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‘Lead Belt Legends’ recall old times

On Thursday a group of old friends from area schools met to share memories and memorabilia from their time as high school athletes.

This year’s Lead Belt Reunion — its sixth since starting around 2011 — met once again at Mineral Area College’s North College Center in Park Hills as it has since the reunion moved to the school from Leadington’s Hardee’s once interest in and attendance of the event grew over time.

Fifteen minutes before the planned noon start for the reunion, the building’s front lobby was already filled with around 60 or so members of former Lead Belt baseball and basketball teams.

After taking a group photo outside the building’s entrance, the former players, coaches and guests gathered in a large area set up with rows of chairs and tables, along with a table filled with snacks, bottled water, tea and coffee. The vast majority of the attendees ignored the snack table and got down to what they’d come there for — to meet back up with dear friends and former teammates while enjoying swapping a story or two.

Richard Lodholdz, who graduated from Bonne Terre in 1959, has attended the reunions from the very start.

“Coach Loughary just told us to come down, so we came down,” he said. “My friend Bill Stotler and I got interested in history and all these stories we heard. We thought we’d better put some truth to it.”

After performing historical research over a period of two years, Lodholdz and Stotler came across the book “A History of Missouri State Basketball Championships, Vol. 1, 1927-1998” by George Wilson and Robert Vestal, which details the history and details of the games played during the period.

“That’s why we put out an article about the early years and now we have a second part from 1950 to 1966,” he said. “But the motivation for the article was that the state tournament started in 1927 and the state of Missouri consolidated schools in the mid-60s. These schools that reached the final four in the state tournament 12 times in 31 years no longer exist. It’s just a great story worth telling.

“We’re not trying to say things were better then than now and there are a lot of people who are superstars that aren’t in the book because the only people in the book were in the state tournament. People told me for years down here that the hardest thing for a basketball team in the Lead Belt is to get out of the Lead Belt.

“And they all have stories — like a good friend of mine that played on the 1949 team from Bonne Terre. He said they weren’t the best team in the county. Elvins was the best team in the county — they just happened to beat them twice in the regionals. Bonne Terre went on to state and got third.”

Asked who the guest of honor was at this year’s reunion, Lodholdz said, “The person we’re really honoring is the person who organized this — Coach Hal Loughary. There will also be a dedication at the end of the program to Mineral Area College in honor of Hal Loughery. The guest of honor is really author Robert Vestal who wrote the book. He came from Springfield to talk to us.”

Also attending Thursday’s program was MAC President Dr. Steven Kurtz, who expressed pleasure in once again hosting the reunion.

“They’ve been meeting here for quite some time and we’re just very pleased to be able to host such a fine group of gentlemen,” he said. “It goes back a lot of years with the history of both basketball and baseball here in the Mineral Area.

“A lot of stories will be shared, whether or not they’re true remains to be seen. I say that jokingly, but this is a great time for camaraderie, reminiscing and just good fellowship.”

“They’ve been meeting here for quite some time and we’re just very pleased to be able to host such a fine group of gentlemen.” — Dr. Steven Kurtz, MAC president

The tenth annual

The tenth annual “Lead Belt Legends” Reunion — basketball and baseball stars from area high schools decades ago will take place Aug. 15 at MAC cafeteria. 

The main purpose of the annual reunion is to give the men a chance to visit and reminisce with old friends and former teammates about days long ago in the past.

The main purpose of the annual reunion is to give the men a chance to visit and reminisce with old friends and former teammates about days long ago in the past.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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