Funeral services were held this week for Ira D. Combs, a sports columnist whose work appeared frequently in The Mountain Eagle and other mountain newspapers. He was 61.
Combs, of Jeff in Perry County, collapsed March 21 just outside the KFC Yum! Center on his way to pick up credentials for the NCAA Tournament.
NCAA President Mark Emmert extended sympathies to Combs’s family, friends, colleagues and readers in a statement.
Combs, who also wrote for the www.CombsBrothersOn- KYsports.com website, had been at Rupp Arena on March 20 for the start of the Boys’ Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement that everyone at UK athletics is deeply saddened to learn of Combs’ death, calling him a fixture at their events for decades.
Funeral services for Combs, who was called a “tireless defender of the mountains,” were held Tuesday.
Oscar Combs, founder of The Cats’ Pause magazine, told The Courier-Journal of Louisville that Ira, his younger brother, was at the Yum! Center to pick up a media credential to cover the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team against Hampton in the NCAA Tournament.
“He had to climb a couple of flights of stairs, and a security guard was helping him,” Oscar Combs said. “The security guard turned around to leave, and Ira had fallen to the ground. He never regained consciousness.”
Oscar Combs said his brother was taken to University of Louisville Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Oscar Combs and Julian Tackett, commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, told the Courier-Journal that Ira especially was passionate about the mountain schools, generally the teams in the 13th, 14th and 15th regions of eastern Kentucky.
“He always had a couple of mountain teams and a couple of mountain referees,” Tackett said. “He just didn’t want anyone to think that the triangle (Louisville- Lexington-Northern Kentucky) had everybody, that they had some pretty good people up there.”
Tackett called Combs’s death “a tough loss.”
“No matter what job he had, he promoted the mountains,” Tackett told the Courier-Journal. “He was a tireless defender of the mountains. … We always used to tease him that his spelling wasn’t the best but his intent was always really good.”
Ira Combs attended Dilce Combs High School in Hazard and Cumberland College. He later was an assistant basketball coach at Dilce Combs and M.C. Napier.
Combs was also a fan of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, which he also covered frequently in his newspaper column, which he provided to mountain newspapers at no charge.