When it comes to top athletes who attended high school in Letcher County, few — if any — have topped the feats of Milton Mitchell “Mitt” Ticco.
A star basketball player for Jenkins High School, Ticco went on to play basketball for Coach Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where he was named All American during his senior season in 1943.
Basketball wasn’t the only sport at which Ticco excelled.
Seventy years ago this month, Ticco made local and regional news when he made his debut in a Major League Baseball uniform with the Cincinnati Reds against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds (May 14).
Ticco’s baseball debut came less than three weeks after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army after spending 2-1/2 years in Europe.
Born in 1922 in Jenkins, where he was known as “Milty,” Ticco was a son of Michael and Polexini Papanghi Ticco, who operated a popular restuarant in Jenkins for 20 years.
“(Michael) Ticco came to America from Albania when he was a very young man,” Jenkins correspondent Betty Jane Fugate explained in the May 30, 1946 edition of The Mountain Eagle. “After spending a few years in this country, he returned to Albania for a short period of years. While he was there, he married and soon felt the urge to come back to the United States and become a citizen of this country.”
Ticco’s decision was Letcher County’s gain, Mrs. Fugate said.
“Their older son, John, was born on the boat a few days before they landed at New York on their return to this country. Mr. Ticco became a citizen of this country and spent some 20 years in Jenkins. During that time they raised their four children. No nicer family was ever raised in Jenkins.”
While playing basketball for Jenkins High, Ticco was usually the best player on the court. As a 15-year-old in December 1937, Ticco poured in 13 of the Cavaliers’ 19 points in a 26-19 loss to Whitesburg.
Ticco, whose UK jersey carried the No. 3 popularized many years later by Rex Chapman, was a 6-3, 190-pound forward who scored 102 points in his sophomore season (freshmen were ineligible then), 128 points in his junior season, and 233 points in his senior season, when he won All-SEC and All- SEC Tournament honors in addition to being named All American.
Ticco also starred for the UK baseball team, which led to his joining the Cincinnati and later the Brooklyn Dodgers organizations as a left-handed hitting first baseman.
After a short stint with the Big League Reds, Ticco was sent down to the minors where he spent seven seasons before retiring from professional baseball in 1952, at age 29.
Ticco had a career batting average of .278 during his 776 professional games. He also hit 41 home runs and 130 doubles during his career. Ironically, Ticco’s best season was his last when he hit for an average of .309 with the Asheville Tourists, then a member of the Dodgers organization.
In addition to playing pro baseball, Ticco also played two seasons professionally with the National Basketball League, where his 11.3 points per game average with the Youngstown Bears in the 1946-47 season earned him a place on the All Rookie second team. Ticco played for three teams in the 1947-48 season — the Flint Dow A.C.’s, the Indianapolis Kautskys, and the Sheboygen Red Skins. (In 1949, the NBL merged with the Basketball Association of America to form today’s NBA.)
In 1948-49, Ticco moved to the American Basketball League’s Wilkes- Barre Barons for two seasons, before winding up his career with the Allentown Aces/Carbondale Aces in 1950-51 season.
After his retirement from professional sports, Ticco was married to Ramona Ford. The couple had two sons they raised while Ticco worked in sales.
Ticco died in Greenville, South Carolina on January 26, 2002.
Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907
Thursday, May 27. 1926 Baseball fans traveled to Jenkins on Sunday to see the Seco baseball team, which is currently led by former Major League Baseball pitcher “Shufflin’ Phil” Douglas, a former star pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and New York Giants. However, it was potential Major Leaguer Jim Mooney, 19, who wowed the crowd with his great pitching as Seco defeated Jenkins, 5-0. Mooney “whizzed the old pill by with the speed of a lightning express — so fast they couldn’t even see it,” The Mountain Eagle reports on its front page.
. “Then and Now,” says a front-page headline detailing a visit back to Letcher County by former Whitesburg businessman Colonel John A. Edmunds, now a popular Beacon shoe salesman living in Erlanger, near Cincinnati in northern Kentucky. Reflecting on the differences between the time Col. Edmunds left Letcher County and his return, Mountain Eagle editor Nehemiah M. Webb writes, “Years ago when our city was sleeping silently … (when) there were no railroads, no telephones, no good roads … we had three or four days of Letcher Circuit Court every six months … (and) there were two doctors in the county and they were on the ragged edge of starvation. Then there was little money, ginseng, ’possum, coon and fox hides, feathers and dried apples being mostly the medium of exchange, and whiskey was twenty-five cents a pint. The rivers were full of fish and game was plentiful in the woods. Suffice it to say, it is a different world now.”
. “The Letcher County Jailer (Fess Whitaker) has only one fault and we hope he will overcome that, and when he does we believe that he will be one of the best, if not the best, jailers in the state,” the Letcher County Grand Jury says in its report to Circuit Judge J.E. Childers. The report comes less than two weeks after a mistrial was declared in the “possessing whiskey” charge against Whitaker, whose friendship with former President Theodore Roosevelt has resulted in his case receiving national attention from publications such as The New York Times. [In its January 19, 1922, the New York Times carried a story headlined, “Jail for Fess Whitaker: Kentucky friend of Roosevelt convicted on liquor charges.”]
