THREE ATHLETES who starred on the gridiron while a fourth who went on to star in Major League Baseball are the latest four selections into the OVAC Hall of Fame.
Tom Rataiczak, Executive Secretary of the OVAC, announced that Bridgeport’s Joe Niekro and Martins Ferry’s Larry Duck are the honorees for the decade of the 1960s while Mike Wright of Wellsville and Less Browne of East Liverpool have received the accolades for the 1970s.
The seventh annual OVAC Hall of Fame banquet will be held on Saturday, Aug. 21 at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling.
JOE NIEKRO (Bridgeport, Class of 1962) The younger half of the most successful brothers pitching tandem in Major League Baseball history, Joe carved his pro niche after distinguishing himself on the mound at the prep and collegiate levels.
Joe pocketed 221 Major League wins as he and older brother Phil teamed for 539 victories, still the professional high water mark.
Joe’s athletic feats took root at Bridgeport High, where he was more than just a pitching standout. Niekro, in addition to his baseball accolades, was an all-OVAC basketball player at the Kirkwood-based school.
Niekro was a major player in the Bulldogs capturing three straight Class AA baseball sectional and district titles, Class AA being the largest in Ohio at that time.
He closed out his prep career in stellar fashion, tossing a no-hitter against Martins Ferry in the sectional semifinals. He was honored as an All-Eastern Ohio baseball selection. Baseball had no OVAC All-Star team at that point.
Following his successful Bridgeport tenure, the Blaine resident matriculated to West Liberty State College. Niekro played both baseball and basketball for the Hilltoppers.
Niekro helped pitch the Gold & Black of legendary Coach George Kovalick to the 1964 NAIA national title.
His collegiate fetes helped propel Niekro to a 22-year Major League career. He pitched for seven teams during his career, with 11 seasons as a member of the Houston Astros. He won 21 games for the Astros in 1979 and followed that with 20 more victories in 1980.
During the 1979 campaign, he made the National League All-Star team, leading the senior circuit in wins and shutouts (5). He won the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award and was runnerup to Bruce Sutter in the Cy Young voting.
Niekro pitched in one World Series, that coming in 1987 with the Minnesota Twins. Joe hit one major league home run, that coming off brother Phil in 1976.
Niekro died Oct. 26, 2006 after suffering a brain aneurysm.
His legacy lives on through The Joe Niekro Foundation created by his only daughter, Natalie. The foundation’s proceeds are donated to various hospitals in an effort to expand aneurysm treatment and research.
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