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Ironton athletic Hall of Fame to induct five new members

Jim Walker



There’s plenty of representation for all sports in this year’s Ironton High School Athletic Hall of Fame class.

This year’s group of five members includes four-sport star Dr. James J. “Jimmy” Payne, football and track star Jermon Jackson, versatile female sports standout Kristen Kavanaugh, three-sport star and basketball standout Dennis Gagai, and long-time booster John “Mr. Tiger” Wolfe.

The newest class will be introduced on Saturday, Jan. 30, between the girls’ game that begins at 3:30 p.m. and the boys’ game that starts at 5:30 p.m.

Tickets for the Hall of Fame dinner will be held in the Ironton cafeteria area Saturday following the boys’ game. Tickets are available at the high school.

Payne is a 1972 graduate of Ironton who went into a career in education.

He has been a teacher, coach and superintendent at Ironton, Symmes Valley and Coal Grove school districts. He is currently the Superintendent of the Lawrence County Educational Service Center.

At Ironton, Payne was a four-sport standout in football, basketball, baseball and track. He served as captain of the baseball team with Keith Parker

Payne was an All-Ohio wide receiver in football and signed with Mississippi State. Payne and was the leadoff hitter and shortstop for the 1972 Class AA state championship team.

He was co-captain of the football and track teams and was the baseball team captain along with Keith Parker.

Payne also ran the 100, 200 and relays in track.

At Mississippi State, Payne was a starter as a sophomore and had a key 51-yard reception against Georgia and also threw a big downfield block to spring Walter Packer for the decisive touchdown in the Sun Bowl win over N.C. State.

Payne’s career was cut short by two knee surgeries and a finger surgeries.

Payne earned his Ph.D. from Ohio University in 1998.

Jackson has been considered the finest running back to play in the Tri-State area during the past 50 years.

Jackson was the Associated Press Division III Back of the Year in 1993 and a USA Today honorable mention All-American. He was a two-time first team All-Ohio running back and a two-time letterman for Ohio State.

Jackson ran for 1,849 yards and 29 touchdowns his senior year and racked up 4,452 rushing yards for his career and scored 70 touchdowns.

Jackson set an Ohio State freshman record by scoring three touchdowns in his first game. In 45 games for the Buckeyes, Jackson rushed 136 times for 698 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

Kristen Kavanaugh was one of the finest all-around female athletes to wear the orange and black.

In basketball, Kavanaugh was a four-year starter who scored 1,173 points and earned All-Ohio honors in both her junior and senior seasons. She was listed as one of the top basketball players in the country by USA Today.

A track standout, she holds the school records in 100-meter hurdles (14.8 seconds), 300-meter hurdles (47.5 seconds) and high jump (5-3).

Kavanaugh qualified for the state track and field meet all four years of high school in five different events: 100-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, high jump, long jump and 400-meter relay.

She finished as state runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles in both her junior and senior years.

Kavanaugh graduated from Ironton in 1998 wit a 4.041 grade point average and received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy where she continued to play basketball where she was a three-year letter-winner and captain of the team her senior year.

She graduated from the Naval Academy in 2002 and received a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps and played on the all-Marine and all-armed forces basketball teams. She was named the 2003 U.S. Marine Corps Female Athletic of the Year.

Dennis Gagai was another outstanding all-around athlete who lettered in golf, basketball and baseball.

Gagai broke into the starting lineup late in his freshman year and never stopped scoring. He broke the school record for scoring with 1,542 points as he led Ironton to a Division III state runner-up and set the school record with a 26-1 mark.

Gagai was a two-time Southeast District Division III Player of the Year and first team All-Ohio as a junior and senior.

He also four-year standout in golf and qualified for the state tournament.

Gagai was also an outstanding shortstop and pitcher for the baseball team.

Gagai attended West Virginia his freshman year as a member of the basketball team but transferred to Northern Kentucky University the following years.

His impact was felt immediately when the 6-foot-4 guard was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Freshman of the Year.

Gagai was a three-year letterman for NKU.

Wolfe earned his stripes at Ironton as the longest reigning booster member.

A graduate of Ironton High School, Wolfe returned to Ironton to practice law in 1970 and promptly joined the Tiger Clan. He has been a member every since, serving as president, vice-president on numerous occasions, as well as secretary.

Wolfe came to the Tiger Clan with less than $100 in the treasury. The group has grown over the years and now offers more than a half-dozen athletic/academic scholarships.

The Jack Wolfe Award was established in 1975 by Wolfe’s mother and some friends including a man living in Florida who donated $10,000 to the scholarship fund.

The John Wolfe Award was founded in 2012 by Wolfe’s wife Jan and sons Jay and Doug.

Wolfe has also served on the Ironton Board of Education and with the Chamber of Commerce. He once served on the board of directors for the Tri-River Council of Campfire Girls even though he does not have a daughter.

Wolfe, 77, recently retired from his law practice due to health reason but remains a member of the booster group.