. Kyva Motor Company sold two cars and a truck on Saturday, reports L.R. Renaker of Seco, father Kyva’s Wilson Renaker told The Eagle.
. Letcher Motor Company pulled the biggest car sales in its history a few days ago, selling eight cars in one day of business.
. Letcher County resident Butler Adams, said to be slightly unbalanced mentally, tried to stop the arrest of a moonshiner, but was shot and killed instantly by one of the officers. However, Adams wasn’t stopped before he shot and apparently fatally wounded Lewis Casebolt, a deputy sheriff.
. The Letcher County Jail is costing county taxpayers no less than $3,000 per month, or $36,000 per year. “Most of the persons confined in the jail would rather be (there), well fed and well enough kept, than anywhere else,” says The Eagle.
Thursday, May 30, 1946 Jenkins High School graduate Milton “Mitt” Ticco made his Major League Baseball debut for the Cincinnati Reds on May 14 when the Reds played the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. A former All-American basketball player for Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky, Ticco, a 23-year-old first baseman, is now the only UK product in a Major League uniform.
. A Jenkins Colored School student lost three fingers and part of a fourth when a dynamite-blasting cap he was handling in a classroom exploded. Students at first told authorities the injured student was shot through a window or from under the floor of the classroom. “After searching the room, they found enough of the caps hidden in different places to have blown the room up,” The Eagle reports. It is the second time in the last two months that blasting caps have injured a Jenkins student. Several weeks ago, a junior from McRoberts, Charles Elkins, lost some fingers and an eye after someone had carelessly mislaid some dynamite caps. Two years ago, the small son of Mr. and Mrs. Harve Helton lost an eye because of one of the caps.
. Consolidation Coal Company has turned over ownership of the Jenkins Hospital to Dr. Harvey M. McClure. Consol built and opened the hospital 35 years ago.
. A petition to incorporate the town of Pound, Virginia was granted by Wise Circuit Court Judge George Morton. Opponents of the incorporation cited fear of excessive taxes and zoning regulations that would prevent new buildings of certain types and act as a handicap to the poorer residents.
. The soft-coal strike affecting eastern Kentucky was settled yesterday with substantial concessions to UMWA Chief John L. Lewis’s miners, including a wage increase of $1.85 per day and a welfare fund financed by coal royalties. The strike was settled on the 59th day of the walkout that dealt staggering blows to the American economy. Work is scheduled to resume Friday.
. Striking miners scattered roofing tacks around a coal loading ramp and cut wires to two electric motors at Sandlick Coal Company. A conveyor belt was also cut, company officials say. A shot reportedly was fired over the head of a miner who was dumping coal from a mine car into a chute. Sandlick Coal buys and sells coal from 57 independent truck mines. Normal production at the loading ramp is 2,250 tons daily, but was reduced to 700 tons on Monday.
. The Interstate Commerce Commission has affirmed a previous order requiring the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway to construct a 14-mile line in Letcher County, beginning at Jenkins and extending through to Wise County, Virginia. The ICC further directed that construction of the line must begin on or before August 1, 1946 and be completed on or before August 31, 1946.
. In a letter to the editor urging Letcher County voters to keep the county “dry,” Chester Hogg writes, “I am not writing as any ‘goody.’ I have had my fling with whiskey. I met and became well acquainted with John Barleycorn years ago. At first we were friends, but due to his everincreasing power over me we disagreed. We shook hands and parted never to meet again.”
. Tuck Tinsley was voted in as new commander at American Legion Post 66 at Jenkins. Wade Holtzclaw is the new first vice commander.
Thursday, May 24, 1956 Fire ignited by a repairman’s acetylene torch destroyed the South-East Coal Company’s tipple, conveyor, and head house just below Millstone early Saturday morning. The fire leaves more than 100 men unemployed
for an undetermined amount of time. Fire departments from Fleming, Whitesburg and Jenkins made a vain attempt to put out the blaze.
. Walter Scott of Millstone received serious back injuries in an accident at the Beech Grove Coal Company mine at Redfox Wednesday morning. He is a patient in the Fleming hospital.
. Kentucky coal mines were beset with four fatalities in April, including one in Letcher County. The other three fatalities occurred in Muhlenberg, Floyd and Harlan counties.
. Kentucky State Police have been instructed to take all traffic offenders into county courts operated by salaried judges rather than the outlawed fee-compensated magistrates’ courts. This is a result of the Kentucky Court of Appeals’ decision that the magistrates were being paid unconstitutionally.
. Kenneth Pigman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ishmael Pigman, now the operator of the Shell Service Station at Mayking.
