Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

June 18, 2014

MARK MAYNARD: Some tales tall, some tales true

ASHLAND — There are some Paul Bunyan-like tales when it comes to Don Gullett, who will be the honoree this weekend for the Elks Sports Day festivities.

Those who saw him play understand what a special athlete they were watching, by all accounts the best athlete in area history.

Whether it was baseball, football, basketball or anything to do with the outdoors, like hunting and fishing, there was no more fierce competitor than Gullett.

One such Bunyan-like tale is that when Don was young he would go hunting squirrels with his father and have a bag full of rocks. He was tearing up the squirrels so bad throwing right-handed that his dad made him start throwing left-handed.

Gullett’s electrifying fastball whizzed past enough players in the area it seems that he struck out almost eight out of 10 that I have spoken to about it.

Ashland’s Johnny Mullins remembered facing up with no expectation of making contact.

“I just went up there and took my three strikes,” he said.

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Then there’s the story of the player who actually urinated on himself for fear of what was coming. That one has been verified by Bill Gullett, Don’s brother and his catcher for nine years.

I noticed on the back of one of Gullett’s baseball cards that he was 9-2 his senior year at McKell High School. One of the losses was a 1-0 decision to Ashland in the region tournament semifinals, when Dave Damron had the only hit off Gullett and scored the only run.

“I always taught guys at the major league level that anyone who walks up there with a piece of ash in their hand, they’re dangerous,” Gullett said. “There’s the potential of them getting a hit, of squaring that baseball.”

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Steve “The Babe” Crum had some battles with Gullett. He says the best highlight of his baseball career was hitting a home run off him at the Worthington baseball field.

“There was a little circle in left center and it barely cleared that fence, when I reached the dugout I was mauled like we had won the World Series,” Crum said, “but I knew he had a sore arm that day so I was patient and waited for something down Broadway.”

Crum said most days “he was almost unhittable. The fastball was his bread-and-butter but the curveball just froze you in your tracks.”

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Crum also was on the Wurtland football team that McKell trampled 72-7 with Gullett scoring all 72 points, 11 touchdowns and six extra points. He remembers wearing Gullett’s cleat marks on the front of his jersey.

Another tale from that game goes that Gullett wouldn’t have scored that last touchdown against Wurtland had he not clipped on the previous play when another McKell player, quarterback Tom Wright, had plunged into the end zone.

I have no verification on that one.

Who knows? Maybe just more Paul Bunyan tales.

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Joe Dillow, who was a sophomore at Russell when Gullett was a senior at McKell, remembered watching him shed tackler after tackler on a long run down the sideline.

“It finally took three or four to get him down about 25 yards later. He wasn’t that big but he was fast and strong,” Dillow said. “I remember thinking that I was glad I was not out there trying to tackle him. He was amazing. I’ve seen a lot of football players in my life, high school and college. I’ve never seen one better.”

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Dillow said he also recalled the Russell-McKell basketball game that the Red Devils won 105-100 in overtime.

“The only reason it went to overtime was because (Gullett) got a technical foul,” Dillow said. “It was during a free throw attempt by a Russell player. He was in the block spot on the lane on the stage end of the gym when the ball was shot. I was sitting on the stage about 20 feet away.

“He jumped flat-footed hoping to get the rebound but instead, he grabbed the rim with both hands. They called the technical on him for that and that gave Russell two more shots and the ball back. Without those extra points Russell would have lost in regulation.”

Gullett, by the way, scored 35 points in that loss. His career high was 47.

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Marc Fairchild was working at Blue Ribbon Lanes when Gullett was in high school when he came into the lanes with a few of his friends.

“Don couldn’t find a ‘house ball’ that would fit his hand,” Fairchild said. “We talked and I went to my locker to see if my bowling ball would fit his hand. He put his three figures into the bowling ball and looked at me with a smile and said ‘It fits like a glove.’’’

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John Norman grew up in Load, near Lynn Elementary, so he played with Gullett in the early days.

Sugar Camp, a holler where Gullett lived, was across the street from the school. Curt and Red Fletcher also grew up in that neighborhood.

“I played grade school softball with him too,” Norman said. “You could tell when Donnie got serious because he’d take his shoes off. He was a Lynn Cardinal just like I was.”

Norman, who went to Greenup, remembered playing McKell in basketball when Gullett was a freshman and he was a senior.

“I was guarding Donnie, or trying to. (Coach) Ramey (Fletcher) told me, ‘Be sure to overguard him to the left-hand side, he cannot go right-handed,’” Norman said. “I thought, that was great strategy. He so happened to get a rebound and came down the floor and I was the only one back. I overguarded him to his left and he crossed over to the right-hand and dunked it. I looked over at Ramey and gave him two thumbs up.”

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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