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Showdown time for Ironton teams; area sports world mourns Eaton

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune

Showdown in the SEOAL.

It’s a two-day, Chillicothe-at-Ironton basketball series that has Southeastern Ohio Athletic League title implications on the line.

First on Friday night, the SEOAL favorites from Chillicothe come to the Sports Center to play the Ironton boys.

Chillicothe returns its starting lineup from last season plus another player who transferred to the school this year. The Cavaliers dealt Ironton one of their five regular season losses last season.

The two teams have a common opponent: both have lost to Wheelersburg.

“Their game with Wheelersburg was a great game. Chillicothe is very athletic. It’ll be very interesting. We’ll come and battle and compete and see what happens,” Ironton coach Mark LaFon said.

Saturday night has a major showdown between the Lady Cavs and Lady Fighting Tigers.

Chillicothe is unbeaten on the season after winning just three games all of last season. Ironton is 5-1 — the only loss to a very good Russell team — but the Lady Tigers are also unbeaten in the SEOAL at 3-0.

Of course, the subplot is former Ironton coach Amy Hughes coming back to the Sports Center as the opposing team coach.

“This is going to be a tough game for us,” Ironton coach Doug Graham said. “This game is about the league. We can’t worry about all the other things. We have to come ready to play both mentally and physically.”

As I told Amy recently, I hope you have a great season. I hope you go 18-2 and I hope both losses are by 20 points or more. She laughed, but I know she’ll be trying to beat Ironton and I know the Ironton girls will be focused on the game, not Amy.

Eaton one of a kind

There is one common fact of life we all have, and that is death.

Regardless of how we live, every life will end in death.

John Eaton was someone who enjoyed life and liked to have fun.

When the word came of his death Wednesday, I was saddened at first, but then I could almost hear him looking at me and saying something to the effect, “Don’t be sad about me dying. You’re the one who’s still alive and has to keep paying bills.”

That’s who John Eaton was. He knew when to laugh and he knew when to be serious.

Eaton played high school sports at Fairland, but he is more remembered for his basketball coaching exploits.

After leading Oak Hill to an Ohio Valley Conference championship, he headed for Wheelersburg where he enjoyed a great deal of success including the school’s first trip to the Final Four.

Following his “retirement” as the Pirates coach, he took some time off before the itch got to him again and he accepted the position as the South Point boys basketball coach.

When he quit as the Pointers coach, John told me he would never coach again. I asked, “Never?” to which he replied, “Well, I’ve learned to never say never.”

Sure enough, he took a job as principal in the South Webster school district and when the girls needed a coach, yep, he was back on the sidelines for a couple of seasons.

A lot of people only see coaches on the sidelines and don’t know who they really are or what they’re really like. Let me tell you, John Eaton was a blast.

I loved to talk to him. He was honest and had a great sense of humor. You could criticize him, but it didn’t bother him. He always had “special” words for his critics that censorship prevents me from repeating.

I’ve missed John as a coach. I’ll miss him even more as a friend.