If you want to start an argument or at least spice up the conversation, ask this question the next time you’re in a group of old-time sports fans: Who’s the greatest athlete in Middletown history?
Then sit back and let the debate begin.
You’ll likely hear numerous names mentioned, depending on the age and sports history knowledge of the person answering the question.
J.B. Deaton, 75, who graduated from Middletown High School in 1956, probably has seen as many Middie basketball and football games as anyone. He can’t remember the last time he missed a two-a-day football practice at the Glenn “Tiger” Ellison Football Complex. Before he retired, Deaton used his vacation days to watch the Middies practice.
He believes Cris Carter, who starred on the football field and basketball court, is the Middies’ all-time greatest athlete. Carter, who graduated in 1984, led the Middies to the Final Four of the Boys Basketball State Championship in 1984, the last time the school advanced that far in the tournament, and he was highly-recruited in football, too.
“He was the best to ever come out of Middletown,” Deaton said. “He done us a hell of a job. No doubt.”
Deaton ranks Jerry Lucas, his close friend, second. Lucas led the Middies to 76 consecutive victories and back-to-back state titles in basketball. Lucas also was an accomplished discus thrower on the track team and played first base on the baseball team.
Deaton said Lucas “carried people” on the basketball court.
No. 3 on his list is Todd Bell, a standout long jumper and football player. He broke Jesse Owens’ state long jump record, and earned a football scholarship at Ohio State and later played in the NFL. Deaton called Bell “a stud I wouldn’t want to meet head-on.”
From there, Deaton stops rattling off names, afraid he may miss one or two.
“You got to remember,” he said, “we have had a lot of great ones.”
Jerry Nardiello, 90, who covered the Middies for 60 years, mostly as sports editor of The Middletown Journal, called Bell “the best we ever had.”
He also mentioned Lucas, Cris Carter and his older brother, Butch, then added “There were plenty of great ones before them.”
When asked about Cris Carter, Nardiello said he wasn’t “sensational” in high school, but “blossomed” at OSU.
Jack Gordon, 81, football coach at MHS and the “Voice of the Middies” for decades on WPFB 910, said he had never thought about who is the greatest athlete of all-time.
“But that’s an interesting question for sure,” he said. “There are just so many names I’d hate to start giving you any names.”
That wasn’t a problem for Don “Woody” Withrow, who like Deaton, rarely misses a Middie football or basketball game.
When it comes to the greatest of all-time, Withrow and James “Pete” Snow, known as “Mr. Middie,” went new school, naming Jalin Marshall, a 2013 MHS graduate.
Marshall was a three-sport athlete, lettering in football, basketball and track. He won the state’s long jump title as a junior, averaged double figures on the basketball court and earned a football scholarship at Ohio State, where he’s expected to play slot or wide receiver for the Buckeyes.
Withrow said Cris Carter was a better basketball player than Marshall, but he wasn’t as fast and couldn’t jump as far.
Withrow also mentioned Bell, Butch Carter and Jerry Lucas, his close friend. He said Lucas “stands alone in basketball.”
Snow, 74, a 1957 MHS graduate, said his other Top 5: Lucas, Cris and Butch Carter and Jimmy Calhoun.
Al Milton, a close friend and former Middie teammate of Cris Carter, said, “If you’re having a conversation about Middletown sports, and you don’t mention Jalin and Cris among the greatest, then you need to change the conversation.”
Milton said Cris Carter is certainly among the top five Middies of all-time along with his older brother Butch, Lucas, Bell and Marshall. Back when they were playing football together, Milton said Carter was a spectacular talent but “we didn’t really see Cris as the best athlete. We saw Jimmy Calhoun as the best.”