre Dame under head coach Hunk Anderson. His career highlight occurred when his drop-kick extra point enabled Notre Dame to defeat 9-0 Army by the score of 13-12 on December 2, 1933 in Yankee Stadium.
After graduation, Bonar played one year of professional football in the CFL before becoming an assistant coach at the University of Cincinnati. He would return to coach the team at his old high school from 1949 to 1958, and would win the OVAC championship twice, in 1950 and 1954.
16. George Cheroke, was a two-sport athlete at Shadyside High School and The Ohio State University who played on the first Cleveland Browns team. In high school, he was a football and wrestling standout for the Tigers, which produced the area’s first wrestling power under coach Art Kirkland. The four-year grappler won the one-class Ohio heavyweight title in 1940 after capturing the 1939 crown at 165 pounds. As a sophomore, he placed third at 154 pounds.
Cheroke, nicknamed Chief, also was a stellar 5-foot-9, 185-pound football guard. The three-year gridder, and two-time team captain, earned All-Valley honors as a two-way standout. The Tigers went 9-1 and 7-2-1 his final two seasons.
He enrolled at Ohio State to compete in both football and wrestling. Playing for coach Paul Brown, the sophomore moved into starting lineup in the fifth game after a teammate injury. He left OSU before the 1942 season to serve in the Air Force during World War II.
After his discharge in 1946, he again opted to play for Paul Brown, who was starting the Cleveland Browns in first year in All-American Conference. Cheroke played in 12 games for the 13-2 record Browns, which defeated New York, 14-9 in championship game. After one season, he re-enlisted in the Army for a 20-year career, retiring in 1965 to enter business in California. He passed away in 1986.
17. Frank John "Skeeter" Scalzi (June 16, 1913 – August 25, 1984) was a professional baseball player and manager. A shortstop and third baseman, Scalzi threw and batted right-handed. Born in Lafferty, Ohio, Scalzi attended the University of Alabama where his roommate was the future longtime Alabama Crimson Tide head football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. His 17-year baseball playing career, which began in 1936, was almost exclusively spent in the minor leagues. The exception was an 11-game, 18-at bat trial with the 1939 New York Giants of Major League Baseball. Scalzi collected six hits, all singles, for a batting average of .333, with one stolen base. He started four games at shortstop during his stint with the Giants.
Scalzi became a minor-league manager in 1947, and worked in that role for 12 years in several organizations, most notably the Chicago White Sox farm system, through 1960. Skeeter Scalzi died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the age of 71.
18. Bill White (born May 1, 1860 in Bridgeport) was a professional baseball player who was mainly a shortstop in the Major Leagues for nine seasons from 1879 to 1888. During his Major League career, he played for three different franchises: the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1884, the Louisville Colonels from 1886 to 1888, and the St. Louis Browns, also in 1888.
He led the American Association (AA) in putouts among shortstops for three consecutive seasons, from 1886 to 1888, and in 1887, he led all AA shortstops in assists and double plays as well. He was a member of the St. Louis Browns when they were champions of the AA, and went to face the New York Giants in a post-season exhibition set of game, known as the "World Series". Although the Browns lost the 10-game series, White played in every game.
19. William Kermit Jobko (born October 7, 1935 in Bridgeport) was an NFL football linebacker who played nine seasons for the Los Angeles Rams (1958–1962), the Minnesota Vikings (1963–1965) and the Atlanta Falcons (1966). He played college football at Ohio State where he became a starter on the offensive line for the 1954 and 1957 national championship teams. In 1957, he received All-American and team's most valuable player honors.
In 1968, he served as the Falcons' assistant linebackers coach under head coach Norb Heckerin. In 1969, he was hired as a Falcons college scout. From 1978 to 1989, he was the Falcons director of pro personnel.
20. Thomas Harp (born 1927 in Barnesville) is a former college football player and coach. He served as the head football coach at Cornell University (1961–1965), Duke University (1967–1970), and Indiana State University (1973–1977), compiling a career college football record of 61–82–4.
A stand-out player at Barnesville High School, he was recruited by Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman to play football at Miami of Ohio and lettered as a freshman fullback before he was drafted into military service for two years with the Navy. Returning home in 1948, he enrolled at Muskingum College and played quarterback and fullback on two Ohio Athletic Conference title teams in 1949-50.
After graduation, he turned to coaching and became head coach at Carrollton High from 1951-53 with a 20-6-1 record. He became one of over 100 coaches to apply for the vacant Massillon Washington High head coaching job and landed the job vacated by Brilliant native Chuck Mather. Harp coached Massillon two years to 17-2-1 record and the state No. 1 and No. 2 rankings by The Associated Press.
21. Joseph L. Sheeketski (April 15, 1908 – April 22, 1995) was a football player, coach, and college athletics administrator. He served as the head football coach at the College of the Holy Cross from 1939 to 1941 and at the University of Nevada, Reno from 1947 to 1950, compiling a career college football record of 39–29–3. Sheeketski attended prep school in Shadyside. He played halfback at the University of Notre Dame from 1930 to 1932 and graduated from the university in 1933.
22. Ramon Edward "Ray" DeCola (September 17, 1930 – April 3, 2017) was a football coach. A native of Shadyside and a 1953 graduate of West Liberty University in West Virginia, he began his career as a high school coach at various stops including New Albany, St. Mary's, Johnstown, and Urbana in Ohio where he accumulated an record of 177–54–6 over 24 seasons.
From 1985 to 1987, he was the head coach of the resurrected football program at Urbana University in Urbana, Ohio where compiled a 9–9–1.
23. Stanley Joseph Olejniczak (May 31, 1912 – March 1979) was a football tackle who played one season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played college football at the University of Pittsburgh and attended Bellaire High School. He later changed his last name to "Olenn" after his football career.