. High school All American “King” Kelly Coleman of Wayland High School, Rex Polly of Whitesburg High, and Bob Shepherd and E.A. Couch of state champion Carr Creek High School will play for the East team in the East- West All Star Game in Whitesburg on June 5. The West team is led by All American Corky Withrow of Central City.
Thursday, May 26, 1966 Word was received this week of the deaths of three Letcher County men in the Vietnam fighting. Mr. and Mrs. George Spangler of Mayking were informed that their son, First Lieutenant James Nelson Spangler, was missing and presumed dead after the explosion of a plane after takeoff in Okinawa. Lt. Spangler piloted a jet tanker plane that refueled other jets in the air over Vietnam. Mrs. Nancy McFall Watts of Fleming was informed that her husband, First Sergeant Astor Watts, 33, was killed in action in Vietnam on May 18. Sgt. Watts was a member of the Second Army Rifle Team and had more than 100 medals and trophies for his shooting skills. Mrs. Henry Williams of Jenkins learned that her brother, James Gray, had been killed in action in Vietnam about three weeks ago.
. Funeral services for an 11-year-old Pine Creek girl were held Tuesday. The child was fatally injured May 21 when she fell and struck her head after jumping the rear of a moving pickup truck.
. The Office of Economic Opportunity this week announced a grant for $36,971 to finance a sewing center program at the Millstone Community Center.
. Formal dedication ceremonies will be held on Tuesday for the new Whitesburg office building of the Department of Economic Security. Former Governor Bert T. Combs of Lexington will be the principal speaker. The building, located on Webb Avenue, houses offices for the Division of Public Assistance, the Kentucky State Employment Service and the Division of Unemployment Insurance.
. The Rev. Charles Hansel, former pastor of the Neon Methodist Church, will speak at graduation exercises for Fleming-Neon High School seniors Tuesday at the school.
. Kyleen Campbell is the valedictorian and Cindy Hatton is the salutatorian of the Whitesburg High School senior class, which will undergo graduation ceremonies this week. Emery L. Frazier, one of Letcher County’s
most distinguished adopted native sons, will deliver the commencement address. Frazier, Secretary of the United States Senate, moved to Whitesburg to practice law in 1922. He became Whitesburg City Clerk in 1923 and City Attorney in 1924. In 1925 he became Mayor of Whitesburg, a post he also held from 1930 to 1933. Frazier served as Reading Clerk of the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1926 through 1932 before becoming the Legislative Clerk of the U.S. Senate in 1933, a post he held until 1948, when he became Chief Clerk of the U.S. Senate. He became Secretary of the Senate in 1965. Frazier still calls Whitesburg home and returns here often, where he enjoys relaxing on property he owns on Pine Mountain.
Thursday, June 3, 1976 Whitesburg High School will hold graduation exercises for 124 seniors at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the school gymnasium. The speaker will be Dr. Will Hayes, director of Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes since 1962. Lisa Kimberlin and Samuel J. Banks are valedictorians.
. Kentucky once again is revising its Appalachian plan to put primary emphasis on economic development, the state’s Appalachian program manager indicated this week. Economic development was a top priority in the early years of the federal-state Appalachian development program, but in recent years, the state has spent much of its Appalachian money on child care, vocational education and health care. The Appalachian money comes from federal funds appropriated by Congress and administrated by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
Wednesday, June 4, 1986 The process of selecting a jury to hear evidence in the trial of two men charged with murdering 23-year-old Tammy Dee Acker was expected to continue through today. Meanwhile, Letcher Circuit Judge F. Byrd Hogg has overruled a request by defense attorneys that the trial be postponed to allow their clients more time to answer charges made against them by a third defendant in the case.
. Letcher Circuit Judge F. Byrd Hogg will decide this week whether to limit the number of striking United Steelworkers who can picket the Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital.
. A federal Court of Appeals has ordered the Letcher County Board of Education to reinstate Billy K. Banks immediately in his former job as second director of pupil personnel in the school system. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit acted on Banks’s appeal of a federal district court decision handed down in January 1985 which gave Banks a money settlement in his suit against the school board but failed to give him his job back. Banks charged his dismissal was the result of his support of a losing candidate in a school board race. The board said it could not longer afford two pupil personnel directors.
Wednesday, June 5, 1996 An investigation by the Kentucky Public Service Commission shows that power outages last more than three times longer in Letcher County than in the rest of American Electric Power’s system in Kentucky.
. The Fleming-Neon Little League inaugurated a new baseball park at Goosecreek June 1. The park consists of two regulation diamonds which will serve more than 300 boys and girls who play baseball and softball on 25 teams in six divisions of the league.
The Letcher Fiscal Court has approved a total salary limit of $128,916 for the employees of the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Office for the 1996-97 fiscal year.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006 A photograph of a 350-pound black bear appears on the front page of this week’s Mountain Eagle. The bear, which had been sleeping in a tree, was tranquilized and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife officials used a “boom-equipped” truck to remove the bear from the tree.