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Into the Hall they go

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By Steve Doyle

Shelby County sports legends Mike Casey and Elmore Just took their posthumous places among the state’s sports elite Wednesday night.

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In a ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Louisville, Casey and Just were inducted into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that came too late for either to attend.

Casey, Shelby County’s former Mr. Basketball and a star at the University of Kentucky, died April 9 after a long battle with heart disease. Just, a golf innovator, passed away in 2001 from a heart attack.

Laura Casey Lake accepted induction on behalf of her dad, and Lawren Just, owner of Persimmon Ridge Golf Club, which Elmer Just founded, represented her late husband.

Casey, who grew up in and around Simpsonville, was honored for both leading Shelby County to the state basketball championship in 1966, and for being a three-time All-Southeastern Conference performer at UK, where he finished 13th all-time in the school’s scoring list. He was also a baseball star in high school and an All-American softball player.

Just, a Shelby County resident for 21 years, was a champion golfer, innovator and business man. He founded Louisville Golf at age 26 and built it into the world’s largest manufacturer of persimmon golf clubs, which were the preferred club of professionals before metal alloy drivers came along. His company produced clubs for many top manufacturers, such as McGregor Ram and Hogan, and he had many published notices for his contributions.

Among the other inductees was former University of Kentucky women’s basketball star Patti Jo Hedges-Ward, who lives near Simpsonville. Hedges-Ward is a teacher at Eastern High School in Middletown.

Hundreds of luminaries attended the elegant dinner, including Casey’s former “big three” teammates at UK – Mike Pratt and Dan Issel – and Louie Dampier and Kenny Walker.

Each inductee was presented a framed replica of the bronze plaque that will hang in Freedom Hall, and there  was a short video presentation on each person’s accomplishments.

“Once I got on stage, it was game time, and I just went numb and did what I had to do,” Lake said. “I got emotional afterwards, but it was really great, really nice.

“This has really helped with the grieving process, keeping Daddy’s name out there, with the American Heart Association walk last weekend, and they’ve raised money to put a bench in his name at Red Orchard Park and now this. People just keep honoring him and remembering him and loving him. It’s overwhelming, but it makes me so proud.”

In addition to Lake, Casey was supported approximately 30 members of his family and friends, including his son-in-law, Ryan Lake, his sister, Masha Miller, and her husband, Lowry, Shelby County Magistrate Tony Carriss and his wife, Pat and longtime friend Gary Walls.

Casey had been elated when he got early word last November that he was going to be inducted. Already a member of the KHSAA and UK halls of fame, he said he felt this was the ultimate prize.

“It is such a great honor to be thought of, but to be inducted among those coaches, players and administrators is humbling,” he said in an interview in March. “It’s a lifelong dream, and I’m just very happen even to be considered. It’s quite an honor.”

Miller, took the phone call back in November when his sponsor called Casey to tell him about the induction. “His mouth fell open,” she said, “and he said, ‘Wow, this is a big deal.’ The next words out of his mouth were, ‘What about my boy Pratt? Is he going to receive this honor, too?’

“The considerate side of Mike is what we all loved about him. He had a bad break in his basketball career, but did not allow tragedy to keep him down. He was a generous, Christian man who became an ambassador of Shelby County.”

Just was represented by 62 people, including all five of the couple’s children, spouses and a grandchild. Lawren Just said it was very moving.

“I was writing the acceptance speech, and I thought, ‘It has been eight years; I can do this,’” Just said. “And I was fine until I asked our children to stand up. I told them he would be so proud of all of you. I just lost it then.”

On hand were daughter Carrie and her husband, Gabe Byrne, and grandchild Gabriel, son Andy Just and his fiancée, Kim Stephens, son Kris and Wendy Hayden, son Patrick Just and daughter Annie and her husband, Eli Brainard.

Elmore Just’s brothers and sisters and Lawren’s parents and sisters and spouses as well as former employees, Persimmon Ridge members and residents also attended.

“I struggled with what to say,” Just said. “There were so many aspects of his life. I focused on the accomplishments he made in the golf industry with his businesses and tried to recognize the people in his life who were instrumental in each of those phases.”

In her speech, she said: “Elmore had an ability to instill passion in others for the game and the business of golf. So few people in life get to have a dream, pursue that dream and watch it become reality.

“Elmore looked forward to waking every morning, anxious to go to work, and was sad to have to leave at the end of the day.  He had compassion for what he did and the competitiveness in him found a way to make him successful at it.

“He was honest and full of integrity.  And he was a very humble man who would not feel deserving of the award bestowed on him this evening.”

Hedges-Ward grew up playing basketball with the boys in her neighborhood and went on to star at Western High School in Louisville. At UK from 1979-83, she helped the team post a 96-24 record and win its only SEC title. She set school records for assists and finished with 1,176 points. She played in the Pan American Games, was an Olympic alternate and played professional basketball until injuries forced her retirement in at the age of 38.

She moved to Simpsonville about 10 years ago.

The class for 2009 also included former Kentucky State basketball legend Travis “The Machine” Grant, former Clay County basketball coach Bobby Keith, swimming champion Marty O’Toole, baseball  backer Dan Ulmer and former Lexington Herald-Leader horse racing writer Maryjean Wall.