CHILLICOTHE – Outside the gymnasium at Chillicothe High School, a crowd gathered Monday night for the unveiling of a statue honoring hometown sports legend Neil Johnston.
The Chillicothe High School graduate was part of the class of 1946, which played basketball and baseball at OSU, said Dan Ramey, who hosted the event.
“Johnston left OSU soon after signing a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. When the dream of being in the big leagues came to an end, he landed a try with the NBA Philadelphia Warriors in 1951,” said declared Ramey. “Johnston led the NBA by scoring for three consecutive seasons, 1953, ’54 and ’55, while perfecting hook shot.”
The six-time NBA star won an NBA championship in 1956 and scored over 10,000 points during his career.
After his playing career ended with a knee injury, Johnston coached in the NBA as well as other basketball leagues and at the college level.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1990, after his death of a heart attack in 1978.
“There aren’t a lot of schools in South Ohio, or even the whole state of Ohio, that can say they have a Naismith Hall of Fame basketball player.” said Knute Bonner, athletic director at Chillicothe High School.
“… Just since the statue was erected I have received hundreds of questions about, who is this statue for and what has he done,” Bonner said. “And just being able to tell people that Neil Johnston was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game, the hook shooting pioneer, an NBA All-Star, Champion and Hall of Fame, brings a lot of recognition not only of what Chillicothe was, but of what he is, and also of what he can be. ”
Bruce Caplinger, who organized and led the five-year campaign to make Neil Johnston’s Memorial Gardens a reality, said he wanted to bring recognition to Chillicothe’s largely forgotten son.
“Neil Johnston was so obscure – very few people knew who he was,” Caplinger said. “I started this project five years ago to pay tribute to her. There is a lot that a statue can do – it preserves your history, it educates people, it becomes a focal point for local visitors and outside, and that also inspires young people to try harder and do their best. ”
The statue and surrounding gardens carried a price tag of nearly $ 100,000, said Caplinger, much of which was donated in cash or time by local businesses and individuals.
“(Seeing it here today) is extremely gratifying,” said the sports historian. “It took four years to just raise the money to pay for this statue. We wanted to do the dedication last spring and had to cancel due to COVID – it’s a relief now, we can enjoy it and everyone can go about their day-to-day business because my committee has donated so much of their life. I appreciate my committee so much and what they have done.
The statue was sculpted by artist Brian Hanlon, the official sculptor of the Naismith Hall of Fame and Rose Bowl Stadium.
Hanlon said he used an image of himself as a Philadelphia warrior, as he played alongside Tom Gola and Paul Arizin, two star players the artist also aims to sculpt.
“When someone like Bruce comes to me, I feel passionate about giving back and doing something important,” said the New Jersey-based sculptor. “I think this particular sculpture is all of that, because of Neil’s pursuit of excellence. We cannot instill in our young people enough this attitude of pursuing excellence and being proud of who we are. , what we do and where we live. ”
Hanlon is also currently working on statues of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning and coach Mike Shanahan at Bronco Stadium in Denver.
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